Ramsey County History – Winter 2017: “William T. Francis, at Home and Abroad”

Ramsey County History – Winter 2017: “William T. Francis, at Home and Abroad”
Paul D. Nelson

William T. Francis, at Home and Abroad
Author: Paul D. Nelson

William T. (Billy) and Nellie Francis were a “Golden Couple” in Ramsey County in the 1920s. They were good-looking, intelligent, talented, ambitious, and successful. Then they went to Africa, and things went terribly wrong. This article presents the story of their lives and influence as African Americans in Ramsey County and in the country of Liberia. Billy Francis came to St. Paul in the late 1880s, where he was hired by the Northern Pacific Railroad and rose to the position of chief clerk in the legal department. He then went to law school, earned a degree, and went into private practice. Nellie, his wife, whom he married in 1893, was a high school graduate, an accomplished vocalist, and active in the women’s suffrage movement. W.T. Francis was a Republican and, in 1927, used his connections within the party to obtain appointment by President Calvin Coolidge as minister to Liberia. While there, Francis did important work investigating the use of forced labor in that country. Other investigators confirmed Francis’s findings, but by the time the League of Nations acted on this, Francis had died in July 1929 of yellow fever.
PDF of Nelson article