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St. Cloud's newest park honors the area's first slaves

Mary Butler was a slave brought to St. Cloud in 1857.

St. Cloud has a new park, and it honors the area's first known slaves.

Located on the Mississippi River at the end of a recently completed trail, Mayor Dave Kleis held a dedication ceremony for Butler Park on Saturday morning.

It's named for Mary Butler and her family. She and her 2-year-old son were slaves in Tennessee. They moved with their owner to St. Cloud in 1857. According to MPR and a plaque at the new park, the child didn't survive the trip.

The website says Mary was pregnant when she arrived and gave birth to another son later that year and named him John. He's believed to have been the first African American baby born in St. Cloud.

Chris Lehman, a St. Cloud State University professor who's studied the history of slavery in Minnesota, says that while slaves did exist in Minnesota, there was generally a lot of opposition. So slaves and slave owners often didn't stay in the area for long.

That was the case with the Butlers. Less than a year after moving to St. Cloud, they moved back south with their owner.

"It's important to have these reminders so we're motivated even more to do what we have to do to build community," the mayor told the St. Cloud Times. "These are reminders of the sacrifices of individuals like Mary and John Butler."

You can read more about the Butlers and the history of slavery in St. Cloud here.

The park is located north of downtown St. Cloud at 300 Fifth Ave. N. It's the city's 96th park.

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