The St. Paul Echo

St. Paul echo (St. Paul, Minn.; Minneapolis, Minn.) 1925-1927  Browse the title

Though published for less than two years--late 1925 to mid-1927--the St. Paul Echo was a robust weekly newspaper serving Minnesota's growing African American population. The Echo's first editor, and guiding force, was Earl Wilkins. Earl and his brother Roy were graduates of the University of Minnesota's journalism department, and both launched careers in the black press. Roy worked for the Kansas City Call newspaper but made his national reputation as the president of the NAACP during the 1950s and 60s. Earl's career was just as promising but was cut short by illness and early death. 

The St. Paul Echo was like many weekly African American newspapers of its era: a modest eight pages of local and national news items. But the Echo was always distinguished by a strong editorial voice that showed the influence of young Earl Wilkins. Though still a student at the University of Minnesota when the paper was born, Wilkins feared no institution in the region. Less than one month after the paper was first published, the Echo editorialized against institutional racial bias in St. Paul. The paper soon promised a study on the St. Paul Police Department. The mainstream press was called to task for the way it identified race in crime stories. Next came strong editorials about discrimination in local movie theaters. To underscore the value of the written word, the Echo mailed a pen to every new subscriber.

The St. Paul Echo was noteworthy not just for the volume of its editorials but for its eloquent voice. The September 18, 1926 issue featured the following evocative description of St. Paul’s main African American commercial thoroughfare: “If New York has its Lenox Avenue, Chicago its State Street and Memphis its Beale Street, just as surely has St. Paul a riot of warmth, and color, and feeling and sound in Rondo Street. There are sights which would make a man from rural portions of the south feel perfectly at home; there are sights which would make the man from parts of Harlem or State Street feel at ease. It is alive with feeling.”

Just three months after this editorial appeared, Earl Wilkins announced in a front page story in the Echo that he was stepping down as the paper's editor on the orders of a physician. The paper only lasted six more months before shutting down in the summer of 1927. Earl Wilkins later joined his brother Roy on the staff of the Kansas City Call, but his poor health returned. Earl Wilkins died in 1941 leaving behind a young son named Roger Wilkins, who went on to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist in his own right. The Echo is a window to better understanding the Wilkins family's multi-generational newspaper legacy. 

In addition to its sterling editorials and emphasis on civil rights stories, the St. Paul Echo is a fine source for articles about black students at the University of Minnesota, articles on organized labor in the Twin Cities, and items on the emerging National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) organizations in the region.