St. Louis Park was basically started by a band of stalwart New Englanders. In came the Germans and then the Scandinavians. The population of the Park was to remain homogeneous for many years. This page outlines some of the events that occurred on the road to the acceptance to all races, creeds and colors that we aspire to today. Included are events that happened in the Twin Cities and the State of Minnesota that affected – and continue to affect – us all.
Also see our companion page, The Jewish Community in St. Louis Park.
Your comments and contributions are welcome; please contact us. There is much more information waiting to be added to this story.
The preamble to the City Charter lays out the principles by which the city of St. Louis Park operates. It has been changed over the years. In 2017 it reads:
Human freedom and human rights are indivisible and the recognition of equality of all people is indispensable in the administration of a just government. Written documents which govern our nation and state clearly proclaim the rights and responsibilities of the people in making these freedoms possible. It is proper that cities do also, for human rights denied to one are denied to all. We, the people of St. Louis Park, therefore do hereby declare that equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged or denied by the City of St. Louis Park on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, age or status with regard to public assistance or disability.
The first known African-American in Minnesota was said to be Pierre Bonga. A story by Curt Brown in the StarTribune tells the story of the Bongas: In the late 1700s, British military Captain Daniel Robertson lived at a fort on Mackinac Island in Lake Michigan. He owned slaves named Jean and Marie-Jeanette Bonga, whose lineage traced from Africa to Jamaica and then the French-speaking West Indies. When Robertson died in 1787 he freed the Bongas and they went into fur trading. Their son Pierre traversed northern Minnesota and established a trading post near Pembina, ND, on the Canadian border across from Winnipeg.
Pierre had a son, George, with an Ojibwe woman, born near Duluth in about 1802. George spoke French, English, and Ojibwe. George was a fur trader, translator, canoe guide, and storyteller. He stood 6′ 6″ and was famous for singing Voyageur songs while carrying hundreds of pounds of pelts and goods through northern Minnesota’s swampy, mosquito-thick portage trails. In the 1820s and ’30s he served as a guide and fur trader for the American Fur Co. When beaver trapping diminished, he ran a lodge on Leech Lake. George Bonga died in 1874.
In 1820 the Missouri Compromise banned slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the southern border of Missouri.
The first African-Americans to come to Minnesota arrived as the slaves of Major Lawrence Taliaferro, who came to Fort Snelling on May 2, 1823. He sold some of the slaves to his friends at the Fort and freed the rest. The slaves of other officers came as well.
When Minnesota became a Territory in 1849 a census recorded 40 free blacks, 30 of which lived in St. Paul. Maria Haynes was the only black resident living in present-day Minneapolis. They were prohibited from voting on congressional, territorial, county, and precinct elections. In 1851 the ban was extended to village elections and in 1853 to town elections.
In 1851 the US Government signed treaties with the Dakota at Traverse des Sioux and Mendota, opening up southwestern Minnesota to white settlers.
The Territorial legislature considered a bill in 1854 that required African-American residents to post a bond of $300 to $500 as a “guarantee” of good behavior.
In a move to contest the right of foreigners to vote, the Know Nothing Party proposed a 21-year waiting period before immigrants could become citizens, as opposed to five years. The secretive Know Nothings were formed in 1854 to try to keep Irish Catholics out of the U.S. The St. Paul Pioneer Press pointed out that 8 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were not native-born Americans. The “party” fell apart over the issue of slavery just before the Civil War.
In 1855 the US Government and the Ojibwe signed a treaty in Washington, DC.
Slaves Harriet and Dred Scott came to Minnesota with their owner, a Fort Snelling surgeon named Dr. Emerson, in 1836 . In 1857 Scott sued for his freedom, since Minnesota was not a slave state, but a far-reaching Supreme Court decision ruled that he could not claim freedom; i.e., his owner had a right to his property.
The Minneapolis Spokesman ran a history of African-Americans in Minneapolis on September 29, 1939. The article reported that the first group of free blacks came in in 1857, when eight families came up the Mississippi River from Missouri, Arkansas, and Illinois and settled just above St. Anthony Falls.
Slaves of southerners who vacationed in Minnesota were residents here in the 1850s and ’60s.
During the constitutional convention in 1857 a compromise restricted suffrage to white males in exchange for Democratic support of a simpler method of amending the constitution in the future.
Although Minnesota was admitted as a free state in 1858, there were those who supported slavery. In March 1860, the Democratic party put forth a bill that would allow slave owners to bring their slaves into Minnesota and keep them here for six months without challenge. That bill was defeated, and Republican Abraham Lincoln roundly defeated Democrat Stephen Douglas that same year.
The Census reported 13 black people in Hennepin County in 1860.
Katharine Luella Smith was thought to be the first black child born in Minneapolis proper, on May 4, 1861. The Minneapolis Spokesman, reporting her death on January 29, 1941, said that she was born of free parents and was educated in Minneapolis public school and the MacPhail School of Music. She was the chief soprano soloist in the Twin Cities, as well as a pianist, composer, and arranger. “Among the best known songs Mrs. Smith wrote was the successful ‘Let My People Go.'”
The Homestead Act of 1862 offered 160 acres to qualified settlers who agreed to live on and improve the property for five years.
The U.S. – Dakota War broke out on August 17, 1862. On September 6, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey sent a telegraph to President Lincoln: “This is not our war, it is a national war … send us 500 horses. … Answer me at once. More than 500 whites have been murdered by Indians.” By the end of the day, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had created the Department of the Northwest, headquartered in St. Paul. Major General John Pope arrived in St. Paul on September 17 and wrote of his plans for “exterminating or ruining all the Indians engaged in the late outbreak.” Two days later, Sibley began his march up the Minnesota River valley in search of Little Crow, finding him on September 23 – the Battle of Wood Lake resulted, with the Dakota badly defeated and scattered. Pope vowed to follow them and “utterly exterminate” them. On October 7, more than 1,600 Dakota prisoners, mostly women and children, were ordered to be moved to Fort Snelling. They arrived on November 14 they arrived at the Fort, and Franklin Steele, who actually owned the Fort and was renting it to the Government, made a fortune on the scrip issued to the “half breeds.” Another 303 men were marched to Mankato, where 38 of them would be hanged in largest mass hanging in U.S. history. The entire story is told in the article “The Great Treasure of the Fort Snelling Prison Camp,” by William Millikan, in Minnesota History, Spring 2010.
Many black soldiers who had joined the Minnesota regiments came to Fort Snelling for discharge after the Civil War and settled in the St. Anthony Falls black community that was established in 1857. The Spokesman also says that “There were also barge-loads of Negroes who came to St. Anthony Falls as ‘Contrabands of War’ under the colonization plan of President Abraham Lincoln in which he endeavored to alleviate the distress of homeless freed slaves.”
Also after the Civil War, the advent of railroads facilitated immigration and the establishment of towns along the lines.
The Ku Klux Klan, originally organized as a social group, was formed by former Confederate soldiers in 1866.
By 1867 the black settlement at St. Anthony Falls had grown to about 200 people.
In 1867 the State legislature created the State Board of Immigration to encourage immigration to Minnesota.
Black men, “civilized” Indians, and mixed-bloods over the age of 21 first won the vote in Minnesota on March 6, 1868, after two previous referenda turned it down. That year, the Sons of Freedom was formed, open to all African-Americans in the State who needed assistance in jobs and trades, or in maintaining their personal property.
On January 1, 1869, black residents of Minnesota held a convention at Ingersoll Hall in St. Paul to “celebrate the Emancipation of 4,000,000 slaves, and to express… gratitude for the bestowal of the elective franchise to the colored people of this State.”
Also in 1869 the state legislature abolished segregation of Minnesota public schools, which ended a ten-year practice in St. Paul.
The Census reported 109 black people in Minneapolis in 1870, or 0.8 percent of the population.
Locally there were 16 black families that lived in Edina from the end of the Civil War until the late 30s, when they moved to Minneapolis. Many of these were in the Yancey family.
The Civil Rights Act of 1871 ended the first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan.
The black population of Minneapolis in 1880 was 362, or 0.8 percent, according to the Census.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 attempted to stem the tide of Chinese to the west coast. The U.S. Bureau of Immigration was created in 1891 to enforce the law.
The Spokesman noted that in 1887, Andrew F. Hilyer was the first Negro to graduate from the University of Minnesota.
The Minneapolis Spokesman reported that at one time, Minneapolis had its own all-black Fire Department. Its captain was John W. Cheatham, a former slave who came to Minneapolis when he was eight years old. He was appointed to the Fire Department in 1888, and served as the first and only captain of the special unit.
Fredrick L. McGhee moved to St. Paul in 1889 and became Minnesota’s first black lawyer.
On September 29, 1980, Rev. J.J. Faude, rector of the Gethsemane Episcopal Church, preached the third in a series of sermons on the growing danger of Catholicism to a standing room only crowd. His tenet was that Catholics were striving to take over the government of the United States, and lately were showing unusual aggression to achieve this goal; one method was to evangelize inmates of state prisons, not just for their votes, but for their “brute force, with which Romanism sooner or later expects to win the day.” Also, “Let me remind you of the effort to sweep negroes into the Catholic church…” He saw the Catholic religion as a political institution, bent on seeking control as a foreign power in the U.S., “making the pope head of all.” The remedy was to “Quit patronizing those fools, who are trying to make Romanists of your children. Give nothing to Catholic institutions and desist paving the way for them. If there is benevolent work to be done, do it yourself without their agency. Watch closely every move that is made against our liberties, and the government we now own allegiance to.”
The Minneapolis Tribune of November 13, 1890, reported, “Barriers of Creed – Rabbi Samuel Marks Thinks a Common Charity is Breaking Them.” On the basis of Jewish and Gentile attendance at the Hebrew Charity Ball, Rabbi Marks opined that “the barriers of creed and doctrine are gradually being torn away.”
The black population of Minneapolis was reported as 1,354, or 0.8 percent, in the 1890 Census.
The U.S. Bureau of Immigration was created, in part to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
In Minnesota History Magazine, Summer 2008, Iric Nathanson wrote of “African Americans and the 1892 Republican National Convention, Minneapolis.” 1892 was the height of Southern lynching, with 161 black men murdered at the hands of white mobs. On May 31, 1892, the African American population of Minneapolis participated in a national day of fasting and prayer, and 1,000 people gathered at the Labor Temple to “protest the crimes of colored people in the South.” The principal address was delivered by William R. Morris, a local black attorney and community leader. The Minneapolis Tribune reprinted the address, which said, in part:
The Negroes of this country have been at the mercy of certain white citizens, who, goaded by an insane desire for blood and unprovoked prejudice and hatred… have ruthlessly and openly, seemingly without fear of God or man, slaughtered, butchered and murdered them
In fact, the American people have become so accustomed to those open violations of law that scarcely a passing notice is given the. That such an offense as the butchery of citizens should be allowed to go unpunished.. is simply incomprehensible.
It was a prelude to the Republican National Convention which convened in June 1892. There were 116 black delegates to the convention – about 13 percent. After Reconstruction, African-Americans would be shut out of the political process for decades.
Minnesota’s first Mexican resident was Luis Garzon, a trained oboist and graduate of Mexico City’s Conservatory of Music. He came to play with the Mexican National Band at the Minneapolis Industrial Exposition in 1894 and stayed. His children were the state’s first Mexican-Americans.
John Frank Wheaton (1866-1938) arrived in Minnesota in 1893 and attended the University of Minnesota Law School, becoming its first African American graduate in 1894. He became the first black person elected to the Minnesota State Legislature, elected to the House in 1898 and serving in the 1899-1901 session. After his term in office he moved to New York City and became a prominent civil rights attorney.
The black population in Minneapolis was 1,548, or 0.8 percent, according to the 1900 Census. Of the state’s 1.7 million residents, there were under 5,000 African-Americans, most of whom lived in St. Paul.
In 1900 there were only about 200 Chinese residents in Minnesota.
The Minneapolis Tribune of June 4, 1901, carried the headline
Colored People Talk of Organizing a Golf Club
The club would be beyond the Minikahda Club toward St. Louis Park. The whimsical article reads:
One day last week Scott Blake went boldly into a sporting goods store and bought a driver. One of Scott’s golfing patrons had told him that the first essential in the matter of clubs was a driver. On the same day another colored dignitary purchased a lofter. That evening the two enthusiasts struck out for open country and lost four new golf balls in something under an hour, but on the way back down town both these new made golfers were as happy as clams, Scott because he had drive his first ball so far that it landed beyond human ken, and the other man because he had biffed the (?) such a crack with his lofter that it soared a good hundred feet in the air and landed within 15 feet of the starting point.
When the tidings of this initial success reached the colored community there was much excitement. To be sure, Blake and the other man had stolen a march in being the first out, but there was nothing to prevent the rest getting into the game with customary enthusiasm. Charles Britton and Howard Phillips bought a full set of clubs on the following morning and ever since there has been a rush for golfing outfits by the colored folks of the locality.
