Oral History of Member Benjamin Alexander


I was in pre-med when I was in college and so my wife said, "Well, why don't you go to mortuary science and get your license and we'll move up to Saint Paul, Minnesota?” Which I did. I moved back to Minnesota in 1950, went to the University of Minnesota, got my degree and license, and opened up the Alexander Hyde Benjamin AlexanderBenjamin AlexanderPark Chapel.? We were in business for forty-seven years.

I heard about the Sterling Club when I moved over here back in the 1950s. They tried to get me to join and I said, “No, I don't want to be there with the old men." But I ended up with them! I'm an ex-president of the Sterling Club. I've been in the Sterling Club for over fifty years.

In the club we have a plaque that says, “The Sterling Club, Incorporated, Saint Paul, Minnesota, Founded November 1918, Incorporated, August 28, 1919." And it lists the original founding members, who are W. E. Alexander, Richard H. McCracken, Howard F. McIntyre, Dwight T. Reed, William Taney, Hammond Turner, and W. Wigington.

You know, we're the only Black club owned and operated by Blacks either side of the Mississippi River. A lot of clubs, like the Credjafawn, Forty Club, all have been in existence as long as we have, but they still meet at homes. They don't have a clubhouse. We used to go with the Forty Club or the Credjafawn where you'd have picnics in the fall of the year together. The three of us would have picnics, but they don't do that anymore.

We needed our clubs because we couldn't go down to the restaurants or hotels downtown.

If there was places that would serve you, they'd serve you and break the glass in front of you. And we'd have them break maybe two dozen glasses. ." It was embarrassing and humiliating. It really was. Yep, it really was.

They would pour you a drink, you would drink it, push it back, and let them break it. They would break the glass in front of you as an insult.Cap WigingtonCap Wigington

Their actions indicated they would not serve a White person from a glass used by a Black person. And some of them would say, "You look like an Indian." And they had a law they couldn't serve Indians. So I'd walk in, "You're Indian, so

said, "Well, we'll get us a place of our own." So they met at their homes and they got Cap Wigington to draw up the plans. Originally the plans were to have a storefront downstairs and the Sterling Club upstairs so they'd get a little rental property from downstairs. The city said, "No, you have to build a house." Now they couldn't build a big enough house because they didn't have that much money to accommodate 150, 200 people. That was the Sterling Club at 315 North Dale Street.

To join the Sterling Club you have to be recommended by a member. You just can't walk off the street and say, "I wanna be a member." You've got to be recommended by an outstanding member. Then you're voted upon. We've always had dues. They've been $15, 20, 25, 35. It's $35 a man now. We got around sixty active members. We've got chartered members, like I am, that's been in twenty-five years or more.

The history as it was told to me was that the men would have their events at different homes because they would want to go downtown to have their little events or dances. The hotels would say, "We don't rent to Blacks." Or, "We're booked up. We don't have any room." So the men  built the original Sterling Club, 315 Dale Street

The club was formed by mostly postal workers or railroad men. Initially that was the makeup of the Sterling Club men. Now they've got engineers from 3M. They've got members from all walks of life now. We're not stuck up, but you know, we want to keep our image up as much as possible.

Once a year we have the annual dance. We still have those. We use to have our dances right at the clubhouse, right at 315 North Dale Street. They'd pack them in there, but they'd have their little fun. I like being a member here for the friendship, camaraderie, being around storytellers

BENJAMIN LOUIS ALEXANDER SR. was born in 1918 in Evanston, Illinois. He and his wife, Jewell, were proud of their sons Benjamin Jr. ("Skip"), Douglas, and Rodney, and grandsons Douglas Jr. and Kyle. A proud World War II Tuskegee Airman, Mr. Alexander received the American Theater Ribbon, a Good Conduct Medal, a WWII Victory Medal, and in 2004 the Hallie Q. Brown Man of the Year award. He was president and dedicated member of the Sterling Club

NOTES:

1. Benjamin Louis Alexander Senior was born February 11, 1918, and passed February 3, 2005.

2. Wife Jewell Patricia Mann, Alexander was born July 31, 1918, and passed September 3.

 

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