The power dynamics at the root of Iron Range history

Aaron Brown speaks for the Kootasca Community Action “Big View” series at Minnesota North-Itasca in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.

Last week, I gave a talk about race and power in the immigrant dynamic of the Mesabi Iron Range. It was a challenging topic, but I like to think I approached it in a non-dogmatic way. 

I realized after it was done that I didn’t finish one of the stories I started in the Q&A. So here it is. I was talking to a fellow Iron Ranger about his dad’s experiences in the mines in the 1940s and ’50s. His dad was Swedish and lamented that his Croatian boss was really hard on him and the other Scandinavians. 

My research taught me that in the 1910s and ’20s, the experience was reversed. Southern Europeans were considered unacceptable for management positions. Instead, they were relegated to the most dangerous, lowest paying positions while northern European immigrants were promoted.

That means that this Croatian foreman was probably one of the first to achieve that role. Though unkind, his animus toward the “round heads” was likely shaped by experiences earlier in his career. These power dynamics pass down through the generations like a pipe bursting on the top floor. The damage is deep, lasting and hard to reverse. 

Race, Justice, and the Immigrant Story of the Iron Range” was sponsored by the Big View series of Kootasca Community Action. ICTV recorded the presentation, which took place at the Chucker Auditorium of the Itasca campus of Minnesota North College.

The talk runs about an hour and a half with questions. If you have the time and interest, check it out.

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