“I’ve been thinking of taking up golf for a long time,” said Scott Blake. “Some of the people who play the game have told me that it was the best anti-fat remedy in the market, and the only difficulty has been in the matter of a course. The best golf territory in this part of the country has already been annexed and we have had to do some searching to find suitable links. I think that before long we shall be able to close a deal for the use of land that will give us a very good nine-hole course, and when the deal is made you will see some fun.”
The assassination of President William McKinley by an anarchist in 1901 led to the Anarchist Exclusion Act in 1903.
Roy Wilkins, born in Mississippi in 1901, had moved to St. Louis as a child. When his mother died when he was 4, his father sent him to St. Paul to live with his aunt and uncle. He attended Whittier School, Mechanic Arts High School, and the U of M, majoring in Sociology and Journalism. While at the U he worked for the Minnesota Daily and the St. Paul Appeal. On graduation in 1923 he left Minnesota for good, going on to become the head of the national NAACP from 1955 to 1977. He died in 1981, and in 1985 the St. Paul Auditorium was renamed the Roy Wilkins Arena in his honor.
In 1907 Congress established the Dillingham Commission to investigate the impact of immigration on the U.S. The 42-volume report favored northern Europeans and resulted in quotas on immigrants from southern and eastern Europe in the 1920s.
Mexican migrant workers were known to be in Minnesota as early as 1907 to work in the sugar beet farms. Most returned south for the winter. (St. Louis Park’s sugar beet factory burned down in 1905.)
By 1910 the black community in Minneapolis was beginning to move from the Seven Corners area into the North Side, already being vacated by Jews.
The 1910 Census reported 2,592 black citizens in Minneapolis (0.9 percent of the population).
D.W. Griffith’s epic film “Birth of a Nation” raised a firestorm of controversy with its debut in 1915, when it was the longest movie ever produced. Audiences were captivated by the three hour silent film, which told the story of two families in the Confederate South through the Civil War and Reconstruction. Its depictions of African Americans were horrifying. Played by white men in blackface, the film’s African American characters were shown as moronic rapists who were fixated on the sexual violation of white women. After being initially banned in Minneapolis, the film was shown in the city to overflow crowds. Acclaimed by cinematic critics, the film was endorsed by most history lovers–and the Minneapolis Superintendent of Schools–as the “true” story of Reconstruction. (Historyapolis Project)
The film brought on the resurgence of the of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been a post-Civil War organization located mainly in the South. By the 1920s one third of its membership was from the Midwest. According to historian Richard K. Tucker, the organization appealed to people who were not filled with the urge to lynch Catholics and foreigners but regular people who were “caught up in a rush of nationalism, nativism, and the perceived need for self-preservation.”
The influx of Slavic immigrants into Northeast Minneapolis created the need for a settlement house, in this case the North East Neighborhood House in 1915.
In 1916 the first permanent Mexican-American settlement was established on St. Paul’s west side. Residents formed the Sociedad Anahuac, with the purpose of promoting civic, social and religious activities of Mexicans and chicanos.
During World War I blacks were encouraged to come north to work in the factories, but with the return of the servicemen, were considered “loathsome competition,” according to historian Wyn C. Wade.
THE MINNESOTA COMMISSION OF PUBLIC SAFETY
From a MNOPEDIA article written by Matt Reicher:
On March 31, 1917, State Senator George H. Sullivan of Stillwater called for the formation of a seven-member commission to be led by Governor Joseph A. A. Burnquist. The group was to be given broad powers to act to ensure public safety in wartime. Only the laws specified in both the state and federal constitutions limited it.
The U.S. entered World War I on April 6, 1917. Minnesota legislators worked quickly to pass war-related laws before the end of their spring session. As a result, the Sullivan bill saw very little debate. It passed both houses and was signed into law by Burnquist on April 16, 1917. The MCPS took control of many of the state’s regulatory, public safety, and military functions.
Throughout its tenure the MCPS provided useful services. It distributed food, controlled the prices of goods, and conserved fuel. However, it is best known for its use of secret surveillance, intimidation, and other extreme tactics in the name of protecting Minnesota’s citizens.
Ensuring clear-cut loyalty to America eventually overtook the MCPS’s other efforts. Commissioners regarded any lack of patriotism as rebellion. Political beliefs were irrelevant. Governor Burnquist maintained that there were only two parties during the war: “loyal” and “disloyal.” He and the MCPS praised the former and tried to eliminate the latter.
The MCPS scrutinized the state’s immigrant population. It targeted German Americans, considering them suspicious. Loyalty to the Kaiser, the MCPS claimed, could inspire those with German heritage to sabotage the U.S. war effort. They issued orders in 1917 obligating Minnesota schoolteachers to instruct their students exclusively in English. In 1918 they required non-citizens to register their property and report family data.
The Nonpartisan League (NPL) established offices in Minnesota in 1917. The populist advocacy group sought to give farmers better financial control over the products they needed to do business. In the eyes of the MCPS, this made them a “menace” bent on toppling the state’s political and industrial status quo. Rather than engage NPL members on the merits of their views, the MCPS instead tried to silence them.
Lacking the legal power to stop the NPL outright, the MCPS denounced them as un-patriotic. They tacitly encouraged communities to shut down local NPL meetings. In the 1918 Republican gubernatorial primary, the MCPS promoted Burnquist’s reelection campaign. NPL candidate Charles Lindbergh Sr. faced resistance and even violence from MCPS-allied protesters at many of his campaign stops.
The primary Minnesota chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was based in downtown Minneapolis during this time. Trying to take advantage of a labor shortage during the war, they pushed for higher wages, shorter hours, and union recognition. Their actions drew the suspicion of the MCPS, which worked to end labor disturbances across the state. The Commission worked to keep the IWW from assembling. They closed many Minneapolis saloons—key IWW meeting spaces—and passed vagrancy ordinances for other meeting areas.
In the summer of 1917, the MCPS and other groups pushed the Justice Department to take action. On September 5, federal officials raided IWW offices in Minneapolis, Duluth, and Iron Range towns. This led to the arrest of many of the group’s leaders. Soon after, the MCPS advanced a status-quo resolution that denied employees statewide the right to unionize for the length of the war.
World War I ended on November 11, 1918. The MCPS voided its orders in mid-January and waited for instructions from the legislature. On April 14, 1919, a House bill calling for the abolition of the MCPS passed 107-12. The Senate voted to keep the Commission. However, while officially still in force until December of 1920, the MCPS never returned to power.
The Federal Alien Registration Act required all aliens to register, to declare their holdings, and explain why they had not become citizens.
Between 1918-1919, 136 black people were lynched in America, including women, children, and Veterans in uniform.
A 1919 state law prohibited restrictive covenants on the basis of religious faith or creed but not race.
The International Institute of Minnesota was founded in 1919 to provide services to immigrants from Northern Europe.
Minikahda Vista, carved out of the Hanke farm on Excelsior Blvd., was advertised in a pamphlet that listed “Twelve Facts to Consider Carefully.” One promised “Building restrictions of $5,500 to $6,500 to protect your home investment.” Also no apartments or duplexes, just single family homes that had to have two stories.
In Minneapolis, the 1920 Census showed a black population of 3,927, reaching 1 percent for the first time
On June 15, 1920, black carnival workers Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, aged 19 and 20, were accused of raping a young white woman in a field just behind the circus tents while the carnival was in Duluth. Racial tensions were high after U.S. Steel had brought in black field hands from the South to break a strike. A mob of more than 5,000 whites stormed up Superior Street, breached the jail, and lynched three of the suspects, hanging them from a lamp post. No one was convicted for the crime.
THE KU KLUX KLAN IN THE TWIN CITIES
Much of the information presented about the Klan comes from the article “One Flag, One School, One Language, Minnesota’s Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s” by Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle and Nancy M. Vaillancourt in the Winter 2009-2010 issue of Minnesota History.
In August 1921 North Star Klan No. 2 came to Minneapolis, holding meetings at Olivet Methodist Church on East 26th Street and at Foss Memorial Church at the corner of Fremont and 18th Ave. No.
Minnesota passed the nation’s first anti-lynching law on April 18, 1921. The bill was authored by Nellie Griswold Francis, president of the Minnesota State Federation of Colored Women. The law imposed a $7,500 fine on perpetrators and provided for suspensions of police officers who failed to protect prisoners from mobs.
The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 set limits on the number of people of all nationalities allowed to immigrate in accordance with the number already in the country.
THE MASONIC CONNECTION
The Masonic Observer, newsletter of the Minneapolis Masons, was first published in 1911. By 1919 it was difficult to distinguish from the Klan newspapers for its anti-Catholic rhetoric, even opining on the Catholic/Protestant clashes in Ireland.
The relationship between the Masons and the Ku Klux Klan began to be seen in 1922. The advertisement below appeared in the Masonic Observer in mid-1922.
The ad came with this Note:
The above is a paid advertisement, accepted by the Masonic Observer on the same terms as all other advertising. The Ku Klux Klan is not endorsed either by the Masons of Minnesota or the Masonic Observer, neither is it condemned. We consider our readers to be of higher than average intelligence, fully competent to judge for themselves the merits, or lack of merit, of the organization running this advertisement. — Ed.
DISTURBANCE ON SIXTH AVE. NO.
Sixth Ave. North, the black entertainment district for many years until wiped out by Highway 55, was the scene of some acrimony between residents and the police on June 20, 1922.
The Minneapolis Journal of June 21, 1922, reported that the day started with a crowd gathering as two policemen had trouble arresting four Negroes for disorderly conduct. Another crowd formed an hour later.
That night, yet another incident occurred in the same area. The Journal‘s sparse account said that police officer George H. McNamee was attempting to arrest a Negro man for “disorderly conduct after complaints had been received that he had been speaking to white girls.” The man resisted arrest and they began to fight, falling to the ground. McNamee got off four rounds, but failed to hit the man. The man grabbed the gun and McNamee “lay in the street while the Negro constantly threatened to shoot him if he moved.” The man backed away, keeping a crowd of 500 people at bay, and made his escape, running west on 6th Ave. toward Colfax. The crowd “refused to help McNamee, although they did not openly hoot him.” A “gun squad” searched for the perpetrator but didn’t find him.
The incident caused the police to take immediate action to end simmering race troubles which have arisen in that district recently. Several Negro clubs were ordered closed later in the evening and an added force of police were assigned to patrol the district. No serious troubles have occurred so far, but police say the race feeling there is such as to warrant precautionary measures.
On the 23rd, a group of citizens wrote to the Tribune to refute its account of what happened. “The fundamental facts of the case were erroneous, the whole account exaggerated. Such accounts as this only cause friction and agitation which eventually culminate in race riots in which innocent as well as guilty suffer. … The Negro and white citizens live in comparative harmony in this locality. … During this whole affair there were hardly over a dozen people collected, and not over two hundred collected afterward. There has been no racial disturbance. … An officer of the law should feel it is his personal responsibility to keep all disturbances down and not let himself be the instrument of agitation.” The statement was signed by “both white and colored residents of the district who witnessed the entire affair.”
A different take on the incident appeared in the June 24, 1922, issue of the Northwestern Bulletin, a black newspaper:
Crowd of 500 see Cop Get Worst of Struggle For Gun
Negro Refuses to be Bullied by White Policeman; Takes Cop’s Gun in Fight Then Escapes.
Encounter Marked 3rd Clash Within 24 Hours
Mill City Police Take Steps to End Simmering Race Troubles in 6 Ave. N District
The Bulletin said that the man and a friend had been sitting on a railing at 6th and Aldrich when a policeman came up and ordered them to move on. When the men failed to comply, the policeman struck one of the men with his club and a struggle ensued. The policeman reached for his gun and fired four shots; the man managed to twist the gun and avoid getting shot. The man ended up with the gun, and backed away into the night.
The Klan made its first public appearance on September 7, 1922. The next day the St. Paul Daily News gave this report, reproduced in full:
Ghostly Garbed Forms Gather on Knoll Near City
Strong Organization of Invisible Empire in St. Paul and Minneapolis Revealed – Principles Denounce Lawlessness
Daily News Man Taken to Scene in Closed Car
The Ku Klux Klan organized with more than a thousand members in St. Paul and Minneapolis last night. Headed by the fiery cross and robed in the flowing white habiliments of the invisible empire – uniforms surmounted by high-peaked headdress – Knights of the Ku Klux Klan marched 1,000 strong to a field on the outskirts of St. Paul. It was the first active appearance of the organization locally, although, according to klan members, the St. Paul and Minneapolis klans, now numbering over a thousand, have been in existence for more than a year.
On a knoll south of St. Paul, under most ghostlike conditions, an impressive ceremonial, led by the king kleagle of Minnesota, North and South Dakota, concluded early today with the initiation of a class of more than 100. The purpose of the Twin City klan is similar to those elsewhere, the king kleagle told the candidates:
To uphold true Americanism.
To combat the foreign elements.
To keep the United States first in the galaxy of nations.
The tenets of the klan forbid lawlessness and offer assistance in the suppression of crime, the kleagle said. He further stressed the vows to uphold the sanctity of the home and American womanhood. A Daily News reporter was one of only two outsiders who witnessed the initiation, although outside of hearing distance of the ritual.
