Federation President Phoebe Stein spoke with Kevin Lindsey, CEO of Minnesota Humanities Center to reflect on the role of the state humanities councils and of the public humanities more broadly in light of the pandemic, protests, and upcoming 250th anniversary of our country’s founding.
What role do the Minnesota Humanities Center, the state humanities councils, and the public humanities more broadly have in moving our country forward productively during this time?
LINDSEY: The role of the Minnesota Humanities Center in using the public humanities has never been more important than it is today. This moment in time will be a defining moment for us.
We at the Minnesota Humanities Center (MHC), similar to other humanities organizations that comprise the Federation, see ourselves as having three primary roles – convener, connector, and catalyst. All three roles are critically important.
We are among the first responders when our democracy is in crisis. No democracy of the people can exist when so many of its citizens are routinely and systematically disenfranchised.
While this work will be challenging, it is critically important for us to facilitate constructive dialog and conversation so that African Americans can be honestly seen, sincerely heard, and fully empowered within our democracy at this moment of crisis.
We need to have the courage to convene people on difficult issues. We need patience in facilitating sincere connection among individuals that have not always seen the value of collaborating with one another. Finally, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to encourage change.
How have your experiences as an attorney and as the former Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights impacted your work in the public humanities?
LINDSEY: As Commissioner, I had several opportunities to work with Native American tribes, Minnesota’s state ethnic councils, and community cultural organizations to work on a wide variety of public policy issues. Additionally, one of my primary duties as the Commissioner was to use the tools of education and conciliation to address discrimination and disparate practices existing in the state.
In my capacity as Commissioner, I enjoyed educating the public about how history shaped the development of an area of the law and then facilitating an informed conversation about the merits of the societal benefits of that particular area of the law.
I am excited about expanding our public humanities work at MHC and continuing to work again with all of the friends I met while working on community-driven solutions as Commissioner.
How will today’s historical moment give context for commemorating the 250th anniversary of our nation’s founding and an examination of the tenets of democracy in 2026?
LINDSEY: At the time of the founding of our nation, only white men who owned property were given the right to vote, and America’s original sin of slavery was the law of the land. Our nation was founded upon the false belief of white supremacy.
Despite the monumental number of lives lost fighting the Civil War, racism and white supremacy persisted as state laws were enacted and social customs were enforced in which strange fruit grew and African Americans were relegated to the back of the bus of economic opportunity.
While progress has occurred since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the sad and undeniable reality is that far too many African Americans do not own homes, live in poverty, and are far too often the victims of police brutality. The promissory note from the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution guaranteeing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is still coming back marked insufficient funds for African Americans.
At the time of the founding of our nation, the drafters of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution believed that the work of creating a more perfect union had only just begun. We should take hope that our country was also founded on the belief that the work of creating a great nation had just begun.
This moment gives us an opportunity to have an honest examination of our history and the present reality of our democracy. Let us all take full ownership of our democracy and step into the light of a new dawn in which we work together to create a more perfect union that is truly inclusive of all.