MCTC Law Enforcement Faculty Debbie Montgomery received a unique honor this week: The City of St. Paul named a stretch of Marshall Avenue, in the city’s historic Rondo neighborhood, after her. Read the story from the Pioneer Press here.
St. Paul honors Debbie Montgomery with street segment
The segment of Marshall Avenue between Lexington Parkway and Western Avenue soon will bear the name of a former St. Paul City Council member who grew up during the civil rights era and became the first female officer in the St. Paul Police Department.
On Wednesday, the council voted to approve a resolution co-naming the avenue after Debbie Gilbreath Montgomery. Council member Dai Thao, who sponsored the resolution, called her a “true pioneer of courage and leadership for the city of St. Paul.”
Montgomery, who attended the vote, expressed gratitude for the new street name in her honor and encouraged city leaders to embrace the growing diversity within St. Paul as important decisions are made.
“Our city is changing,” Montgomery told the council. “We have to be open. … We have to make sure that everyone is at the table — at the table when the initial discussions happen, not afterward.”
According to Dai Thao’s resolution, Montgomery was born in St. Paul’s historically black Rondo neighborhood in 1946, 12 years before the construction of Interstate 94 razed her home and cleaved the neighborhood in two.
In the late 1950s, she served as president of the St. Paul NAACP youth group, and at age 17 became the youngest person ever elected to the NAACP’s national board of directors.
The position allowed her an opportunity to rub elbows with Vice President Hubert Humphrey and march on Washington, D.C., in 1963 with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Two years later, she participated in a historic civil rights march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala.
Montgomery, who graduated from St. Paul’s Central High School, went on to earn two master’s degrees in urban planning and police administration. She became the first female police officer in the St. Paul Police Department in 1975, rising up the ranks from sergeant to senior commander.
Council member Dan Bostrom, a former St. Paul police sergeant, recalled serving alongside Montgomery on the force. He told the council not to be fooled by her calm demeanor, and remembered a time when she knocked a belligerent suspect unconscious.
“When you run into a bunch of drunks during St. Patrick’s Day, yeah, we’re talking about Jekyll and Hyde here,” said Bostrom, to widespread laughter.
Montgomery served as assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety from 1991 to 1998 and was elected to the Ward 1 seat on the city council in 2004. She was unseated by Melvin Carter in the November 2007 election.
In 2008, she became an adjunct professor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
Montgomery was one of seven candidates who ran for the open Ward 1 seat on the council in November 2013. She finished in fourth place, with Dai Thao winning the seat.