Pursuant to a mysterious invitation, the reporter waited at Lake st. and Calhoun Boulevard, Minneapolis, until 9 pm, when he was met by a closed car. The machine passed outside the city and into the open country. It stopped after an hour near an open knoll south of St. Paul. A solid mass of white figures greeted the visitor.
A moment later electric torches flickered and a score of horsemen dashed up. The visitors were met by the horsemen and escorted into the center of a semicircle made up of several hundred automobiles. In the center of the circle stood a blazing cross. Ahead of it was an American flag. The only other figure in the circle was an altar. On it lay a draped flag, and open Bible and an unsheathed sword. “I am the king kleagle,” said a solemn voice.
“We are here to protect that,” the marked figure garbed in a flowing robe surmounted by an elaborate headdress, said as he pointed to the flag. A chorus of lusty cheers arose. “This is our altar,” the supreme knight continued – “the draped flag, the sword and the open Bible. It is open to the 12th chapter of Romans. Read it. It expresses our sentiments, our purposes and belief.” Following these words the visitors were escorted several hundred yards away where they would be able to witness the initiation, but would be unable to hear the ritual.
Before the initiation began the visitors were warned not to attempt to recognize any of the knights, nor to take any notes, or attempt to determine their location. The King Kleagle raised his hands to the altar and the initiation began. For more than an hour a steady stream of white figures passed by the altar. But one man was taken out of the line. “Take him out,” a loud voice ordered. Then the initiation was resumed.
When the initiation neared its close two horsemen drew up and instructed the visitors to prepare to leave. “It is time to unmask and you must leave,” they were told. A closed car, curtained in on all sides, drove up and the visitors entered. Within an hour the car stopped at Hennepin ave. and Calhoun boulevard, the starting place. The visitors stepped out and the machine drove away.
The Northwestern Bulletin, a black weekly newspaper, reported on the event in its issue of September 16.
Believe it or not, they’re here!
The Klu Klux Klan held a weird meeting last Thursday night in a neck of the woods at Cedar Lake, near Minneapolis, for the purpose of initiating 100 new klansmen into the membership of the Knights of the Invisible Empire. The meeting while only slightly attended served to advertise the organization’s presence in the Twin Cities.
The services, it is reported, were conducted in practically the same manner they have been advertised heretofore – the fiery cross, the white robed klansmen, white-robed horses and horsemen. Standing before the fiery emblem of the klan, the head klansmen rehearsed the principle of the klan which everybody knows are anti-Negro, anti-catholic, anti-foreigner, in other words, anti-American. To these principles, it is understood nearly 100 new members from the Twin Cities were sworn into the Minnesota legion in the far reach arm of the Invisible Empire.
Klan officials are reported as saying the membership of the organization … total 1,000. They also claim that they have been in existence here for several months but last Thursday night’s meeting was the first meeting here at which outsiders have been allowed to be present.
The publication of the story of the klan’s presence in St. Paul and Minneapolis has caused little or no anxiety here.
The photo above accompanied both articles with the caption, “A meeting of the inner circles of Klansmen preceded the organization of the secret order. The photograph was snapped with permission of the K. K. K. officials.
On September 26, 1922, a talk had been scheduled at the Minneapolis Auditorium by Dr. C. Lewis Fowler, Klan official from Atlanta, speaker from the American Educational Foundation, and author of The Ku Klux Klan, Its Origin, Meaning and Scope of Operation. When Fowler arrived, the hall was dark, the doors were locked, and no one had the keys – something about some rental provision not having been met. The Northwestern Bulletin reported, “Somebody erected a gas jet in the alley southeast of the Auditorium. Dr. Fowler’s driver ran his automobile into the alley to provide a rostrum and the speech was delivered. Dr. Fowler’s address consisted chiefly of an attack on the Catholic religion, the Jews and Colored people.” The Bulletin reported that 3,000 people attended, and “Only the white robes were lacking to give the meeting the traditional Klan atmosphere.”
The same issue of the Bulletin included an editorial entitled “We Must Fight Them.” The strongly-worded piece stated, “The platform of klanism, which is built on race hatred and religion bigotry, cannot long survive.” It applauded an incident in Pittsburg where a Klan meeting was routed by “citizens armed with guns, clubs and what-not,” and ended with:
Now that the K. K. K.’s are among us, we must organize, Negroes, Jews and Catholics, to oust these outlaws. We must be there to fight them at every turn for there is not room here for a government and a klan, too. We must not tolerate these riders of the night.
Charles Fremont Dight helped found the Minnesota Eugenics Society in 1923 and began to campaign at the Minnesota Legislature for a sterilization law. In a letter to the editor of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune dated March 19, 1921, he responded to an article about “incorrigibles” with this advice:
This country for many years has been the dumping ground for inferior people from Europe. This accounts in part for our excess of incorrigibles. It is estimated that from 6 to 7 per cent of the immigrants who have recently been arriving are feeble-minded. From 1900 to 1910, 8,500,000 immigrants came here. A United States health authority says that probably only 5 per cent of the mentally deficient were detected and kept out. In 1910 at one of our ports where 1,483 immigrants certified by the inspecting surgeons as unfit to land because of serious mental or physical defects 1,370 were landed anyway.
In view of the grave situation it is almost criminal to continue to absorb European undesirables. To get rid of the over-load of mentally sub-normal people which we already have is the big problem. To do this requires three things:
First, that state and national pedigrees of families who are free from, and those not free from serious inheritable defects be assembled and made available as an aid to better marriage matings. This work is now being done by the Carnegie Institute, aided by institutions in various states.
Second, that adults who are mentally sub-normal and obviously unfit shall be prevented from reproducing, either by segregating them, of course under good conditions, during their reproductive period, or by performing on them the operation of vasectomy. This operation is now legalized in 12 states. It is simple and safe, and when it and its effects are explained to persons on whom it is proposed many of them welcome it.
Third, that young people be instructed on the great facts of heredity that have been discovered in recent years, and on the vital importance to themselves and their children of shunning marriage with one who is socially unfit.
By these means the incorrigibles will disappear. Industrial democracy will be established by good human stock that will appreciate and maintain it. A better era for mankind will be ushered in. – Dr. C.F. Dight.
The local Masons, at least those who were publishing the organization’s newsletter, were becoming more and more virulent anti-Catholics. The ad below was published in the National Observer, which succeeded the Masonic Observer on February 10, 1923.
In June 1923, the National Observer warned Masonic women to stay away from the newly-formed Auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan – “at least for now.” It was also reprinting KKK addresses by leaders in Texas.
The Twin Cities Urban League was founded in 1923, despite fears of the Chamber of Commerce that it would only encourage more black migration to the area. In 1938 the organization split and there separate Urban Leagues for Minneapolis and St. Paul.
In her book The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota, Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle writes that longtime Hennepin County Sheriff Earle Brown of Brooklyn Center was initiated into the Klan in early 1923 at the Dyckman Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. As Sheriff, Brown did nothing to stop Klan activities, which included cross burnings “on the hill across from today’s North Memorial Hospital’s parking lot in Robbinsdale.” Hatle also writes that “for two years in the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan of Minneapolis paraded in downtown Robbinsdale… down Broadway from 42nd Avenue to a gravel pit near the old traffic circle.” Another scholar who has read all of Brown’s diaries disputes this account and has found no evidence that Earle Brown was a member of the Klan.
KU KLUX KLAN NEWSPAPERS
Voice of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan began publication on February 8, 1923, by the North Star Klan No. 2 of Minneapolis – one of up to 10 Klans in Minneapolis. In its statement of what the organization stood for, the emphasis was on how it was law-abiding. Telling sections are:
The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is an organization of Native-Born American, White, Gentile, Protestant Citizens, formed to oppose, by all legal means, every lawless element in our country.
You will find every Bootlegger, Blindpigger, Dive and Resort Keeper, every Dope Seller, every Crook and Criminal in the United States individually and collectively opponents of the Ku Klux Klan, and lined up with these… will be found every Anarchist, every I.W.W., every “Red” Radical, every enemy of the Public Schools, every Servant of a Foreign Pope and every Alien Enemy of our country…”
The February issue featured a letter to members of the Minnesota State Legislature signed by the “Exalted Cyclops,” and provided a guide to what it stands for, which is freedom of religion, but not for Catholics in politics.
The April 10, 1923, issue made it clear – the screaming headline read “Plot of Rome to Grasp Control of U.S. Bared in Expose of Amazing Documents” A cartoon shows the Pope sitting on the globe, pulling puppet strings and aided by a bag of money contributed by the Knights of Columbus. Apparently the KKK saw as many Catholics infiltrating the government as McCarthy saw Communists.
The Call of the North came out of St. Paul, edited by P.J. “Twighlight” Orn (real name Peter Sletterdahl). The first issue, with a pressing of 10,000 copies, came out on July 27, 1923. Motto: “Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.” The paper had a heavy morality bent, naming as its enemies the “gambler, bootlegger, burglar, libertine, wife beater, dope peddler, crooked politician, Bolshevist, and disloyalist.” Immigration was identified as the “most pressing problem of the hour.” Most of the news was of outstate or out-of-state happenings, but that first issue did report on a meeting held on July 23 in St. Paul, where a class of candidates was naturalized and a flaming cross could be seen by thousands all over the city.
Issue #2 (August 3, 1923) of the Call of the North reported that a 28 ft. cross was burned in Washington County at the end of July, 1923, a combined effort of St. Paul and Stillwater Klans. It also announced the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, Believing in:
The Tenets of the Christian Religion
Protection of our Pure American Womanhood
Closer Relationship between Capital and Labor
Preventing unwarranted Strikes by Foreign Labor Agitators
Upholding the Constitution of the United States of America
The Sovereignty of our State Rights
The Promotion of Pure Americanism
Limitation of Foreign Immigration
Education for Worthy American Citizenship
Protection of the Weak and Innocent; Defense of the Helpless
Relief of the Injured and Oppressed, the Suffering and Unfortunate
Freedom of Speech and Press
Separation of Church and State
Issue #3 (August 10, 1923) of the Call of the North was the first issue with ads. An article railed against Jews in the movies. It also reprinted an article from the St. Paul Dispatch that described a 20 ft. cross burned “on the hill facing Little Bass lake, seven miles north of St. Paul, while at least 100 robed followers of the Ku Klux Klan and perhaps 400 men in civilian clothes held a Klan meeting in the hollow close to the lake.” [Owassa Boulevard runs between Big Bass Lake and Little Bass Lake.] The property was owned by Charles Chapman, a black man. The National Observer reported that the ceremony included a silent tribute to the late President Harding. This ceremony apparently took place on August 13, 1923.
THE KKK INITIATION OF AUGUST 31, 1923
Issue #5 (August 24, 1923) of the Call of the North described the first Klan parade in Minnesota, held in Albert Lea on August 31. A crowd was naturalized at the county fairgrounds. Rain plagued the proceedings, along with bad roads, which forced the 250-man delegation from Minneapolis to miss the initiation, but they did make the parade. Three 35 ft. crosses were lit.
After a barbeque at the bottom of a sandpit “in a cow pasture outside the city limits on the Jefferson highway near Victory Memorial Drive,”500 white robed members of the Minneapolis Klan initiated 50 new members. The pasture was patrolled by “ghostly guards who forbade entry to person who could not give the Klan password.” “The road off of the highway leading to the field was jammed with 200 automobiles.” “At the edge of the pit, a small platform had been erected and near it a large cross which, when lighted, attracted the attention of hundreds of motorists.” Peter J. Orn, editor of the Call of the North, was in charge of the initiation ceremony. “Clark F. Gross, acting grand dragon and king of the klan in Minnesota, was in charge of the meeting.” (Minneapolis Journal, September 30, 1923)
On October 6, 1923, the National Observer reported about the initiation in great detail: “the largest class ever initiated at one time by any Klan in Minnesota.” The ceremony took place “in an amphitheatre developed from an abandoned sand pit just outside the limits of Minneapolis, near Victory Memorial Drive.” [Liberty Highway between Minneapolis and Robbinsdale] The men were inducted into the North Star Klan No. 2. The event started with a “genuine old-fashioned southern barbecue, to the accompaniment of one of the best saxophone quartettes in the country. Following this the ritualistic work was completed, while a great fiery cross blazed above the assemblage, and then short addresses were made and special entertainment features witnessed by all.” The entertainment consisted of a wrestling match and a “Swedish dialect specialty.” The article went on to correct misinformation reported by the Minneapolis Journal, and then recapped a speech by a Klansman from Iowa, who railed against the Catholics in his town. At the end of the article was this statement, which made no bones about the relationship between the paper and the Klan: “This is submitted for the benefit of those few well meaning, but misinformed, Americans who still hold that there is no need for an organization like the Ku Klux Klan.”
A state convention (Klorero) began on October 7, 1923. Saturday night featured a “frolic, where St. Paul Klansmen royally entertained their visiting brothers putting on a series of ‘stunts’ that brought continuous uproars of laughter.” Sunday morning revealed that there were 27 fieldworkers in the state. Sunday afternoon featured an inspirational address by the King KlEagle for Minnesota. On Monday a crowd of men were naturalized in Ramsey County despite more rain. The paper reported 500 attendees.
