Clarence Forester - - Finntown Resident : born 1915 - died 2004
Photo credit: Photo taken by Janet Hostetter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The above image from book ""Minnesota's Twentieth Century: Stories of Extraordinary Everyday People"", by D.J. Tice. - - - - - - - - - Caption from D.J. Tice's book: ""Clarence Forester holds his honorary Spanish citizenship documents outside his north Minneapolis home in 1997.""
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A section of Tice's book can be previewed at ::
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CLARENCE FORESTER -- born.1915 -- died. 2004
For most of his life, Clarence Forester lived modestly as a regular working man in North Minneapolis.
After I happened upon an interview with him on the Minnesota Historical Society website, I decided to dig a little deeper, and was surprised and pleased to locate a fair amount of material. This included Star Tribune and Pioneer Press articles written by Jim Klobuchar, Peg Meier and D.J. Tice in the 1990s. A seven page chapter on Forester is in Tice's book "Minnesota's Twentieth Century: Stories of Extraordinary Everyday People".
During the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Clarence Forester lived off-and-on in the North Minneapolis neighborhood that was commonly known as the Finntown of the Minneapolis St. Paul area. This former Finntown, which covered much of what is now the Harrison Neighborhood, has lost its Finnish identity, and has evolved into a very racially and culturally diverse area. During the 1930's this neighborhood was a concentration of Finns, but was quite politically diverse, and polarized between the left and the right. Clarence was one of the residents on the political left.
Clarence was born in 1915 at Alfred, North Dakota. His father died when he was young. His family was often stricken with poverty, and he experienced hunger on many occasions. At the age of 15 he hopped a freight train to Minneapolis. After a short time there he lived in Superior, Wisconsin for a couple of years - then back to Minneapolis. Clarence was half Finnish - Irish father, Finnish mother.
In an interview by Carl Ross for an oral history project, Clarence recalled the Finn Hall in Finntown. Besides hosting dances and other social gatherings, Finn Hall was often a meeting place for activists working to improve the conditions of low and middle income working people. This included union activists, socialists and communists. In the 1930s socialists and communists were more prominent and socially accepted in America than in later years. Clarence mentioned that leftist radical activism in Finntown had calmed down quite a bit by the late 30s.
Clarence remembered some friends and acquaintances from his time in Finntown in Minneapolis such as Walter Harju, Rudolph Harju, Bill Lowry, Jimmy Flowers, Jack Kuusisto, Vic Lapakko, Matt Hill, Walt Saari, George Halovan, Martin Maki, Harold Stone, Veikko Lindfors, Pete Jorgenson, and Henry Mark (note: spelling may be a bit off on some of these names).
Even though Clarence was not a truck driver, nor in a union, he participated in the historic 1934 truck drivers strike in Minneapolis. He believed that unions were a powerful force to improve the lives of the common working people. Clarence added his presence in the streets protesting during the strike. He recalled observing a number of physical confrontations between the pro-union and anti-union forces. Many hundreds of sympathizers joined with the striking workers in the streets. The violence of the street battles killed two strikers, and left many wounded on both sides. The success of the strike was a significant step forward for the union movement in Minnesota
Clarence became very concerned that the common working people in Spain would be hurt if the fascists won the civil war. He was living at 1309 N. 5th Avenue in Finntown when he volunteered with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and went to fight against the forces of Francisco Franco. The fascists were in the process of trying to militarily overthrow the democratically elected government, and were obtaining much military support from Hitler's Nazi Germany and from Mussolini's fascist Italy. Clarence was in Spain from February 1937 to November 1938. At first he drove ambulance at the southern front, then was moved to operations around Madrid. He participated in the pivotal Battle of Teruel. This battle ended very badly for the Loyalist army, which had to retreat - with a large number of Lincolns killed or captured. In the chaos of the retreat, he became separated from other Americans and found himself attached to the all-Spanish 11th Division under Commander Lister for the remainder of his time in Spain. This period was somewhat difficult because he could not speak Spanish, and his companion soldiers could not speak English. Clarence moved back to Finntown on the Northside of Minneapolis after his time in Spain. Clarence's brother Kenneth of Duluth, local friend Harold Stone, and fellow Finntown resident Veikko Lindfors also served with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain.
