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How barber S. Edward Hall became an important advocate for St. Paul’s black community

Hall used connections fostered in his barber shop to circulate job openings to blacks in the community.

photo of s edward hall
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
S. Edward Hall of St. Paul sitting for a portrait. ca. 1940.
S. Edward Hall was a prominent African American barber and advocate for the African American community, both in St. Paul and nationally. An active Republican, Hall was a four-time state presidential elector and a member of several political committees and social organizations. His work for his community and success as a businessman are important components of the history of African Americans in St. Paul and, specifically, the Rondo neighborhood.

Stephen Edward “Ed” Hall was a businessman and civil rights activist in St. Paul. He was born on January 26, 1878, in Batavia, Illinois, one of five children of John and Julia Hall. He had two brothers and two sisters and lived in Springfield, Illinois, before moving to St. Paul in 1900. He then began working for black barber W. V. Howard at the corner of Fourth and Jackson streets in St. Paul.

In 1906, Hall married his wife, Harriet “Hattie” Garrison. That same year, he and his brother Orrington (Orrie) opened a barbershop in St. Paul on Fifth and Wabasha Streets in downtown. This first shop was inside the Pittsburgh Building (later renamed the St. Paul Building). In 1947, Hall moved his shop to a building at the southwest corner of Selby and Victoria Avenues, in the historically black Rondo neighborhood.

Some of the first services for new African Americans in the Twin Cities seeking employment were located at barbershops and beauty parlors, which were places of support within the African American community. Both Ed and Orrie Hall catered to white customers at their barbershop, many of them prominent politicians and businessmen. The Hall brothers used the connections they fostered to circulate job openings to blacks in the community. Hall helped new black transplants, many of whom received introduction cards upon arrival at Union Depot.

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By 1915, the weekly newspaper The Helper, with assistance from St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, began printing an advertisement for Hall’s services. The Helper received its notices from “tipsters,” who informed the paper of new job openings. Even after Hall helped establish the Urban League, he was listed as the manager of the men’s department of employment services in The Helper. This shows that blacks continued to use Hall as a source of referral after the establishment of formal employment services.

The Hall brothers saw the need for increased employment services, so Ed Hall, along with Father S. J. Gilligan and Dr. J. W. Crump, founded the St. Paul Urban League. They did so to the chagrin of many white business associations, which feared that such a useful asset to the community would encourage more African Americans to migrate to the state.

Founded in 1923, the St. Paul Urban League was the result of Hall’s, Gilligan’s, and Crump’s recognition of a need for a formal employment and social services for African American St. Paulites. The three founders went to the community chest for financial assistance, and they contacted the National Urban League to meet regulations for funding. Hall spearheaded an Urban League community recreation project, leading to the establishment of the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, where he was a lifelong member.

Hall’s personal and professional affiliations were numerous. He was executive secretary of the Master Barber’s Association, a member of the National Negro Business League, and a president emeritus and honorary board member of the Urban League of St. Paul until his death on October 26, 1975. He was a member of Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul.

In 1991, Hall’s house, located at 996 Inglehart Avenue, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was a modest, two story, vernacular-style house in the heart of the Summit-University (Rondo) neighborhood in St. Paul. In 2011, after the Minnesota Historic Preservation Office and the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission failed to report its historic significance, the house was demolished. Its demise was the impetus of the 2016 St. Paul African American Historic and Cultural Context, an extensive study and inventory of the city’s African American historic resources and sites.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.