October 31, 1923: The Klan had a goal of 10 million members by July 4, 1924. The American Legion declared the Klan UnAmerican.
November 7, 1923: “St. Paul: A Crook’s Haven?”
November 14, 1923: New motto on masthead: “The Voice of Militant Protestantism in the Northwest”
November 21, 1923: A 10 ft. high cross was set up across the street from the St. Paul Cathedral with a sign “Americans join the KKK.” 200 people came and kicked it down.
THE KLAN’S MAYORAL DEBACLE OF 1923
David Mark Chalmers, in his book The First Century of the Ku Klux Klan, 1865-1965, tells the story of Minneapolis Mayor George E. Leach, who had originally been a conservative, but whose policies raised the ire of the anti-labor Citizens’ Alliance and Committee of Thirteen, an outgrowth of the wartime American Protective League. The Klan turned against him when he:
- Hired a Roman Catholic as his secretary
- Dined with the Knights of Columbus
- Forbade the police to join the Klan
- Launched an investigation into reported Klan activity at the U of M
North Star Klan #2 decided to put their Exalted Cyclops, Roy Miner, up for Mayor, with the platform of stamping out gambling and vice.
Now the problem was to collect proper campaign materials. They found them in the city jail. A woman domiciled there claimed that she had been intimate with the mayor. Candidate Miner went to call upon her, and the Klan printed her story and distributed it about town.
The April 10, 1923 issue of the Voice of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan had included an affidavit from “woman of the underworld,” Gladys Kennedy, that “George E. Leach, Mayor of Minneapolis, has upon three or four occasions visited my house and gone into private rooms with girls of my acquaintance and stayed in the room with them for several hours.”
A grand jury thought that the story was libelous. Farmer-Laborite Floyd B. Olson, on his way to the governor’s mansion, handled the prosecution. The case attracted wide attention outside the state and Klan notables traveled to Minneapolis to witness what they anticipated would be a Klan exoneration and triumph. But such was not to be the case. The Klan’s star witness, on leave from jail, admitted chronic drunkenness and the falseness of her claims of intimacy with Mayor Leach and other prominent men…. The Protestant jury, which included a Methodist minister and several Masons and Shriners, brought back a guilty verdict and the five accused Klansmen went to jail.
Five people were convicted of libel:
- Roy Miner, who served 90 days in the Workhouse
- George S. Silk, Editor of the Hennepin County Enterprise (Hopkins), who printed the libelous edition of the Voice. Silk died in 1924 before his appeal came up.
- Thomas E. Sullivan, who transported the issues of the Voice from Hopkins to Minneapolis
- Shurley Reichert, a University of Minnesota student. He was fined $50, with an option of 30 days in the Workhouse.
- Gladys Kennedy, presumably; although Hatle’s book doesn’t mention her, she was, after all, the one who signed the affidavit that the Mayor had slept with her prostitutes.
Milton Elrod, editor of the Fiery Cross, tried to get the North Star #2 chapter to surrender its charter, but it refused. Elrod pushed another opponent of Leach, former State Senator William Campbell, who denied he was presently a Klansman. Leach won by more than 5,000 votes. Thus ended the Klan as a political power in the state.
The National Observer, mouthpiece of the Minneapolis Masons, continued to strengthen its relationship with the KKK, with headlines such as “Numerical Strength of the Ku Klux Klan” (September 8, 1923); “The Ideals and Inspiration of the Ku Klux Klan” (September 29, 1923); “The Real K.K.K. Becoming Known in Spite of Garbled Press Reports,” (December 8, 1923); “Right and Wrong Activities of the Ku Klux Klan,” (December 29, 1923)
KERFOOT VS. THE KLAN
One incident with at least a passing connection to St. Louis Park concerns Dr. Samuel F. Kerfoot, who was, very early in his career, pastor of the St. Louis Park Methodist Church from 1892 to October 1894. From 1912 to 1927 he was the president of Hamline University, where he had graduated in 1889. On December 12, 1923, the Call of the North printed a letter that Kerfoot had written in response to criticism that he had let the National Vigilance Association use his name. He said that his understanding was that the organization was for the conservation of law and legal procedure under the Constitution. This organization apparently also had an interest in fighting to destroy the KKK “which is a matter in which I have only passing interest.” But he was also blunt in stating that he was opposed to the KKK’s “un-American method of covering up their identity and their procedure in frequent cases of taking law into their own hands.” He also called the organization “so radical and un-Christian as to endeavor to develop divisive methods between races and religions.” P.J. Orn, editor of the Call of the North, denied all charges in a letter published next to Kerfoot’s, but what is telling is that he signed his letter “Yours for Protestants that Protest.”
MORE KLAN NEWS
January 2, 1924: The Call of the North used a great deal of newsprint to tell the tale of Turner Starks, who bought a lot of St. Clair Street in the Groveland Park neighborhood of St. Paul in order to build a barber shop. Although the move was objected to in the story in terms of setbacks, zoning, proximity to a school, etc., it consistently referred to “Negro Starks” and placed a lot of blame for the situation on Den E. Lane, a “community organizer” who sold the lot to Starks. The Groveland Park Improvement Association was informed of the excavation for the 15 x 50 ft. building on May 14, 1923, and passed a resolution that read: “Be it resolved that the Groveland Park Improvement Association is unalterably opposed to the erection of a colored barber shop on St. Clair St….” Two emissaries went to present the resolution to Starks at his current barber shop on Grand Ave. After his offer to sell the lot back to them for the outrageous price of $3,000, Starks became angry and used “(oaths too vile to be printed.)” He got a gun and shot one of the men’s hat off. Apparently Starks thought that the Klan was behind the move to bar his barber shop. Eventually Starks pleaded guilty to attempted assault in the second degree, and was sentenced to one year in the state pen. But the sentence was suspended, which really was the crux of the article’s outrage.
Also on January 2, 1924, the Call of the North printed a long editorial, “No Race Settlement Possible.” The piece had three points:
- In the first place, both sides must learn to take people just as they are.
- Then the negro must be considered both as a race and as individuals.
- Finally the negro must be considered, both as to his future development and his present standing. We must try to help the negro to become a better worker and citizen.
After 29 issues, the Call of the North changed its name to the Fiery Cross on February 22, 1924. Numbering of issues stayed the same.
Tri-State Music Publishers of Memphis placed an ad in the Fiery Cross for a song called the “Ku Klux Blues Fox Trot.” “Sing American Made Music” Apparently this was available in both sheet music and piano roll form.
The March 7, 1924, issue of the Fiery Cross reported that the Minneapolis Jewish community was opposed to the “Johnson bill” that proposed a change to the current immigration law. The paper reported that the proposed changes in the formula “would exclude a large number of Jews, Italians, and other peoples that do not assimilate readily.” The language was strong:
For our national life we must prevent this country from becoming the dump-yard of the world; we have no need for the polyglot riff-raff that other nations wish to disgorge. Every American who truly loves the United States should let his congressman know that he wants legislation which will stem the alien tide of undesirables.
On March 8, 1924, the Fiery Cross reported a series of attacks on men selling the organ of the Klan on Hennepin Ave. The trouble started at 5th and Hennepin, and the “anti-Klan mob composed mostly of Jews” moved up the street, getting rowdier and rowdier until the newspaper sellers at 8th Street were beaten up pretty badly.
On April 16, 1924, 31 Klansmen from St. Paul traveled to North Branch for a lecture, followed by the burning of a cross “on the other side of the railroad tracks. Four natives and two cows witnessed the spectacular feat.”
Harold Prouellett, age four, and Alice Tanner, age six, disappeared in February 1924. After months with no clues, Mr. Tanner expressed concern that the Klan had assisted the girl’s father, his wife’s ex-husband, in kidnapping the child. The Minnesota Star took up the story, which was emphatically denied by the Fiery Cross in its April 11, 1924, issue. On April 25, the bodies of the children were found in the Mississippi River, proving the Klan theory wrong.
The Fiery Cross continued to issue #44. The paper was apparently discontinued after May 30, 1924.
In 1924 the Country Club District of Edina was platted. The subdivision, built by Samuel Thorpe, was based on a similar subdivision in Kansas City and from the first was meant for the higher classes. The first house, sold in June 1924, was located on Browndale Avenue in the heart of the development. By 1927, 200 houses and a golf course had been built. Homebuyers faced many restrictions as to the cost of the houses they built, the kinds of trees they could plant, the animals they could keep, etc. Most notably, occupants were strictly restricted to the “white or Caucasian race.” All restrictions were to expire on or before January 1, 1964, except the one regarding race, which was to remain in force forever. All such race-specific real estate covenants were invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948. Such attitudes contributed to the movement of the Settle, Lucas, and Yancey families, black families that had lived in Edina for generations, to move to Minneapolis.
The Oriental Exclusion Act was enacted in 1924.
The U.S. Border Patrol was created in 1924 to prevent smuggling of illegal substances (Prohibition was in effect) and illegal migrants.
The first Phyllis Wheatley Settlement House opened on October 17, 1924, at 808 Bassett Place North in Minneapolis. The agency provided recreation, health care, and classes in black history and culture.
From 1924 to 1927, St. Paul’s Midway News published a directory of persons who held membership in the Ku Klux Klan, noting that the organization included many men who were also members of fraternal orders such as the Masons and the Shriners.
In August 1924 the Minnesota Klan held its first Konklave at the Rice County fairgrounds in Faribault. Klan reports indicated that 2,000 men and 500 women in full regalia, representing 69 cities and towns, participated in a street demonstration. Speeches were made on “The Jewish Problem,” “The Yellow Peril,” and “Americanism in the Public Schools.” Over 400 people were initiated and/or nationalized.
Note: While only American-born men were initially allowed to be members, the Klan found that “nationalizing” foreign-born men of the right stripe would increase their numbers and sell more robes.
A news article in the National Observer dated August 9, 1924, announced that there would be a naturalization meeting at the “usual place” on August 11. There were open air meetings at the grounds every Wednesday at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 3:00. These were events of the North Start Klan #2 of Minneapolis.
The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Minnesota filed articles of incorporation, establishing themselves as a non-profit organization, “purely patriotic, secret, social and benevolent and its purpose shall be benevolent and eleemosynary and without profit or gain.” Although inactive for years, the organization stayed on the books until Secretary of State Joan Growe dissolved it in a housecleaning measure in 1997.
But the Klan was on its way out. In 1925 Indiana Grand Dragon David C. Stephenson was sent away for life for second-degree murder. He had sexually assaulted and “mutilated” a woman (actually bit her, causing a staph infection), held her captive for days without medical attention, and failed to call for help when she took poison. Stephenson was paroled on March 23, 1950, but violated parole by disappearing that September. On November 15, 1950, he was discovered working in a print shop in Robbinsdale and arrested for violating his parole. The Minnesota Supreme Court ordered him returned to Indiana, where he was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison. He told tales of corruption on the parts of several politicians, including the Governor of Indiana and the Mayor of Indianapolis, both Klan members.
The Hennepin County Review reported a very odd event that happened on January 10, 1926:
Last Sunday the members of the [Union Congregational Church in St. Louis Park] were much surprised when about 25 members of the Ku Klux Klan quietly entered the church and came down the center aisle garbed in the full Klan regalia, excepting masks. One wore a beautiful gown of red and as the leader stood before the pulpit in the center of the body gathering (sic). After prayer offered by the minister, the leader offered him a fifty-dollar check, afterwards offering up another prayer. They left as quietly as they had come.
For what it’s worth, the Minneapolis Journal‘s account of the event reported 16 men in “conical hoods” divided inside the door, marched down two aisles, and presented the $50 in bills to the Reverend. They explained that it had been “pledged to the church budget at some time previous.”
The Hennepin County Review also reported that
Fiery crosses were seen burning in several section of the Park Monday night (January 25, 1926). In one or two cases the fire alarm was turned in. Fiery crosses are associated with the Ku Klux Klan. There was no evidence of any meeting at the various places where the crosses were seen.
It is reported that a cross was burned in St. Paul on May 25, 1926.
Even Peter John Sletterdahl, aka P.J. “Twighlight” Orn, former editor of the Call of the North, was disenchanted with the Klan. In The Nightshirt in Politics: Americanism Abused (1926), he wrote:
I turned against the Klan when I finally saw the Invisible Empire as a sinister political machine which capitalizes Protestantism and prostitutes patriotism in order to win the battles of politics. The Klan is religious fanaticism and racial prejudice seeking political power for the benefit of a few arch-manipulators.
A 1927 flier advertising lots in the Norwaldo neighborhood of St. Louis Park had many restrictions. Each street had a minimum amount that you had to spend to build your house. They ranged from $800 to $3,000, with the highest priced homes to be built on Lake Street and Minnetonka Blvd. The flier included the following: “No lots sold to colored people or unnaturalized foreigners, belonging to the ‘Dago’ class.”
