“When I met so many faces of colored men, women, and children in my travels throughout the city, it seems so marvelous, so like a dream.”
Emily O. Goodridge Grey, The Black Community in Territorial St. Anthony: A Memoir, 1894
In 1857, Emily Grey left her home in Pennsylvania to become one of the earliest Black residents of territorial St. Anthony. Grey was active in her community and an antislavery advocate. She shaped the culture of the Twin Cities and helped establish a strong Black community.
Grey was raised in a family of entrepreneurs elevating themselves from enslavement. Her father, William C. Goodridge, was a formerly enslaved businessman active in the Underground Railroad. She ran in prominent abolitionist circles — with connections to Frederick Douglass — and was an important part of the abolitionist network in St. Anthony.
In 1860, Grey helped secure a major abolitionist victory in Minnesota, where proslavery sentiments were common. Eliza Winston, an enslaved woman, came to St. Anthony from Mississippi with Richard Christmas, who claimed ownership of her. Winston asked Grey to help pursue her freedom. Grey activated her connections. Winston won her suit for freedom.
Grey’s civic engagement helped build the Twin Cities. She was a member of the Minnesota Territorial Pioneers and led committees and fundraising efforts for the St. Thomas Mission. Her later leadership included chairing an advisory committee of Minnesota’s Black women during planning for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
Note: There are no known photographs of Grey. The illustration of her is informed by photographs of her sister, Mary Goodridge Nichols, and of Elizabeth Keckly, the formerly enslaved confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln. Both women were of similar social standing to Grey.
Mary Goodridge Nichols, 1865 or 1866. Courtesy of Oblate Sisters of Providence, Baltimore, MD. Mary Goodridge Nichols was Emily Grey's younger sister. This photograph was taken by their brother, Wallace, at the Goodridge Brothers Studio in Michigan.
Elizabeth Keckley, about 1861. Courtesy Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Keckley was born into slavery, purchased her own freedom, and became Mary Todd Lincoln’s personal dresser. This image informed our illustration of Grey.
View of St. Anthony, Minneapolis, and St. Anthony’s Falls, about 1857. MNHS collections. This lithograph shows St. Anthony as it was when Grey arrived. Imagine arriving here—your new home—after a grueling trip from your hometown.
Minnesota Territorial Pioneers Badge, not later than 1915. MNHS collections. Emily Grey and her husband were the only Black members of the Minnesota Territorial Pioneers. The organization restricted membership to people who lived in Minnesota before 1858.
Minnesota Territorial Pioneers building, Minnesota State Fair, about 1900. MNHS collections. The Minnesota Territorial Pioneers dedicated this log cabin at the state fairgrounds on the 42nd anniversary of Minnesota statehood. Emily Grey made a financial contribution toward the cabin’s construction.
- Cannon, Mary D. and Patricia C. Harpole. "A Day in the Life of Emily Goodridge Grey." Minnesota History 56, no. 4 (Winter 1998): 248–249.
- Cartwright, R.L. "Eliza Winston Court Case." MNopedia, October 25, 2013.
- Green, William. "Emily O'Goodridge Gray." MNopedia, April 21, 2021.
- Grey, Emily O. Goodridge, ed. by Patricia C. Harpole. "The Black Community in Territorial St. Anthony: A Memoir." Minnesota History 49, no. 2 (Summer 1984): 42–53.
- The William C. Goodridge Freedom Center