Forester remembered that when the Russians invaded Finland in 1939, the great majority of Finntown residents were strongly supportive of the Finnish forces fighting against Russia. However, surprisingly, there were a few hard core communist Finns who were actually sympathetic towards communist Russia. Clarence recalled that a newspaper reporter visited Finntown to gather material for an article about the views of local Finns on the Russian invasion. The reporter conducted interviews and took photos, including a photo of a group of strong Finnish men at a popular Glenwood Avenue sauna.
Clarence was living with his communist half brother Walter Harju in Finntown, and was home at the time, when FBI agents came to the house, arrested Walter, and hauled him off to jail. Many Finntown neighbors on the political left and on the political right thought Walter was a good guy, and felt badly that he had been put in jail. Clarence does not recall the exact charges, but guessed that Walter was arrested because he was a declared communist, and because of activities in pro-union strikes and protests.
During World War II, Clarence was drafted into military service and assigned to an artillery unit. His unit entered France at Utah Beach and participated in the push across France and Germany. This included involvement in the Battle of the Bulge, and the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp. His unit advanced to within 30 miles of Berlin, at which time the war ended and he was sent home. Forester mentioned that he witnessed firsthand the horrors of unbridled fascism.
After World War II, Forester settled down in Minneapolis, got married, and found work as a machinist. For the most part he lived quietly, and was not very politically active for the rest of his life. However, Clarence was frequently harassed by the FBI, especially during the McCarthy era of the 1950s, and to a lesser extent after the 50s. He had been a member of a socialist youth organization, but as an adult he had never been an actual member of a socialist or communist party. He attributed the FBI harassment mainly to his close ties to a few members of the communist party, such as his half brothers Walter and Rudolf, and to his service with the communist-supported anti-fascist army in the Spanish Civil War.
In 1996 the Spanish government granted him, and the other living veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, an all-expenses-paid trip to Spain. They were honored at a tribute event, and given honorary Spanish citizenship.
Over his years in Finntown Clarence lived in several places, including 1309 5th Ave N, 415 Humboldt, 429 Logan, 311 Newton, 312 Knox, and 207 Logan N. From the 1950s to the 1990s Clarence's home was farther north in Minneapolis at 4655 Queen Ave. N.. His wife of 46 years, Hazel, lived with him there until her passing in 1987. Forester passed away in Minneapolis on November 29, 2004 at the age of 89, and is buried in the Cokato Finnish Cemetery. - - - - - (written by Dave Stack)
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Background information sources for above article:
- - - D.J. Tice; book "Minnesota's Twentieth Century: Stories of Extraordinary Everyday People" published 1999 ::: http://muse.jhu.edu/book/32039 .
- - - Star Tribune article by Jim Klobuchar, Jan. 15, 1994, titled "He tried the Strength of his ideals in Spanish Civil War"
- - - Star Tribune article by Peg Meier, Jan. 14, 1996, titled "Spain to honor Minneapolis man for fighting Fascism"
- - - St. Paul Pioneer Press article by D.J. Tice, Aug. 24, 1997, titled "A Have-not's War in the 1930s ..."
- - - http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10362509
- - - http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/largerimage.php?irn=10249441&catirn=10362509
- - - http://www.alba-valb.org/volunteers/clarence-michael-forester
- - - http://www.alba-valb.org/programs/essay-contest/Warren-FletcherGeorgeWattEntry2014.pdf
- - - http://irelandscw.com/ibvol-Forrester.htm
- - - http://socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu/ark:/99166/w6z19544
- - - Minneapolis Star article, Dec. 21. 1938, titled "2 Minneapolis Youths Return from Battles"
- - - Wargelin, Marianne; article "Finntown, Minneapolis - An American Neighborhood"; in Hennepin County History magazine- fall 1988 issue
- - - Haider, Donald: "Finntown, Minneapolis: Politics of an ethnic community in an urban landscape"
- - - Wikipedia: article "Spanish Civil War"
- - - Wikipedia: article "Minneapolis General Strike of 1934"
Clarence ForesterFinntownFinn TownMinneapolis Historyabraham lincoln brigade