Ramsey County History – Summer 2019: “St. Paul’s Distinct Leadership Tradition: A Century of The Sterling Club”

Jeremiah E. Ellis

St. Paul’s Distinct Leadership Tradition: A Century of The Sterling Club
Author: Jeremiah E. Ellis

At the turn of the twentieth century, social clubs were providing opportunities for members with like interests to serve their communities and gather for recreation, social activities, and timely discussions. In 1919, a group of mostly mid-career gentlemen from St. Paul’s African American community incorporated a social club of their own. The Sterling Club welcomed visiting dignitaries, gathered for formal balls, and enjoyed time together celebrating individual and collective accomplishments. But they also had an additional purpose: mobilizing against discrimination and creating community cohesion through engagement. Writer Jeremiah E. Ellis tells the story of the men (and women) behind this organization, who worked alongside civic leaders to highlight and address racist practices, help heal a community torn apart by the construction of the interstate, serve as a haven from discrimination, and mentor young people within the community. Over the decades, many of St. Paul’s social clubs have come and gone, but the Sterling Club continues to stand strong, celebrating its centennial this summer.


2020 Co-Winner of the Ramsey County Historical Society Virginia B. Kunz Award

Article Winner of the 2022 David Gebhard Award from the the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians

The Board of Directors of the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians awarded the David Gebhard Award in April, 2022, to Jeremiah Ellis for “St. Paul’s Distinct Leadership Tradition: A Century of the Sterling Club.” The judges noted, “Founded in 1919, the Sterling Club had a fine line to walk between creating a setting of radical hospitality while blending into the landscape of discrimination around them. This article tells the story of establishing a place for a community that was not welcome in many Twin Cities establishments at the time. It shines light on one of Minnesota’s lesser-known landmarks, a place that in the midst of adversity provided important cultural connections and continuity.”

PDF of J. Ellis article