Longtime activist and St. Paul resident Vic Rosenthal given his own day in St. Paul

Longtime community activist and St. Paul resident Vic Rosenthal, 68, was honored Saturday by the city declaring March 18 “Victor Rosenthal Day” in honor of his decades of community organizing and work for social justice.

In the proclamation from St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, Rosenthal was lauded as a champion for racial, social and economic justice, and a tireless advocate for immigrant rights, marriage equality and voting rights.

He “has made St. Paul a more equitable and accessible place to live,” through his work to build affordable housing, to provide access to light rail, as an educator at Metro State University and as an advocate for inclusionary zoning and much more, the proclamation said.

“Vic’s tenacity and unflagging spirit have always been accompanied by a total inability to hear the word no or stop fighting for justice, in spite of any political environment, inclement weather, illness, or (being told no in the past),” the mayor wrote.

From 2000 to 2017, Rosenthal was executive director of the St. Paul-based Jewish Community Action group, an organization that works to address the root causes of poverty, racism and injustice. Prior to that, he served as a board member for the group, which was founded in 1995.

Rosenthal wanted to preserve the organization’s history in perpetuity, and applied for and received three legacy grants from the Minnesota Historical Society that allowed him to write a book about the history of the organization and organize the group’s archives into the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives.

In a 2021 article from the University of Minnesota on his archiving work, Rosenthal said that immigration was among issues particularly important to him, because his grandparents are immigrants, along with anti-racism and white supremacy, which he said has been linked to anti-Semitism.

Rosenthal also mentioned the organization’s work against the marriage and Voter ID amendments in 2012, saying, “Those were both such lively and powerful campaigns, and among some of the most amazing efforts I have ever been part of, because we were expected to lose on both and we won on both. We won because we had thousands of volunteers coalescing from lots of organizations to work together and those kinds of opportunities don’t come up that often.”

In a 2013 profile in the Twin Cities Daily Planet, Rosenthal said that after four decades with the JCA, he still felt energized by the work.

“I helped build an organization that makes a difference in peoples’ lives,” he said in the article. “At the end of the day, that’s all you can hope for.”

A friend, journalist Wayne Coffey, said in an email to the Pioneer Press that Rosenthal “is the epitome of an unsung hero who has made St. Paul and surrounding communities a better place to live.”

The proclamation was read to Rosenthal over Zoom Saturday since he is ill with cancer and was moved on Friday to hospice, Coffey wrote.

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