The Status of Equal Opportunity for Minorities in Moorhead, Minnesota

Chapter 1


The Advisory Committee Report

Purpose and Methodology

The purpose of this project is to study equal opportunity conditions for minority residents in Moorhead, Minnesota. Information was collected along racial and ethnic lines in order to discern possible disparities in opportunity in the areas of (1) income and employment, (2) education, (3) public safety, and (4) housing and public accommodation. 

Buttressing the data collected, an attitudinal survey of white residents in the Moorhead community on their perceptions of equal opportunity was undertaken to learn if the majority community thought minorities were subject to unequal opportunity. Student interns, operating under the U.S. Commission on Civil Right’s student volunteer program, conducted the survey research. The survey was a scientifically drawn random sample of white households.

The same survey was also conducted with minority households, and is presented in this report with the survey results of the white households to contrast differences in perception between the minority and nonminority communities regarding equal opportunity in Moorhead. Student interns conducted the survey as well.

The data and survey information are buttressed with testimony received at a public fact-finding meeting held May 25 and 26, 1999, to solicit information on race and ethnic relations and equal opportunity from public officials, the minority community, and the general public. To ensure balance in the testimony received, those invited to testify included representatives with knowledge of civil rights and race and ethnic relations in the community from government, industry, community organizations, and both the minority and white communities. In addition, notice of the meeting was published in advance of the meeting date in the Federal Register, announcing the location, time, and agenda of the meeting. A session was scheduled to allow any member of the public to address the Advisory Committee.

Comments at the fact-finding meeting were received from (in order of appearance): Morris L. Lanning, mayor; Harvey Stalwick (Concordia College); Richard DuBord (Moorhead State University); Bruce R. Anderson (Moorhead Public Schools); Jeff Kemink (Norwest Bank Minnesota West); Ron Jordan (State Bank of Fargo); David Berg (Crystal Sugar); Ron Baker (Minnesota Workforce Center); Dianna Hatfield (Moorhead Healthy Community Initiative); Yoke-Sim Gunartane (Cultural Diversity Project); Phil Holtan (Concordia College); Abner Arauza (Moorhead State University); Grant Weyland, Wayne Arnold, and Nancy Taralson (Moorhead Police); Richard Henderson (Moorhead Human Rights Commission); Joe Parise (Public Defenders Office); John Hulden (Trinity Lutheran Church); Sharon Altendorf (Guadalupe Project); Duke Schempp, Lisa Diagos, and Theodora Mengi (People Escaping Poverty Project); Michelle Hansen (Legal Services); Jill Danielson, Alisa Rodriguez, Vicky Ortiz, Rachel Arroyo, and Paula Strom-Sell (Mujeres Unidas); Harold Ironshield (Northern Plaines Media Consortium); Hector Martinez (Centro Cultural); and Josie Gonzalez (Minnesota Church Anti-Racism Initiative). 

Individuals speaking at the public session were (in order of appearance): Pete Padilla, Sonia Hohnadel, Juanita Yzaguirre, Anita Flores Sunigi, Pamela Renville, Darlene Renville, Carolyn Renville, Vicente Amoles, Steve Amenyo, Carey Lyon, and James Carpenter. Comments received from all individuals and organizations were considered and are included in the Committee’s report.

Organization and Focus

This study examines equal opportunity for minorities in Moorhead, Minnesota, in four areas: (1) income and employment, (2) public education in grades K–12, (3) public safety, and (4) housing and public accommodation. In chapter two, each area is a specific section. Following an introduction, each section has three parts: survey of the attitudes of white residents, commentary on the issue from public and organization officials, and commentary on the issue from members of the minority community. In chapter 3, the Committee presents its findings and recommendations. 

Harvey Stalwick, professor of social work at Concordia College (Moorhead, MN), opened the Committee’s meeting with testimony about the pernicious effects stereotyping and racism have on a community.

The color of one’s skin can become a code for sweeping generalizations about persons, generalizations which contribute to a denial of equal opportunity and to social isolation. 