In 1927, Nina Harris, who has been described as “anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-labor” began publishing The Saturday Press in Minneapolis with Howard A. Guilford, a former mayoral candidate who had been convicted of criminal libel. The paper claimed that Jewish gangs were “practically ruling” the city along with the police chief, Frank W. Brunskill, who was accused of participation in graft. Among the paper’s other targets were mayor George E. Leach, Hennepin County attorney and future three-term governor Floyd B. Olson, and the members of the grand jury of Hennepin County, who, the paper claimed, were either incompetent or willfully failing to investigate and prosecute known criminal activity. Shortly after the first issue was distributed, Guilford was gunned down and hospitalized, where a further attempt on his life was made. At least one of the stories printed in The Saturday Press led to a successful prosecution of a gangster called Big Mose Barnett who had intimidated a local dry cleaner by destroying his customers’ clothing.
A sign of the times was a minstrel show put on by the Richfield Lutheran Brotherhood on October 21, 1927, called “Dark Moments,” written by “a couple of white men,” reported the Hennepin County Enterprise. Characters included the Interlocutor, the End Men, and Little Eva. Music was furnished by the Munsingwear Corporation Orchestra. Minstrel shows with white men in blackface were fairly common in the early 20th Century.
The Historyapolis Project reports that “Birth of a Nation,” the silent film from 1915 that fostered many Ku Klux Klan Klaverns, was reissued in 1930 as a “talkie.” The first protest of the modern civil rights era was triggered by this movie, inspiring a small cadre of activists to carry pickets downtown. The “Minnesota Club” was a group of eight African Americans from the south side of Minneapolis that included Anthony Brutus Cassius, a leading labor organizer and race man who would become a successful restaurant proprietor in the 1940s; Lena Olive Smith (the first woman lawyer in Minnesota); a prominent local physician named Dr. William Brown; a journalist by the name of Herbert Howell and another man named Clifford Rucker. When the small group mounted pickets outside the Minneapolis theater, Cassius remembers that the Minneapolis police “arrested me, old Dr. Brown and Lena Smith, carried us all to jail.” The film was again reissued in 1940, and an article in the Minneapolis Spokesman indicates that Mayor Kunze (1929-1931) shut down the showing of the film.
In July 1930 500 Klansmen from all parts of Minnesota attended a picnic in St. Paul to install Dr. C.E. McNaught as the Grand Dragon of Minnesota and the Dakotas. McNaught was also mayor of the town of St. James and a member of a dozen fraternal organization.
The 1930 Census showed a black population of 4,176 (0.9 percent).
Calvin Schmidt’s Social Saga of Two Cities, published in 1930, shows how the black population of Minneapolis is divided primarily between south Minneapolis and what is termed the “near north side.” The southern area centered around 4th and 5th Ave. south of Lake Street, while the northern area’s commercial district was on 6th Ave. North, later called Olson Memorial Highway or Highway 55. The neighborhood of bars, shops, dance halls, and other establishments was wiped out when Highway 55 was widened. The Black population in Minneapolis in 1930 was 4,176.
African-American couple Arthur and Edith Lee purchased their home at 4600 Columbus Avenue So. in Minneapolis in the summer of 1931. When word of the purchase spread in the previously all white neighborhood, a mob of 4000 people gathered, in an effort to force the family out of the small white bungalow. In a record-breaking heat wave, the Lee remained confined in their home while the threatening mob kept watch. Popcorn vendors worked the crowd, which surrounded the house for several weeks. A World War I veteran, Arthur Lee stood guard with a shotgun, backed up by members of the local American Legion post. The mob threw firecrackers, rocks and killed their dog. But the Lees survived and remained in the house for a couple of years, before deciding that the neighborhood would never feel like home. A little more than thirty years later, the parents of Minneapolis journalist Michele Norris would buy a house around the corner, where they were met with hostility but none of the violence that greeted the Lees. (Historyapolis Project) 4600 Columbus Ave. was built in 1923 and stands today.
An April 1932 note in the Hennepin County Review informs us that Miss Alice Feudner and Mrs. Alfred Truman were directing rehearsals of “A Night in Harlem,” a negro choral comedy to be presented at the Masonic Temple in Hopkins.
In 1934 the Indian Reorganization Act recognized Indians’ right to live as a separate culture and form their own governments.
THE MINNEAPOLIS SPOKESMAN AND CECIL E. NEWMAN
Cecil E. Newman (1903-1976) came to Minneapolis from Kansas City in 1922 at the age of 19. At that time there were two African American newspapers in the Twin Cities, and he found a job at one, the Northwest Bulletin. In 1924 he partnered with a local printer and published the Twin Cities Herald until it died for lack of revenue. One source says that he published the Timely Digest in 1932. On August 10, 1934, Newman became editor and publisher of the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder, serving both cities’ black communities. The Spokesman had an initial run of 600 copies. In 1948 Newman became the president of the Minneapolis Urban League. In 2000 the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder were merged. The paper survives today as the Minneapolis Spokesman-Recorder, run by Newman’s granddaughter, Tracey Williams-Dillard.
Minneapolis Spokesman, February 15, 1935:
GRAND JURY ORDERS CAFES TO BAR CITIZENS
Negro proprietors of two Minneapolis night clubs, the Southside Night Club, and the Harlem Breakfast Club, were ordered to cater to only one race last week. The order actually amounts to race discrimination. Negro patrons form only a small portion of the support of the two places in question. The proprietor of one of the places, Bert “Dutch” Thompson, the Southside, has let it be known that colored patrons would be refused admittance at his place. That here is a law against barring persons from any cafe because of race or color does not seem to bother the proprietor or those who are responsible for the discriminatory order.
Mayor Knew Nothing About It
A call at the Mayor’s office brought a statement from mayor Bainbridge that he knew nothing about the order. A reporter for this paper was referred to Chief of Police Michael Johannes. Thursday the Chief told a reporter that he gave the order at the suggestion of the Grand Jury. No one could be found who could tell by what authority the Grand Jury could, or did, give such an order.
Although only a small percentage of the colored citizens patronize the night spots the whole town is aroused over what most people consider an unfair, unjustifiable, discriminatory order. Citizens plan to lodge direct protest with authorities. Proprietors of clubs or cafes who refuse to admit them will be hauled into court for violation of the State Civil Rights Bill, some citizens stated.
On May 10, 1935, the Minneapolis Spokesman called for a boycott of local brewers, citing their policy of not hiring blacks.
Clifford E. Rucker directed the Minnesota relief agency from 1936-1938, the most responsible position held by an African-American in state government up to that time. (Minnesota History, Summer 2011, page 208)
THE SILVER SHIRTS
In March 1936 a lunatic fringe group called the Silver Shirts descended on Minneapolis, preaching anti-Semitism and paranoia to what they claimed were 6,000 followers in the state. Eric Sevareid (using his real name, Arnold) was a journalist for the Minneapolis Journal and published a six-part expose of this group starting on September 11, 1936. The organization was led by William Dudley Pelley of Asheville, North Carolina, who chose to blame all of his problems on Communists or Jews, which he saw as one and the same. The Silver Shirts was open only to men, but women could join the associated Christian Party. Some of their most ridiculous ideas include:
- President Roosevelt’s real name was Rosenvelt, a Jew. He will declare martial law and prevent the upcoming national elections.
- The Pyramids of Giza predicted that the Jews would arise and seize the world on September 16, 1936. People were warned to hoard food, stay inside, and keep away from the windows. In Minneapolis the uprising would start in Kenwood and sweep eastward around the lakes.
- Jews started the World War and the Russian Revolution was started by a Jew named Bronstein. They have a king called Akha Dham.
- Maurice Rose, chauffeur to Minnesota Governor Floyd B. Olson, is really a Jewish international banker in disguise.
- Secretary of the Treasury Morganthau buys quarters from Russia for 5 cents and the Star of David is on the dollar bill.
- The NRA symbol hides the sign of the devil, and a font that looks like Russian letters.
And so on. In her book Easy Street, Susan Berman says that her father, Jewish gangster David Berman, did not take kindly to this attack on his people and he would go to the meetings in Suburban Minneapolis and beat up the leaders. She described an incident where her father and several of his employees busted up a meeting at “the Elks Lodge” (doesn’t say where), beating the participants with clubs and brass knuckles. This happened two more times, and after six months the Silver Shirts gave up for fear of the beatings. No charges were ever brought against Berman and his men.
The Silver Shirts reappeared in 1938, and the Journal decided to reprint Sevareid’s stories in a pamphlet. In an article dated August 5, 1938, The Minneapolis Spokesman described the group as a “national organization anti-Semitic and anti-Negro in principle,” and said that they were meeting at the Royal Arcanum Hall. It named local leaders as T.J. Wooster and Florence Scriver, and noted that national organizer Roy Zachory of Asheville, NC was in the Twin Cities.
One hoodwinked reader of the Minneapolis Star wrote to say that on July 29, 1938, he had been invited to a patriotic meeting at the Ark Lodge, a Masonic hall. He quickly discovered that the meeting was a hoax, and among those present was a member of the board of education, a leading industrialist (and labor-baiter), a number of doctors, small businessmen, and a number of women. He was ashamed of the Masons for being so hypocritical. The worst thing was that, as he left, photographs were taken of the participants, “so very likely I will now be branded a Silver Shirt and is my face red.” Signed, Ashamed.
Also see our companion page, The Jewish Community in St. Louis Park.
On October 4, 1937, over 500 of the Twin Cities’ movers and shakers of all races attended a testimonial dinner at the Nicollet Hotel for Minneapolis Spokesman and St. Paul Recorder editor Cecil E. Newman.
In January 1938, the Minneapolis Spokesman exposed the University of Minnesota’s unwritten policy of not allowing black students to live in dormitories; by February 4, the paper reported that the University had changed the policy.
In 1938 Calhoun Realty advertised the new subdivision of Knollwood, “a restricted, architecturally controlled subdivision of beautiful picturesque homes.” The term “restricted” sometimes meant that you had to build an expensive two-story house, and usually meant no Jews and no blacks.
The Urban League reported that in 1938, 68 percent of blacks in the Twin Cities were either on relief or working in WPA projects. (Minnesota History, Summer 2011, page 209)
An editorial in the Minneapolis Spokesman on September 9, 1938, presumably written by Editor-Publisher Cecil E. Newman, reads:
State Fair Discrimination
A number of negro Minnesotans had their enjoyment of the State Fair marred this year by discriminatory practices by concessionaires who openly violated Minnesota state laws on state owned property.
Such occurrences only strengthen our oft repeated contentions that race prejudice grows more rapidly than does racial tolerance, especially when those who suffer from it make no effort to cure it.
Minnesota has a law which prohibits race discrimination in any form in public conveyances, hotels, eating places, etc. The law is seldom invoked. There ought never be any reason for its violation but in recent days violations have been far too frequent.
That citizens should be discriminated against at a state fair which the taxes they pay help support is ridiculous. That state fair officials should be so negligent in their duty as to allow concessionaires to put up signs reading “NO COLORED TRADE SOLICITED” and other highly humiliating signs is evidence of their inefficiency or neglect.
When this paper protested about conditions to Raymond Lee, secretary of the State Fair Board, he promised immediate action but two days after his promise Negro citizens were being mistreated at the State Fair.
It was finally necessary for one citizen to threaten court action. In addition, the Minnesota Negro Council chairman, Clifford Rucker, had to take the matter up with the state attorney-general, W.S. Ervin, who immediately took action on the matter which Secretary Lee evidently was unable to handle properly.
All in all, the whole matter was due to the lethargy of Negroes who make little or no effort to combat such discriminations and the state fair officials who allow such conditions to exist right under their noses without correction.
In 1939, deep into the Great Depression, 60 percent of blacks were unemployed in the Twin Cities compared to 25 percent of whites.
The ad below shows that acclaimed Black photographer, musician, writer and film director Gordon Parks was in business as a photographer in St. Paul.
On September 29, 1939, the Minneapolis Spokesman ran a series on the history of the black community in Minneapolis. The following was entitled “Present Day Negro Minneapolis:”
The present Negro population of Minneapolis is reckoned at approximately 6,700. The majority of them belong to the medium and low income groups and they reside in all of those sections of the city where their incomes will permit. Negroes will be found living in the South, South Central, Southeast, Northeast and North sections of Minneapolis. The greatest concentrations of the Negro population are on the North side of Minneapolis and in the South and South Central part of the city.
A very large proportion of those living in the South and South Central sections are home owners with a reasonable amount of economic security. It is in this section that many of the postal employees and business and professional people live. Their homes are beautiful and the lawns are well-kept and there is nothing to distinguish them from the homes of any other groups in comfortable circumstances.
The Negroes living on the North Side of Minneapolis are for the most part those families in the lowest income group A large number of them are renters who are living in houses definitely below the accepted standards for physical and moral health because their incomes are insufficient to pay the rent for better homes.
About 125 Negro families are living in the Sumner Field homes which are modern dwellings provided by the government at low rental for families with small incomes. Negroes comprise about 25 percent of the tenants in the Sumner Field homes and they have been commended by the management of the project for the peaceable and intelligent manner in which they conduct themselves.
