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John Louis McHie Sr.
*John McHie was born on this date in 1877. He was a Black laborer and businessman.
From Stanardsville (Greene County), Virginia, he was born John Lewis Michie. He was one of the first freeborn Blacks owned by white Scotsman William Michie and thus took the last name of his Master. The Michie family was (is) wealthy and is registered as one of the First Family of Virginia (FFV). They established the Michie Tavern in 1784 near Charlottesville, which is still operating in the 21st Century. This remains a social center in the area for travelers and remained in the Michie family until 1910.
Not much is known about John Michie’s childhood, including whether or not he had any siblings or his parents. Michie joined the army on May 7, 1894, in Pittsburgh, PA., as a Private for three years. He was in the 10th Calvary Co. G and fought in the Spanish American War. After the war, he was stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln near Mandan, North Dakota.
A racial incident with his white commanding officer resulted in a fight and his dishonorable discharge. He was transferred to Fort Assiniboine, Montana, and discharged on July 18, 1897. After that incident, he legally changed his middle and last name to Louis and McHie. He then migrated to Chicago, Illinois, where he found work stoking coal furnaces in the Gold Coast District near lake Michigan.
While working in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century, he met a Jewish woman named Hermina Kalbrier. From Hanover, Germany, she worked as a nanny for one of the families living on lake Michigan. They were married in Chicago in 1907 and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. He and his wife had three children, Frances Mary, John Jr., and James Charles. Soon after his youngest was born, WW 1 ended, and through letters from his wife’s family in Germany, McHie began to foresee the movement, which would evolve into the Nazi Holocaust. This came during the negotiations between the Allied powers and Germany, which led to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
Raising a Black and Jewish family, McHie was also very sensitive and opinionated about the consequences on his wife’s Jewish family and all Jews in Europe. He began speaking out publicly from letters written to his wife from her family in Germany. On April 20, 1918, a group of masked men took him from his home to the outskirts of Minneapolis and beat him for making disloyal remarks. This area is now where the Mall of America is located. He was left to find his way home. His activist-speaking actions would often occur on the corner of Lake Street and Bryant Avenue in South Minneapolis.
McHie was an enterprising man running his window-washing business, developing a clientele throughout the seven-county metropolitan areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. They ranged from buildings at the University of Minnesota, and many office buildings, to several churches. He attended St. Peter’s AME Church in South Minneapolis and has a small nameplate labeled from a donation he made at the church. John McHie died on June 5, 1958, in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Historical Society.org
The McHie Family Collection
Minnesota Historical Society
345 Kellogg Boulevard West
Saint Paul, MN 55102