Rankin forged Urban League power agenda


Leon A. Rankin, Jr.

Twin Cities Business and civic leader Leon A. Rankin Jr., died in hospice February 14, 2015.

A memorial service honoring his contributions to family and community will be held at Noon Saturday February 21 at Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, 1800 Dupont Av. N., Minneapolis, MN 55411. Visitation is 6-8 pm Friday, February 20, at Estes Funeral Chapel, at Plymouth and Penn Ave. in North Minneapolis. Rankin had suffered a series of debilitating strokes that intensified since the beginning of the year.

Rankin, along with veteran civil rights freedom fighters Ron Edwards, the late Nellie Stone Johnson and the late Elmer Childress formed the core leadership group of the legendary Minneapolis Urban League Board of Directors in the mid-1970s. Columnist and television commentator Edwards is the only surviving member of the power group that gave rise to the MUL national reputation as audacious, relentless, progressive and effective.

“We had the privilege of serving with Leon Rankin and later Elmer Childress and the late Nellie Stone Johnson, and others on the Urban League Board of Directors. We all served together from 1974 – 1989. Mr. Rankin was one of the most effective organizers within the labor movement in Minnesota for African Americans and others of color,” said Edwards.


Rankin joined the US Air Force in 1954 and served for two years.

Edwards said Leon Rankin was 1 only of 2 African American Certified Master Electricians in the State of Minnesota. “He was respected and often called upon within the labor movement for his advice and recommendations when the Urban League was at the forefront of changing to a positive relationship between organized labor and the African American community.”

Rankin worked closely with Nellie Stone Johnson and longtime labor leader and U.S. Commissioner of Veterans Affairs for the State of Minnesota, Elmer Childress, who was the only African American to serve as the Commissioner of Veterans Affairs in the history of Minnesota, Edwards said.

Rankin, Nellie Stone Johnson, and Cecil Newman, founder and publisher of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, formed a highly effective advocacy and civic change movement through the Urban League, he said.

Edwards said, “He will long be remembered as one of the most successful and effective civil rights leaders in the State of Minnesota.”


L-R: Ron Edwards, Minneapolis Urban League (MUL) chair; Leon A. Rankin, Jr., MUL treasurer; Gleeson Glover, MUL executive director; Hobart Mitchell, Minneapolis NAACP; Spike Moss, The Way, Incorporated

Rankin was born August 16, 1935 in Tribett, Ms. to the late Leon Adam Rankins, Sr. and Hattie Dunbar Rankins Snyder. Second eldest of seventeen children, he was preceded in death by his parents, six siblings, A. J. Rankins, Henry Rankins, Lillie Rankins, Arthur Rankins, Erma Johnson, Quincella Cook and two children Alva Rankin and Lecia Rankin Raintree.

Rankin attended and graduated from Simmons High School in Hollandale, MS. He joined the US Air Force in 1954 and served for two years. In 1957, he married Beatrice B. Motley, building a family with the birth of two children , Leon L. Rankin and Lenise Rankin.

He moved to Minneapolis in 1958, worked for Minneapolis Electric Steel, US Postal Services, and Honeywell. He earned an Electrician Journeyman License after attending Dunwoody College. He became a Master Electrician and a contractor in 1968.

Rankin received a BA from St. Catherine and a Master’s and a License in Family and Marriage Counseling from St. Mary’s University.

In May of 1985, he married Berinda Powell Rankin and to that union three sons were born Bobby Rankin, Tuere Rankin and Terrance Rankin.

Family members and friends describe Rankin as “a loving and devoted father, husband, brother, grandfather, uncle and friend.”

“He took all of the roles in his life to heart and strove to honor, support, and guide and most importantly, protect his family. He was happiest spending time with family. Even during those inevitable tough times that life has a way of throwing at you, his devotion to his family, friends and those less fortunate was the foundation of his actions, the anchor that defined and shaped his life. You could count on him whether you needed simple advice, an empathetic ear, a shoulder to lean on, companionable silence – listener, a golf partner, a fishing companion, historian, or family griot. He was the man,” said sister, Evelyn Kimble.

Rankin was a respected citizen, civil rights activist, businessman, teacher, family and marriage counselor and organizer. He also served on the KMOJ Board of Directors, Phyllis Wheatley Community Center Board, Pillsbury United Board, and many other civic and community organizations. He was part of the DFL Labor Party and ran a precinct caucus in Brooklyn Center for many years. He also served on the Board of the National Electrical Contractors Association.

In 1988 he and Dunwoody College President Emeritus Warren Phillips became co – founders of YCAP (Youth Career Awareness Program) at Dunwoody College of Technology. The innovative program enhanced career opportunities of under-represented youth by empowering them to graduate from high school and obtain a degree from Dunwoody College of Technology.

Rankin is survived by his wife Berinda Powell Rankin, five children, Leon L. (Roberta) Rankin, Lenise (Kip) Rankin, Bobby Rankin, Tuere Rankin, and Terrance Rankin all of Minneapolis, MN., four brothers: Jerry Rankins, Roosevelt (Jessie) Rankins, Alfred (Mary) Rankins and Carl (Donna) Rankins all of Greenville, MS, six sisters: Barbara (Jessie) Johnson of Jacksonville, Florida, Florence (Joe) Dorsey, Margaret Williams both of Greenville, MS, Gloria Lewis of Marion, Arkansas, Evelyn Kimble of Minneapolis, MN and Rosemary Ogunrinde of Memphis, TN., eleven grandchildren and three great grandchildren and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives and friends.

February 19, 2015
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