Duke Ellington was in town for a dance at the Coliseum Ballroom (Lexington and University Avenues in St. Paul) on October 2, 1939. Unfortunately, an incident at the Radisson Hotel put a damper on the town’s excitement, when Rex Stewart, trumpet star of Ellington’s orchestra, was forced to ride in a freight elevator when he went to the hotel to see Ellington. The Minneapolis Spokesman reported that the hotel “has pulled this same stunt several times recently. One local man is reported to have instituted a suit against the place for violation of the state civil rights law.”
On October 28, 1939, the Negro Student Council at the U of M held a meeting to discuss the proposed staging of the DuBose Heyward drama “Porgy and Bess.” The Council voted to disapprove presentation of the play and issued this resolution:
Feeling that the impressions engendered by the production of ‘Porgy’ by an all Negro cast would be both undesirable and detrimental to the best interest of the Negro student body, the Negro Student Council has by unanimous vote unconditionally refused to give its support to the play.
On November 6 the Council met with the Director of the Theater Department, who presented the synopses of the play. The Council held another vote that was 18 to 16 against. The Minneapolis Spokesman described the play this way:
“Porgy” concerns the lives, loves and hates of the Negroes living on Catfish Row, Alabama. It is based on the “eternal triangle.” The three leading parts are taken by Porgy, a crippled beggar; Crown, a big, handsome strong ma; and Bess, who is loved by both Crown and Porgy. It presents a picture of human relationships.
In late November the Spokesman reported that a citizens’ committee from Minneapolis and St. Paul had persuaded the U of M not to present the play, “an objectionable play based on slum life among Negroes in the South.”
“Birth of a Nation,” the old D.W. Griffith saga of the Ku Klux Klan, was reissued for the second time on April 3, 1940 at the Esquire Theatre, 729 Hennepin Ave. As in 1930, NAACP attorney Lena Olive Smith launched the first volley, protesting to Acting Mayor Marvin Kline. A picket line, including many prominent citizens, set up in front of the theater. After a pre-run screening, Minneapolis Spokesman Editor Cecil E. Newman pronounced the film “the most poisonous appeal to race prejudice against the Negro than any of them had ever witnessed. A committee of many organizations asked Kline to “close the film as Mayors Nye (1915) and Kunze (1930) had done before him.” Kline said that he had seen the film as a teenager and agreed to order the theater to desist in its presentation, upon penalty of revocation of its license. The theater refused to comply, and negotiations ensued before Judge Frank E. Reed. Newman said “The continued showing of a film lie the ‘Birth of a Nation’ may cause disorder in this city as it has done in other communities.” The protesters wanted the film shut down on Tuesday, while the theater pushed for Thursday. A compromise of Wednesday was stipulated, signalling “a moral victory for the citizens white and Negro who fought its exhibition in Minneapolis. It also marks the first time the film has been halted here by agreement in Minneapolis.”
The black population of Minneapolis was 4,646 (0.9 percent) in 1940.
On June 25, 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 8802 forbidding discrimination in defense industries and setting up the Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC) to enforce it. Unregulated businesses generally did not hire blacks except for menial jobs.
In 1942 the Bracero Program recruited Mexican workers for the war effort. The program ended in 1964; at its peak in 1956 it recruited more than 445,000 temporary workers.
The largest wartime employers of black workers were:
- The Twin Cities Ordnance Plant
- Northwest Airlines
- Brown and Bigelow
- International Harvester
- D.W. Onan and Sons, maker of generators
Industries that failed to hire black workers included:
- Department stores
- Public utilities
- Mail-order companies
Many of these businesses were boycotted by the black community as a result.
FATHER GILLIGAN AND THE GOVERNOR’S INTERRACIAL COMMISSION
Information about Father Gilligan and the Governor’s Interracial Commission comes from the article “Father Francis Gilligan and the Struggle for Civil Rights” by Tom Beer and Tom O’Connell (Minnesota History, Summer 2011).
In December 1943, Governor Edward J. Thye established the Governor’s Interracial Commission of Minnesota. Father Francis J. Gilligan served as Chairman until 1955. Father Gilligan had arrived in St. Paul in 1928 to teach moral theology at the St. Paul Seminary. His doctoral thesis, published in 1928, was The Morality of the Color Line, An Examination of the Right and the Wrong of the Discriminations Against the Negro in the United States, which concluded that racism was a grave sin. Although he advocated a gradual move from segregation, he advocated anti-lynching laws, equal justice, and increased public spending for education, services, and housing.
Gilligan forged relationships with many players in the Twin Cities, including labor leaders, financial barons, and black organizations such as the Urban League.
The commission worked to allow blacks into the National Guard, end segregation of veterans’ burial plots at Fort Snelling, fight racial discrimination at St. Cloud Reformatory, and even fight the color bar at the American Bowling League. The commission addressed racial discrimination through workshops, pamphlets, curriculum guides, and public programs. Reports, primarily written by Father Gilligan, included:
- The Negro Worker in Minnesota (March 1945)
- The Negro and His Home in Minnesota (July 1947)
- The Indian in Minnesota (1947)
- Race Relations in Minnesota (1948)
- Negroes and Whites as Fellow Workers (1948)
- The Oriental in Minnesota (1949)
- The Negro Worker’s Progress in Minnesota (1949)
- The Indian in Minnesota (1952)
- The Mexican in Minnesota (1953)
Gilligan served as the head of the Commission until the successful establishment of the Minnesota Fair Employment Practices Commission in 1955, after an eight year fight. Father Gilligan died in 1997 at the age of 98.
On March 10, 1944, the Hennepin County Historical Society hosted a talk by Rev. Edwin T. Randall of Hopkins. The subject of his talk was “The Race Problem in the World to Come.” Randall was the director of the Bible School of the Air.
On February 15, 1945, the Masque and Gavel Radio Club at St. Louis Park High did a broadcast over WLOL radio with the theme “Time for Tolerance.” They presented a five minute skit and ten minute discussion on Inter-Racial Relations.
Nellie Stone was the first black person elected to public office when she won a seat on the Minneapolis Library Board in 1945.
Some of the earliest incidents of what would now be considered racism were the minstrel shows that various groups put on for fun or to raise money. They probably were not malicious, since most of the people involved had never even seen a black person. These shows might be found in schools, churches, the PTA, and one in 1946 when St. Louis Park Cub Scouts held a minstrel show in blackface, performing to 700 people.
Meanwhile, African-Americans faced discriminatory practices that kept them out of the postwar building boom or restricted them to certain parts of town. This discrimination was carried out by builders, but also banks, the Federal Housing Administration, and the Veterans Administration.
An article entitled “Minneapolis: The Curious Twin,” written by essayist Carey McWilliams, was published in Common Ground magazine (September 1946). McWilliams proclaimed “Minneapolis is the capitol of anti-Semitism in the United States. In almost every walk of life, ‘an iron curtain’ separates Jews from non-Jews in Minneapolis.” See Jewish Migration to St. Louis Park for a description of the kinds of discrimination aimed at Minneapolis Jews.
As a response to the charges of anti-Semitism, Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey appointed a task force to investigate the situation. The task force confirmed the allegations, and also shone light on discrimination against Blacks and American Indians. Humphrey turned the task force into a permanent Mayor’s Council on Human Relations. Ordinances were passed in the next two years that outlawed anti Semitic and racist practices in housing and employment. In 1948 Humphrey gave a groundbreaking speech on civil rights at the Democratic National Convention. The damage had been done, however, and soon synagogues and whole neighborhood flocked to St. Louis Park, where they were welcomed and accepted.
In January 1947, the city of Minneapolis created one of the country’s first municipal Fair Employment Practices Commissions (FEPC). A state version wouldn’t come until 1955.
The St. Louis Park Echo announced that on April 14, 1947, a Lyceum program of ballads, modern selections, and songs of the “old days” will be presented by a Negro quartet called the Plantation Singers.
On June 25, 1947, WCCO Radio began a series of shows called “Neither Free Nor Equal,” dealing with discrimination in the Twin Cities. The Minneapolis Spokesman was approving: ”
The show does away with the usual namby-pamby skittishness of programs about discriminating, and plunges into the cold, hard facts of how intolerance is born, fostered and spread by some of our best citizens.
Bob Sutton, producer of the show, and writers Ralph Andrist and Ralph Backlund, have thrown caution to the winds, and aided by an ably directed cast, drag out skeletons in the closet of employment, home training, education, and every strata of life.”
After the first show there were only two phone calls and one anonymous postcard in protest. The series was developed by Sig Nickelson, director of news and special events, in cooperation with the Governor’s Inter-Racial Commission, the St. Paul Council on Human Relations, the Urban League, the Minneapolis Community Self-Survey, the Minnesota Jewish Council, the Minneapolis Mayor’s Council on Human Relations, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the latter which presented the show with an award in 1948.
There were six episodes:
- The Face of Discrimination
- Discrimination in Employment
- Discrimination in Housing
- The Indian in Minnesota
- The Hate Merchants
- Meeting the Problem
The text of the sessions was compiled in a book available in local libraries.
In July 1947 the Governor’s Interracial Commission of Minnesota issued “The Negro and His Home in Minnesota.” Polling revealed that 63 percent would not sell their property to a black person, even if offered a higher price.
On November 27, 1947, James W. Slemmons was named the Mayor of Bronzeville at the Annual Ball at the Labor Temple. Cedric Adams did the honors on his WCCO radio show. The ball, with entertainment by David Falson and His Gents of Swing, was sponsored by the Associated Negro Credit Union. Similar ceremonies were carried out in other major cities around the country. The campaign was inaugurated in 1940 to stimulate the participation of individuals and groups in communities. The Mayor of Bronzeville was expected to “assist in coordinating, and act as a liaison between the various groups and activities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.” The program also generated funds to donated to various organizations and to educate people on the value of credit unions. It would be the last such coronation in Minneapolis. In 1954 the Credit Union issued a statement formally ending the campaign, in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka that struck down the concept of “separate but equal” in the schools.
A February 17, 1948, editorial in the Echo reads:
The annual observance of American Brotherhood Week will be held throughout the nation February 22-28.
The lack of tolerance in our country was demonstrated recently by an incident concerning the Freedom Train. Most of us were shocked when we read that the very ideal of democracy had become the center of race controversy. Citizens were segregated as they entered the train to see such freedom documents as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Negroes were told they could not see the documents which had given them their freedom and the vote.
There are a few who have been misled, thinking that there can exist a brotherhood from which so-called “inferior” races must be barred. Let us not be taken in by such a fallacy. Under such a system our nation could no longer be “the place where hate must die.”
Not only during Brotherhood week but throughout the year we must fight intolerance. It is not hard to be tolerant when you realize that those of another color or creed are not so very different from you after all. You can’t become tolerant with a resolution. It takes work and study. The more you learn, the more tolerant you will become.
On April 22, 1948, five students from Park High participated in a discussion on civil rights for the Junior Town Meeting of the Air program on WTCN radio. Participants were Mary Dow, student director, John Kuntz, Peggy Woodward, Bob Bevensee, and Rex Pickett. Each student delivered a prepared speech on various phases of the President’s Civil Rights program. They then responded to questions from the student audience, including:
- If fear and prejudice are bred in the hearts of men, can education remedy the prejudice of their brains?
- What agency of government would be in charge of the Civil Rights program
- What can we do about restrictive clauses in real estate transactions?
Nat King Cole, in town for a show at the Radio City Theater, was refused admittance to the Carnival Club on April 30, 1948. He and his new wife had been invited to a party there, and although the host was waiting for them and the crowd waiting for seats parted automatically as Cole and his wife approached the rope, the maitre d’ told Cole there was no room and used a racial slur. The next morning Cole sent a telegram to the club manager requesting an explanation. On Monday afternoon, Ted Cook, the manager of the cafe, along with a “prominent local worker in the field of human relations,” went to Radio City to apologize personally to the Coles and to tell them in no uncertain terms that the club did not practice race discrimination and that the refusal was a mistake. Cole graciously accepted the apology. The Spokesman reported that Cook would hold a roll-call of employees that afternoon to explain that the Club Carnival would not tolerate discrimination on the part of any of its employees. Cole told the paper that he felt it was the duty of prominent Negro performers as well as all others to combat violations of civil rights wherever and whenever found.
On May 3, 1948, race-specific real estate covenants were invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Shelley vs. Kraemer, the Court determined that such covenants were in violation of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the cartoon below was published in the June 1948 issue of Fanfare, the newsletter of the Minneapolis Musicians’ Union. Musicians were likely to be more in tune with racial equality than other professions, as they played side by side with each other.
1949 was a year in which the Parks Department was greatly expanding the number of parks throughout the Village. Gone were the days that children played in the fields surrounding their neighborhoods, as new houses replaced them. In one particularly ugly incident, a park was planned for 40th and Brunswick. But the man next to the proposed park, Mr. John V. Knotz, objected, worried about the noise. In fact, he objected so strenuously that he threatened to sell his home at 3951 Brunswick to a “nigger” if the park was built. Local citizenry, afraid he would follow up with his threat, asked the Village authorities to move the playground. They did. The Brooklawns park was moved to 39th and Minnehaha Creek.
