History Theatre play 'Not in Our Neighborhood' shines light on a dark St. Paul story

two actors on a stage
Darius Dotch and Erin Nicole Farste in "Not in Our Neighborhood" at St. Paul's History Theatre
Rick Spaulding via History Theatre

Here’s a story that was not told in the Minnesota history books.

In the 1920s, a Black couple in Rondo tried to buy their dream home in an all-white neighborhood in St. Paul. Even though William Francis was a successful lawyer and a prominent Republican, and his wife Nellie Francis was a leader in the racial justice and women’s suffrage movements, the couple faced intimidation, harrassment and threats when trying to move into the neighborhood.

In 1924, the couple decided to move out of Rondo to a nearby neighborhood, Groveland Park — now known as Mac-Groveland. Two hundred white neighbors protested, picketed and set a cross on fire on the front lawn of the Francis home.

What happened to the couple? Their story is being told on stage at the History Theatre in St. Paul through Oct. 24. Written by Tom Fabel and Eric Wood, it’s called “Not in Our Neighborhood.”

Cathy Wurzer discussed the play and its impact with Wood and Augsburg University history professor William Green, who wrote a new book about Nellie called “Nellie Francis: Fighting for Racial Justice and Women’s Equality in Minnesota.”

The play can be seen in person (if vaccinated) at the History Theatre, or starting Oct. 20, you can purchase tickets to stream the play at home.

Correction (Oct. 21, 2021): An earlier version of this story misidentified Tom Fabel. The story has been updated.

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