Individuals. Communities. Regions. Nations. The World.
One of the benefits of looking closely at local histories is to see how everyday lives connect with so many intersecting stories and layers of the past, the present, and the future. I have been thinking about this after a Twitter exchange this week with Kirsten Delegard (@historyapolis), who directs the Historyapolis Project in Minneapolis. Her project aims to bring visibility and accessibility to the history of Minneapolis, which are goals similar to The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia project that I direct.
Connections between the local and global are an ongoing theme of Capital of the World. For Minneapolis, the connections are clear in a letter I found during my research at the United Nations Archives in New York. As was often the case, I recognized a name that would later become much more prominent in national or international affairs. On December 26, 1945, the newly-elected mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert H. Humphrey, together with York Langton of the Minnesota United Nations Committee, sent this letter to Edward R. Stettinius, then the chief U.S. representative on the UN Preparatory Commission meeting in London:
Minneapolis wishes to extend an invitation to the United Nations to build their permanent home in our city.
Minneapolis has an ideal climate that will appeal to and satisfy all your personnel. It is surrounded by lakes, streams, and parks which make it not only one of the world’s most beautiful cities but also a favorite of visitors from all over the world. Geographically, Minneapolis is ideally situated half way between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, midway between the North and South sections in the heart of the North American continent.
Our transportation facilities are excellent in all directions. We are one of the leading rail, bus and air centers in the United States. We are only 35 hours to London, 43 hours to Moscow, 60 hours to China and 37 hours to Rio de Janeiro.
The people of Minneapolis are internationally minded. We are proud to claim amongst our citizens the men and women of over fifty different nationalities and of all races, colors, and creeds. Here is a city without racial intolerance — a community where both negro and white, along with Protestant, Jew and Catholic work together and live in the spirit of cooperation.
The Minnesota United Nations Committee is one of the most outstanding organizations in the world supporting the United Nations program. The Committee has brought the message of international organization before more than 500 audiences in the Northwest. It has wide membership and has found great enthusiasm for the United Nations Plan as the only hope for permanent peace.
In Minneapolis the United Nations will find the intellectual, moral and spiritual support that we must have in the critical years ahead.
[Records of the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations – Registry Files (S-0539), Box 4, File 16, UN Archives]
The letter is brimming with the ideas that shaped the ways that individual Americans understood their connections to the world at the end of World War II. Notice the emphasis on transportation, which was in transition to the age of commercial aviation. Notice also the emphasis on multinational populations, which Humphrey described as an appealing asset rather than a threat to social order. The letter responded pointedly to the UN’s desire to avoid areas where dark-skinned delegates might meet with racial discrimination.
Fundamentally, though, the letter was an act of boosterism. By seeking the UN’s attention in 1945-46, Minneapolis and Americans in at least 247 other U.S. cities and towns sought to advance the prestige of their communities as they also pledged their support for a new world organization. In doing so, they created a record of how Americans at a pivotal time in history perceived of their place in the world.