In a racist culture, racial features can be used for grounds to discriminate and exploit in the workplace as well as institutions of education and training, and this can result in unemployment, high school dropouts, low literacy rates, as well as low technical skills.

People [then] make generalizations [on the basis of color], and the accompanied culture of despondency is attributed to cultural shortcomings. Persons’ unique assets, their culture, their history, spiritual values, skills, and credentials all vanish into thin air because of this generalization. As a result of this nonrecognition and low citizen status, individuals [minorities] are often marginalized and alienated.[1]

Sharon Altendorf from the Catholic Diocese of Moorhead and the Guadalupe Project stated that minorities, and the Latino community in particular, are not newcomers to the Fargo-Moorhead area. Still, these groups suffer disproportionately from unequal opportunity. The Guadalupe Project is a coordinated ministry of the three Catholic parishes of Moorhead and Dillworth. It provides both a welcoming outreach and pastoral services to Latinos. Altendorf told the Committee:

The greater metropolitan Fargo-Moorhead area has become worse in its acceptance of Latinos. Latinos began coming to this area over 80 years ago, but today if they are seen, the perception and the word used still say they are the migrants or the people on welfare, the youth gangs, they’re into drugs. 

My concerns go on a day-to-day basis: for example, the inability of Latinos to get a job. Recently a local television reporter had a story on the large number of available jobs and no one to fill them. That same day our church received a flyer from Job Services in Fargo pleading for jobs for those who lost their jobs at Federal Beef. Also, that same day I spoke with two Latino families representing six workers who for over two weeks had put in applications at every place they saw “Now Hiring” signs and had not received one call back. And they questioned why. They said racism. 

In the alternative education program, 80 percent are minorities. That is just unacceptable. 

In my work with the penal system, I find the percentages of Latinos with plea bargaining and incarcerated disproportionate. Minorities will tell you that the laws of sentencing are okay if they are practiced equally. But often they need someone who understands their language and customs to defend them. They said that the defense lawyers advise them that they cannot get a fair trial here, even if they are innocent, they need to accept a plea bargain or run the risk of maximum sentence. And they also said judges, police, prosecuting and defending attorneys are all part of the same system [and] will not challenge each other to defend them.[2]

Resident Survey

The Committee’s fact-finding meeting was buttressed by a survey of resident attitudes in Moorhead regarding equal opportunity for minorities. The survey of randomly selected households in Moorhead was conducted by telephone. Student interns from Concordia College and Moorhead State University under supervision of staff of the Midwestern Regional Office of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights did the actual survey. The survey consisted of a series of 27 questions, and survey questions discussed at the beginning of each section are related to the topical area. One hundred forty-four white households were surveyed; the survey has an error rate of 7.5 percent and a tolerance range of 0.10. Forty-seven minority households were surveyed. Survey results of minority households are considered representative as the sample was randomly drawn and the sample size exceeded 30, but the small sample size does not allow for a definitive margin of error or tolerance range. 

Four initial questions were asked of area residents about the importance of race relations in the Moorhead area in an attempt to discern attitudes regarding any improvement in race relations in recent years. To these preliminary questions, Moorhead residents were asked whether they: (1) strongly agreed, (2) agreed, (3) were undecided, (4) disagreed, (5) strongly disagreed, or (6) did not know to the following statements:

Survey of Resident Attitudes on Race Relations

[White percents are set out first; minority percents are beneath in parenthesis] 

  Strongly agree  Agree  Disagree Strongly disagree
1. Equal opportunity and full integration for minorities are important  36%
2. Equal opportunity for minorities has improved in the past 10 years 15%
3. Race relations and equal opportunity for minorities are social problems in Moorhead  14%
4. The media generally depict minorities favorably and report on the minority community in a fair manner  7%

Source: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Midwestern Regional Office, “Survey of Racial and Ethnic Attitudes in Moorhead, Minnesota,” 1999.

