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Pioneering former St. Paul City Council president Bill Wilson dies at 79

Bill Wilson was the first African American elected to the city council.

Politicians and activists in St. Paul are mourning former city council president Bill Wilson, who has died at the age of 79.

Wilson died Saturday after battling illness, the St. Paul DFL confirmed on Sunday.

Leading the tributes was St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, who said: "Former City Council President Bill Wilson literally spent his entire life in service to others.

"I’ve leaned on him for years as both a mentor and confidante, and his public service paved the way for me in more ways than one. He will be greatly missed."

Wilson was a pioneering force in St. Paul politics and activism, becoming the first African American to be elected to the city council, serving in the '80s and '90s, and a former Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights under former Gov. Wendell Anderson.

He has spent his adult life fighting for change and racial equity, with TC Daily Planet noting he co-founded Students for Racial Progress at the University of Minnesota.

He was also the founder of the Inner City Youth League in St. Paul, as well as the founder of the acclaimed K-12 charter school the Higher Ground Academy, which he launched in 1999 with the aim of providing educational opportunities for African American youths.

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"Bill was a staunch advocate for human and civil rights and a pioneer as the first African American elected to St. Paul’s City Council," said the St. Paul DFL.

"Throughout his life and career, Bill continued to be an influential voice for our community. Never wavering from his commitment to ensure St. Paul was a place that lived up to its promise of being a city where everyone could thrive.

"His voice, energy and passion for community service will be missed. Arrangements are being made and will be shared soon."

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