On January 20, 1949, a speaker from the Minnesota Jewish Council spoke on Racial Understanding, the Blue Tri theme for January.
The set of Park High’s Anniversary Ball in February 1949 was an Old Southern Plantation.
On February 2, 1949, Kurt Singer of the United Nations Speakers Research Committee gave a lecture on Un-American groups. His book Spies and Traitors of World War II revealed the workings of Communism and Fascism.
THE NEGRO MOTORIST GREEN BOOK – From the Historyapolis Project
More than a decade before Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech, an African-American publisher named Victor H. Green articulated a modest vision for racial justice. “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States” he wrote, in the 1949 introduction to his Negro Motorist Green Book, which was a comprehensive listing of establishments friendly to African Americans. Updated annually between 1936 and 1964, when the Civil Rights Act banned racial discrimination in public accommodation, this slim volume was an essential resource for any person of color who wanted to travel “without embarrassment,” in the words of Green.
Green found opportunity in discrimination, providing an annual update of businesses in each state that were known to welcome African American patrons. But he bemoaned the necessity of this service. “It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please,” he concluded.
Hotels and restaurants in Minneapolis were prohibited from discriminating against African Americans. But laws did little to alter practices. “There were great restrictions placed on blacks in eating establishments, in hotel establishments,” labor organizer and business owner Anthony B. Cassius remembered in an oral history done in 1982. “Up until the late forties a Negro couldn’t stay in a downtown Minneapolis hotel. [There] was a gentlemen’s agreement.” [Singer Marian Anderson broke the color bar at Minneapolis and St. Paul Downtown hotels in 1948 when she refused to stay at the alternates offered to her.]
The 1949 Green Book corroborates Cassius’ memory. It advises African-American travelers to Minnesota to seek lodging in two places. First, the Serville Hotel, located at 246 4th Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, around the corner from the Milwaukee Road depot. On the edge of the Gateway District, the Serville appears to be an establishment with few pretensions and even fewer amenities. Photos from 1942 reveal it to be the kind of place that would welcome anyone–no questions asked–who provided cash upfront for his or her bill.
A more appealing option was the Phyllis Wheatley House at 809 N. Aldrich Avenue. Though it was not a hotel, this north Minneapolis settlement house provided a safe haven for traveling African Americans from the time it opened its doors in 1924. The settlement house moved into a new building in 1929 that included 18 bedrooms for travelers. In the years that followed it played host to the African American cultural and intellectual elite. Guests included labor organizer Philip Randolph, writer and historian W.E.B. Dubois, singer Marian Anderson, author Langston Hughes, folk singer and activist Paul Robeson and jazz artist Ethel Waters.
The black population of Minneapolis was 6,690 (1.3 percent) in 1950.
An editorial in the February 13, 1951 Echo had this to say:
Help to Eradicate All Prejudices
When you hear a beautiful song, do you stop to wonder about the color of the composer’s skin? After reading a good book, do you ask yourself, “I wonder what the author’s religion and nationality may be?” No, you appreciate the song or the book for its own value and don’t care about the author’s color, race or religion.
It is equally silly and unfair to hold a person’s race or religion against him at any time, for he may have many wonderful qualities with which to serve the world.
The eradication of prejudice and intolerance takes time. National Brotherhood Week, Feb. 18-25, is a start toward that goal.
With the world in its present chaos, racial and religious prejudices are as out-moded as high button shoes. Through everyone’s working together, the world may at last be – one world.
From the Historyapolis Project:
This Woman’s Home Companion article from October, 1951 describes “How Minneapolis Beat the Bigots.” This article was published in the wake of Hubert Humphrey’s famous civil rights speech at the Democratic National Convention, as Minneapolis was solidifying its reputation as a stronghold for racial tolerance. Of course this was only five years after journalist Carey McWilliams declared the city to be the “Capital of Anti-Semitism” in the United States. “Today Minneapolis is a changed city,” Clive Howard asserted. “No longer is it threatened by that creeping disease of prejudice and its inevitable economic consequence–the blighted slum area that drags down property values, adds to everybody’s tax burden and lowers community health standards.” The article urges readers to follow the example of Minneapolis women, who conducted a “community survey” in the late 1940s under the direction of a group of sociologists from the Race Relations Department of the American Missionary Association at Fisk University. The interviews and statistics collected by these housewives revealed the pervasive reach and effect of racism in the city. Volunteers were transformed by the process, becoming civil rights advocates right at the moment that the national fight for racial equality was taking off. “The Community Self-Survey started Minneapolis–and can start your community too–on the road to real democracy.”
In March 1952 the St. Louis Park Echo reported that Carl T. Rowan, Minneapolis Tribune staff writer, would speak on “Race Relations and Education” before the High School PTA. Rowan had been named “Outstanding man of 1951” by the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, “the first Negro to win the honor in the history of the Minneapolis Jaycee awards.” Rowan authored articles for the Tribune “How Far From Slavery?” Rowan graduated from Oberlin College and took a Master’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.
Park’s first black family to move in was the Woodfin Lewis family. Lewis was a nuclear physicist who had come to the Cities in 1952 to work at Honeywell. First accepted, then evicted, they negotiated with their landlord in the face of public outrage at their eviction. They won, but only stayed for six months before moving into the City. Be sure to read the whole story by clicking above.
In the wake of the Lewis incident, in November 1952 representatives of 50 organizations met to see if they should hold a community conference on human relations. The meeting was held by the newly-formed Citizens Committee on Human Relations in St. Louis Park. Leading the meeting was Rev. Max Karl, regional director of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
New policies were adopted by the Federal Government in 1952 to move Indians from reservations to cities, resulting in a steady rise in the Native American (mostly Ojibwe) population in the Twin Cities. By 1960 there were about 2500 Indians in the ‘Cities; by 1980 it was more than 11,000. (Dave Kenney, Twin Cities Album, A Visual History)
On November 3rd and 4th, 1953, Roger DeClercq and Jack Alwin produced the “Negro Classic Play ‘Green Pastures’” at St. Louis Park High School. “Green Pastures is an attempt to present certain aspects of a living religion in terms of its beliefs. The religion is that of thousands of Negroes in the deep south. With terrific spiritual hunger, these untutored black Christians have adopted the contents of the Bible to the consistencies of their everyday lives.” The show featured a 30-voice choir singing 20 spirituals.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, mandating the desegregation of all public schools.
The February 24, 1954 issue of the Park High Echo included an editorial entitle “Intelligence or Prejudice,” under a sketch depicting Brotherhood Week. The students wrote:
“Negro Refused Permission to Buy House in White Community.” It happens every day. Often, such incidents aren’t newsworthy enough to make the headlines. Yes, it happens every day. But why?
Reason and common sense tell one, “No, of course such prejudice is without basis in fact. A member of any racial or religious minority group is no better at best or no worse at worst than any supposedly superior citizen.
On the other hand, emotions decree, “A member of a minority group is dirty or greedy or foreign in ideas and habits. He is “different” so we must protect ourselves from him” Unfounded in fact but staunchly upheld in practice, prejudiced views have lived for untold generations. Father and son, mother and daughter, neighbor and friend have passed on these unfair, irrational, narrow beliefs.
It’s easy to take the road of prejudice. It’s easy to condemn, to criticize, to hurt. It’s difficult to accept, to support, to cooperate against the practices of society. And nobody can made the decision but you.
In the 1950s the Park High Echo reflects an overwhelmingly Christian bent, with the Glee Club singing at churches, holidays called Christmas and Easter, and virtually no mention of other faiths. The April 7, 1954, issue has a front page article entitled “Choir Honors Easter With Spiritual Works,” accompanied by a large picture of an open Bible with the caption “My Redeemer Lives.” Inside is a sketch of a cross, captioned “Christ the Lord is Risen.” The Christmas and Easter holidays would not be renamed Winter and Spring until 1970. There was an item about Hanukah in the December 3, 1958 issue of the Echo.
In 1955 the State legislature established the Fair Employment Practices Commission, eight years after the Governor’s Interracial Commission made the first recommendation to do so in 1947. Minnesota was the tenth state to pass such legislation. The law had two key characteristics:
- A non-coercive approach, relying on mediation and voluntary employer compliance, and
- An individualistic emphasis requiring claimants to pursue unresolved discrimination complaints through the court system.
In 1955, St. Paul native Roy Wilkins became the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In his biography of Harry Reasoner, Douglass K. Daniel noted an “unusually frank” edition of the weekly show “Twin City Heartbeat” in the summer of 1956 called “The Invisible Fence.” The show about racial relations in Minneapolis and St. Paul featured interviews with middle-class black residents, who told of their experiences and “what they endured in a supposedly tolerant Northern city.” “Presenting incidents of inequality and injustice, the program closed with a plea for tolerance. Variety [June 6, 1966] praised the program and Harry, and it won an honorable mention in the Robert E. Sherwood Freedom and Justice TV Awards.”
In 1956 the Governor’s Interracial Commission was reconstituted as the Governor’s Commission on Human Rights.
THE END OF RONDO
The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 provided that the Federal Government would pay 90 percent of the cost of Interstate Highways, spurring the building of the highways we are so familiar with today. One of those was Highway 94, which was built in a series of segments. The 11-mile segment between Minneapolis and St. Paul was planned that same year, and clearance was started immediately. The route chosen went through the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul. This neighborhood, named after an early settler named Joseph Rondeau, was primarily home to the African-American community in St. Paul, going back to 1865. Of the 400 homes destroyed to make way for the highway, approximately 300 were occupied by black families. The neighborhood went from Rice Street west to Lexington Parkway, making up approximately 150 square blocks. It was thought that the decision to run the highway through this neighborhood was either an overt attempt to disperse the community, or simply the route of least resistance, since the black community had little political power. The section of highway was finished in 1968.
In 1957 McCarthy’s Restaurant was found guilty of racial discrimination when management refused to upgrade the position of Carl L. Carter from bus boy to waiter because he was black. The case came before the Minnesota Fair Employment Practices Commission, the first such action taken under the provisions of the law. Manager Jerry Murphy testified that he was not personally prejudiced against Negroes, but that he doesn’t set the police and was following orders and that he has certain orders he has to take.
Mrs. L.C. Bates, President of the Arkansas NAACP, was honored at a banquet at the St. Paul YWCA on October 12, 1957. She also spoke at St. Peter’s AME Church. Both talks were about the efforts to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School.
1958 was the 100th anniversary of Minnesota statehood, and a 15-member commission was appointed to create a centennial emblem that would “capture the meaning of Minnesota and being Minnesotan, to symbolize the entire state and its achievements.” In the Fall 2008 issue of Minnesota History, Karen Faster wrote about the controversy over the emblem, which included a spire with a cross. The emblem was the result of a contest, judged by four commercial artists. The winner was Will Schaeffer of St. Louis Park, who said that the cross was his idea, intended to balance the silo on the other side of the emblem. Commission member Aaron M. Litman, a member of Mount Zion Synagogue in St. Paul, was criticized for not speaking out against the cross when it was first approved in July 1956. Controversy ensued, with religious leaders, the ACLU, and others weighing in about whether it was appropriate for a Christian symbol to be on a state-sponsored symbol. After several votes the commission decided to keep the cross. Faster’s conclusion was was that “Political expediency, the desire to avoid bad publicity, religious faith, the logistical difficulty and expense of replacing the emblems already distributed, and the stated desire to recognize the role of Christianity in Minnesota’s history outweighed feelings of minority exclusion.”
In April 1958 the Minneapolis Spokesman began listing companies that they did not patronize. As the weeks went by, companies were added and subtracted to the list. The feature did not state the reason that the particular company was on the list. Some of the companies were:
- The Fuller Brush Company
- Young-Quinlan Rothschild
- J.C. Penney
- Kinney Shoes
- Roto Rooter
- Florsheim Shoes
- 7-Up Bottling
- Schmidt’s Beer
In June 1958 the owner of 15 acres on Wayzata Blvd. gave an option for $60,000 to builder Oscar Peterson to build an “all-colored subdivision.” This turned out to be a threat to the City as a result of the Council’s refusal to approve a pay dump in that area. The Council did not take the threat seriously, but it is an example of using the sale of land to blacks as a threat.
Black fashion model Bani Yelverton modeled in the 1958 Friends of the Institute fashion show fundraiser for the Minneapolis of Arts. Yelverton, who was from New York, also appeared in a fashion spread for Dayton’s Oval Room that appeared in the October 14, 1958, issue of Look Magazine. She was later hired as a model for Dayton’s in 1964. (Kristal Leebrick, Dayton’s, a Twin Cities Institution)
In September 19, 1958, 300 St. Paul young people participated in “We’re Gonna Rock For Freedom” night, a block party sponsored by radio station WTCN under the auspices of the Youth Chapter of the St. Paul branch of the NAACP in the 800 block of Iglehart. Admission was the price of one youth membership in the NAACP. WTCN furnished music and refreshments and the NAACP gained 80 new memberships.
In October 1959 the White House Restaurant at 4900 Olson Memorial Highway in Golden Valley refused to seat three black patrons, who sued and were awarded damages.
