“I was on a mission. I was fighting for civil rights. Trying to get voting rights for the people. I mean, these Black folks, they were in the Army, they were serving their country and yet they didn’t have the right to vote?”
Debbie Montgomery, Rondo Oral History Project, 2004
Raised in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, Debbie Montgomery is a community leader. When she was 17, she became the youngest member ever on the national board of the NAACP. She later received a master’s degree in urban planning and began a career in civil service.
Montgomery was active in the civil rights movement. In 1963, she participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. As a freshman at the University of Minnesota, she traveled with other students to Alabama in 1965 to march 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery in support of voting rights.
In 1975, St. Paul mayor Larry Cohen asked Montgomery to enroll in the police academy. He needed her help to comply with a court order requiring the St. Paul Police Department to hire more Black officers. Montgomery excelled and realized she had an opportunity to prove that a woman could do the same work as men. She became the first female police officer in St. Paul. On the force, Montgomery participated in educational programs and built trust with youth in her community.
After retiring, Montgomery was elected to the city council, where she convinced businesses and the government to invest in St. Paul’s Black community.
Based on research provided by the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center