Ninety-two percent of responding white residents indicated that equal opportunity and full integration for minorities in Moorhead are important for the community. Similarly, 95 percent of white residents indicated that equal opportunity for minorities has improved in Moorhead in the past 10 years. Among minorities, 79 percent believe that equal opportunity and full integration in Moorhead are important for the community. But in sharp contrast to the white community, only 33 percent agreed that equal opportunity for minorities has improved in Moorhead in the past 10 years. 

Both minorities and white residents in Moorhead consider race relations a social problem. Seventy-six percent of responding white residents and 64 percent of minority respondents indicated that race relations and equal opportunity for minorities are social problems in Moorhead. But whereas white residents did not feel that the media portrayed minorities in a negative light (74 percent of responding white residents said the media in the Fargo-Moorhead area generally depicted minorities favorably and reported on the minority community in a fair manner), 64 percent of minorities thought that the media in the Fargo-Moorhead area generally did not depict minorities favorably or fairly. The results are shown in table 1.1.

Moorhead Demographics and Commerce


Moorhead is situated on the western border of Minnesota on the Red River, 231 miles northwest of Minneapolis. The city is in Clay County and borders Fargo, North Dakota. The 1990 census recorded the population of Moorhead to be 32,295, a number little changed from the 1980 census, which put the population at 29,998 residents, and the 1970 census count of 29,687 individuals. The population of Clay County has similarly been stable. The 1990 census reported a county population of 50,422. In 1980, there were 49,327 residents; in 1970, the county had a population of 46,608.

Historically the Moorhead community has been predominantly white, northern European in terms of its ethnicity and cultural influences. In recent decades the area has become more diverse. Racial and ethnic minorities remain a small, but growing, segment of the Moorhead population. The 1990 census counted 152 (0.5 percent) African Americans; 890 (2.7 percent) Latinos; 441 (1.4 percent) American Indians; and 355 (1.1 percent) Asians and Pacific Islanders. 

Population, City of Moorhead

  Number Percent
White (non-Latino)


Latino 890 2.7%
American Indian 441 1.4%
Black 152 0.5%


Total 32,295  

Source: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Midwestern Regional Office, from 1990 U.S. census.

The latest information from city demographers indicates that the city’s population of persons of color has increased from 4.5 percent in 1990 to 6.1 percent in 1997, and the people who are Hispanic or Latino in ethnic background have increased from 2.4 percent in 1990 to 3.4 percent in 1997, with people moving to Moorhead from the southern United States and Mexico.[3]

Many of the Asian American residents in Moorhead are students at the local colleges or university. The Asian American and African American communities are relatively newer to the Moorhead area and are the smallest minority constituencies, so this report focuses on equal opportunity for Latinos and American Indians. The Committee, however, found that similar issues affecting the Latino and American Indian communities also affected the Asian and African American communities, and instances of discrimination against individuals of these two groups are discussed in this report.

Family Conditions

Family conditions vary widely, however, along racial and ethnic lines in Clay County. For white households, only 17.2 percent of the families are single-parent households. For Latinos, 36.8 percent of all family households are single-parent homes, and for American Indians 67.1 percent of all family households are headed by a single parent.

Single-Parent Households, Clay County
White 17.2%
Latino  36.8%
American Indian  67.1%

Source: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Midwestern Regional Office, from 1990 U.S. census.

Agriculture and Industry

Total employment in the city of Moorhead is 14,087. Manufacturing jobs account for just 8 percent (1,123) of total employment. The unemployment rate in the area is low, less than 5 percent. The Red River Valley of the North is one of the most fertile and productive agricultural regions in the world, so agribusiness is essential to the city’s economy.

There are no large industrial operations in Moorhead. The largest private employers are American Crystal Sugar (refined beetsugar, 450 employees); Moorhead Electric (electrical contractor, 135); Hornbachers Foods (retail grocery, 135); K-Mart (retail, 115); Kost Brothers (concrete and gravel, 100); Festival Foods (retail grocery, 70); Anheuser-Busch (malting plant, 60); Target (retail, 60); and Coca-Cola Bottling (bottling, 50).

