When I asked around about African American history in the U.P., I found it's a topic that didn't have much written records available. What I did find is that African Americans were laborers that worked on the railroads, ports, mining, and fur trades. "These were former slaves that fled the south and had migrated to the Upper Peninsula, figuring southern slave capture wasn't under tyranny and come through the woods and come up here and bring them back to the south," says Dr. Russ Magnaghi.
Valerie Bradley-Holliday is the author of Northern Roots, the only book written on blacks in the U.P. In her research, she discovered Joseph Lafayette Smith, who was a barber in the late 1800s and created local traditions like the dog sled races.
"As part of the winter carnival, they thought it would be nice to have dog sled heats, and they were used with families' working dogs," says Holliday.
William Gaines worked in copper mining. The Gaines were one of the first families to settle in Marquette; his son Ronald Gaines ran for city commissioner, and all of his kids have lead successful lives in Illinois.
It's people like the Gaines family that definitely shaped the culture of the community.
After writing Northern Roots, Valerie has discovered more information that she wants to turn into a second book about the history of African Americans in the U.P.