Largest Private Employers in Moorhead
American Crystal Sugar 450
Moorhead Electric 135
Hornbachers Foods 135
K-Mart 115
Kost Brothers 100
Festival Foods 70
Anheuser-Busch 60
Target 60
Coca-Cola Bottling 50

Source: Moorhead Chamber of Commerce, 1998.

Education is Moorhead’s biggest business, and the majority of those employed in the city are engaged in education. Moorhead State University employs 800 persons, the public school district employs 700, and Concordia College has 550 employees. Moorhead has eight elementary schools with an enrollment of 3,485, and one junior high and one senior high with 888 and 1,480 students, respectively. Many students in Moorhead attend private and parochial schools. There are 10 K–12 parochial schools with a total enrollment of 2,017 and two private K–6 schools with 550 students.

In addition, there are three postsecondary educational institutions in the Moorhead community, which add to the city’s indigenous population. Moorhead State University has an enrollment of about 6,500; Concordia College, a private church-related college has approximately 3,000 students; and Northwest Technical College, which consists of several campuses, has an enrollment in Moorhead of nearly 1,200 students.

Civil Rights Issues Affecting Minorities

Despite the low numbers of minorities, civil rights issues regarding minorities have been of increasing interest due to the significant inflow of Latino residents to the city during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1980, there were fewer than 300 Latinos in Moorhead. The number of Latinos in Moorhead more than doubled during the 1980s, and population estimates show a continued surge in the Latino population in the city and Clay County during the 1990s.

In the mid-1990s, the city of Moorhead initiated the Moorhead Healthy Community Initiative. Part of that initiative involved a survey of community attitudes in Moorhead. Two-thousand Moorhead adults were asked a series of 125 questions about their attitudes on family life, schools, quality of life, and community values. Included in the survey were questions pertaining to racial and ethnic discrimination.

Residents were asked to respond to the following question: “How much, if at all, do you think Moorhead’s racial/ethnic minorities are discriminated against in each of the following situations?” The percentage of those responding “some” or “a great deal” are shown in parenthesis: looking for work (55 percent), looking for housing (58 percent), in Moorhead’s schools (36 percent), seeking medical help (19 percent), in neighborhoods (53 percent), dealing with police (48 percent), by churches (11 percent), shopping in Moorhead stores (28 percent), dealing with city government (24 percent), and in the workplace (31 percent).

Resident Survey on Discrimination
Percentage of those surveyed believing minorities in Moorhead encounter discrimination in the following areas:
Housing 58%
Education 36%
Health care 19%
Neighborhoods 53%
Police 48%
Churches 11%
Shopping 28%
City government 24%
Employment 31%

Source: Moorhead Chamber of Commerce, 1998.

Additionally, when citizens were asked if they would support new efforts in Moorhead “to reduce discrimination, even if it cost more in taxes or meant that something else in the City would have to be cut back,” 43 percent responded that they “would strongly support this,” 43 percent responded they “might support this,” and 14 percent responded they “would not support this.”

On July 4, 1998, the city experienced its first major civil rights disturbance. It occurred in the Romkey Park area on the city’s east side, a predominantly Latino area. That evening police were initially called in to respond to a reported domestic situation. As officers moved to apprehend an individual involved in the domestic disturbance, area Latino residents gathered.

As tensions increased, the police used pepper spray against the crowd, and canine units were used for crowd control. Reinforcement police units from surrounding communities were called in response to reports of officers being pelted by bottles and other objects. The Romkey Park area was eventually surrounded by police units, and several residents were arrested and charged with obstructing the legal process. There was damage to some police cars and other minor property damage, including a bicycle thrown through a window of an apartment building. Area residents charge the police overreacted, indiscriminately using mace and other abusive tactics on Latino citizens.

[1] Harvey Stalwick, statement before the Minnesota Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, fact-finding meeting, Moorhead, MN, May 24 and 25, 1999, transcript, pp. 24–43 (hereafter cited as Transcript).

[2] Sharon Altendorf, Transcript, pp. 245–55.

[3] U.S. census update, 1996. The statement on individuals moving to Moorhead from the southern United States and Mexico is from survey responses of minority households.