L. Howard Bennett, former judge and Minneapolis civic leader, talked with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about the steps he was taking to end segregation in the south. This historic conversation was rescued from old film stock and digitally preserved by tpt. It is unclear where this was recorded.
In 1960 an incident in Morningside led the a group of Park clergymen to form the St. Louis Park Ministerial Association subcommittee on fair housing. The group issued a resolution deploring panic selling. The resolution, passed at a February 4 meeting at B’nai Abraham Synagogue, read, in part:
The circumstances of our present time are such that countless families are being dispossessed of their homes by government relocation and redevelopment programs as well as the continual network of freeways and expressways that are weaving their way into the heart of the Greater Minneapolis area. In these days of transition and change we continue to affirm our believe in a nonsegregated church in a nonsegregated society. We believe that our community will continue to grow in this heritage and extend a warm word of welcome and encouragement to all who seek well-designed, well-constructed, liveable houses in a nonsegregated community….
We call upon all citizens of our community to support our heritage of freedom and equality by making their houses available to all qualified purchasers without regard to race, color or creed.
A nasty incident involving a Nazi swastica flag occurred on July 4, 1960, at Miracle Mile Shopping Center. James H. Murphy, “well known throughout the Park for his selfless interest in civic betterment,” reported that as he and his wife were driving hear 41st and Raleigh Ave., they heard a loud squeal of tires. “I saw this kid – maybe about 18 or 20 – standing beside this car and attaching this Nazi flag to the radio antenna. It wasn’t a cheap one; had gold fringe on it. Then he got back in the car and the driver started out at high speed, veered around me and roared through the [Miracle Mile] parking lot. I followed and stopped in front of the drug store where my wife went to get cigarets. The boys must have thought she was going to call the police because they tore out of there.” The car was traced to an owner in the Mankato area, but no action was taken. Murphy said, “I can understand a boyish prank, but these weren’t boys. The one who tied the flag to the aerial knew I saw him. He gave me the old thumb-to-the-nose salute.” (Dispatch, July 14, 1960)
In 1960 the minority population in St. Louis Park was .5 percent, and the black population equaled 21.
The black population of Minneapolis was 11,785 or 2.5 percent, in 1960.
From the Historyapolis Project :
Three years before the March on Washington–in February, 1960–students all over the country launched “sit-ins” that were designed to force the racial integration of restaurants and lunch counters. At this time in Minneapolis, restaurants were legally prohibited from refusing to serve patrons because of their race. But the practice was nonetheless widespread. Even more common were tactics designed to discourage African-American patronage, like extraordinarily slow service and salting the food to make it inedible. Inspired by the sit-ins, a group of local students decided to stage their own protest at the Minneapolis Woolworth’s. Their goal, they claimed, was to support their brethren in the South. But these students were clearly asserting their right to respectful treatment in public commercial venues in a city that had earned a national reputation for its progressive racial politics while continuing to be less than welcoming to many of its African American residents. This photo shows sixteen year old Sandy Rogers, beaming for the camera. She’s seated next to a grim-looking L.R. Tobin, the store manager, who had agreed to join the demonstrators for a cup of coffee. I’d love to know more about the conversations that led up to this moment. I’ve searched for Sandy Rogers, with no success. Can any of you help me find her today? This photo was originally published in the St. Paul Dispatch and reprinted in Larry Millett’s Strange Days.
Surprise! Sandy Rogers just happened to see this and has been in contact with the folks at the Historyapolis Project!
Also in 1960 St. Paul picketers joined the NAACP in a national boycott of Woolworth’s until the company desegregated its lunch counters.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Minnesota in 1961 to address the annual meeting of the Minneapolis Urban League. He would return to Minnesota in 1963 and 1967. Also see 1959.
Six Minnesota Freedom Riders were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, on June 11, 1961. Bond of $500 was posted by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) for the release of Claire O’Connor, 22, of Roseville on July 3. Including O’Connor, CORE had posted bond for 58 Freedom Riders. CORE planned to appeal O’Connor’s case. Governor Wendell Andersen announced that Mrs. Wright Brooks, chair of the Governor’s Human Rights Commission, and a representative of Attorney General Walter Mondale would investigate treatment of Minnesota Freedom Riders jailed in Mississippi. The other five Minnesotans, all men, were serving four-month sentences in the state prison in Parchman, Mississippi.
Also on July 3, 1961, Freedom Rider John Lewis, 21, a senior at American Baptist Seminary in Nashville, spoke to more than 100 students at Coffman Union at the U of M, at a meeting sponsored by Students for Integration. “Nonviolent resistance might be the salvation of our nation. We must use it to transform our society into a new society. Each sit-in, each freedom rider, brings us a step closer to the redeemed community – or even the Kingdom of God. Lewis spent 26 days in jail in Jackson, Mississippi and was knocked unconscious for 45 minutes in Montgomery, Alabama in riots over the freedom riders. (SLP Dispatch, July 4, 1961)
Other than the Woodfin Lewis family, which moved to St. Louis Park for a brief time in 1952, the next black family to move in permanently was that of Dr. B. Robert Lewis. Dr. Lewis was a veterinarian who bought out an existing practice. He became a leading figure in the City and in State government, until his untimely death in 1979 at the age of 47.
THE REVERSE FREEDOM RIDERS
A story from the Historyapolis Project comes via the research of Heidi Heller, a history major at Augsburg College.
More than 50 years ago, Louisiana segregationists were feeling the yuletide spirit, angling to give the citizens of Minneapolis — and most notably, former Mayor Hubert Humphrey — a Christmas present.
Their gift: hundreds of unsuspecting black folks sent from the South via one-way bus tickets to new lives where northerners “will certainly welcome you and help you get settled.”
The rub: The northerners on the receiving end had no idea they were coming.
While researching race issues at Minneapolis City Hall, Heller stumbled upon a 1962 letter among Mayor Arthur Naftalin’s files. It was addressed to the Commission on Human Relations, which was responsible for addressing discrimination and conflict in the city.
The letter warned that, right before Christmas, Minneapolis would see an influx of “Reverse Freedom Riders.” They were blacks recruited by southern segregationists to relocate to the north and were “unaware that the communities at the end of their journey were unprepared for their arrival.”
Writes Heller, “Intended to embarrass white supporters of the African-American freedom movement, this effort… sought to ‘expose the hypocrisy’ of Northern communities seen as widely supportive of civil rights. Minneapolis — along with Philadelphia, New York and Chicago — was one of the cities targeted.”
According to Heller, these PR stunts were funded by the state of Louisiana. It was one of the ways southern segregationists retaliated against the Freedom Rides, protests organized by the Congress of Racial Equality to challenge the segregation of interstate travel.
In Minneapolis’s case, says Heller, the Reverse Freedom Riders were meant to embarrass Minnesota’s most famous politician, Hubert Humphrey.
Ultimately, the Reverse Freedom Riders never landed in Minneapolis. A New York Times article spotlighting earlier such stunts amounted to bad press for southern racists. Then it was learned that Humphrey wasn’t even going to be in Minneapolis when they were supposed to arrive.
The idea was scrapped.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Minnesota on January 28, 1963. As reported by Iric Nathanson, he held a news conference at the airport and stressed the progress made since his earlier visit in 1961. Later that day he spoke to an audience of 3,000 at Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. He would return in 1967.
Another (possibly the second) black family to move into St. Louis Park was that of Melvin H. Stone, who lived on 16th and Idaho Ave. Melvin’s parents lived next door. The family moved from North Minneapolis, primarily because of the schools.
Black members of the Minnesota Twins were forced to live in segregated quarters during Spring Training in Orlando, February 1963. Outrage ensued.
The May 16, 1963, Dispatch reported that Rabbi Sachs of St. Louis Park’s B’nai Abraham Synagogue was one of 19 rabbis who went to Birmingham, Alabama to support Martin Luther King and the Southern Leadership Conference. The rabbis met with members of the SLC in the Gaston Motel, which was later bombed. From the article:
The rabbis also attended en masse some of the Negro prayer meetings that were “packed from stem to stern from morning till night.” “We tried to convey that American Jewry – and we hope all democratic mankind – understands and supports the Negroes right to human dignity.”
Rabbi Sachs expressed great respect for the Negro leadership in the Birmingham freedom movement.
“my impression was that they represent the finest human leadership in America,” he said. “The movement is guided by the most moral, intelligent, dedicated and courageous people.”
“Their whole point of view is built on one premise – ‘We believe in human dignity.'” Rabbi Sachs returned to Minneapolis wearing a button with this slogan.
Another motto among Birmingham Negroes, according to Rabbi Sachs, is “We don’t want a race riot, we want freedom.” “The Negroes have been instructed by their leaders to hold only ‘peaceable’ demonstrations such as prayer meetings, marching across town,, and singing the freedom songs.”
“The kind of Negro who throws stones is considered ‘unconverted to the true objective of the movement,” Rabbi Sachs said.
He called the young leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, a true descendant of Mahatma Gandhi.
An article in the May 25, 1963 Minneapolis Tribune reported that at 2 a.m. on May 19, 1963, a race riot was narrowly averted after a scuffle between Patrolman David A. Clunis, 24, and Raymond L. Wells, 30. Clunis was attempting to arrest a man for making a right turn without signaling at 12th Street and Fremont Ave. No. Wells, who was a former Golden Gloves middle weight champion and a boxing instructor at the Phyllis Wheatley House, came out of a nearby cafe to find out what was going on and got into an argument with Clunis and other officers. Wells resisted being searched and asserted that police beat him with blackjacks and billyclubs. A crowd of 50 to 70 persons, “mainly Negroes,” gathered and “began making threatening comments such as ‘This is just another Birmingham. Let’s get those …. …. cops.'”
“Someone in the crowd also commented, ‘He should have killed that cop earlier this evening,’ Clunis said. The remark referred to another incident a few hours earlier in which a Negro wounded a police officer in a fracas in the same vicinity. Clunis said the crowd was ‘milling around’ and ‘surged’ toward the police officers on one or two occasions, but held back as several more police squads arrived on the scene. ‘There was a great deal of swearing and mass hatred directed at us,’ Clunis commented. ‘We barely kept them under control while squads from other parts of the city were coming to our assistance.'”
On August 28, 1963, 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. An account of the Minnesota delegation can be read here.
From the Historyapolis Project, 2013: This photo shows part of the delegation from Minnesota, which included Josie Johnson, now 82. Now retired, Johnson was Minneapolis Urban League director and an associate vice president and Regent at University of Minnesota. Her huge smile belies the anxiety she felt as she anticipated the journey to Washington, wondering whether she would encounter the same kind of violence that had been meted out to other civil rights protesters. Marchers “were given strict instructions about how to handle ourselves. We had to sign a contract that said we would remain nonviolent — we could not retaliate if we were attacked. And I remember that there were some people in Minneapolis who did not go because they said they couldn’t commit to that.” Also in the delegation was Matt Little, the president of the Minneapolis NAACP, who was eager to represent his city in Washington, as it had become known nationally as a stronghold civil rights.
An article dated October 24, 1963, reports that plans for a neighborhood shopping center in the Harrison urban renewal project on Minneapolis’s North Side were dropped for lack of interest among neighborhood businessmen. The center, planned for the southeast corner of Penn Ave. N. and Olson Memorial Highway, was designed to replace businesses lost by the widening of Olson Highway (formerly Sixth Ave. No.). St. Louis Park native Robert Jorvig was the Executive Director of the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority. The decision meant that the $3 million Harrison project, Minneapolis’s first neighborhood rehabilitation program, would focus on rehabilitation rather than clearance of the area.
In 1964 St. Paulite Roy Wilkins was named executive director of the NAACP.
In 1964 Dayton’s introduced four mannequins “representing the Negro race” in its window displays. The faces for the mannequins had been modeled after black actresses, including Diahann Carroll. The store also hired its first black model, New Yorker Bani Yelverton, who had modeled in the 1958 Friends of the Institute fashion show fundraiser for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and appeared in a fashion spread for Dayton’s Oval Room that appeared in Look Magazine in 1958. (Kristal Leebrick, Dayton’s, A Twin Cities Institution)
On May 10, 1964, Dick Gregory and the Freedom Singers, plus top jazz and calypso artists, appeared at the Minneapolis Auditorium. The show was sponsored by the Friends of Civil Rights in cooperation with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
ST. LOUIS PARK’S HUMAN RELATIONS COUNCIL
On June 1, 1964, a group of about a dozen local residents met at the St. Louis Park City Hall to discuss the formation of a human rights organization. The meeting was called by Dr. Fred Lyon. The speaker was Calvin Walton, executive director of the Governor’s Human Rights Commission, who stressed the need for such organizations in the suburbs. Dr. Lyon said that one of the primary goals of the group would be to prepare the city for the time when more members of minority groups begin to move into the suburbs. Walton said “This community is a part of the state, and this state has a race problem.” (SLP Dispatch, June 4, 1964)
In early July 1964, the group of 50 was addressed by Mrs. Viola Kanatz, assistant director of the State Commission Against Discrimination. The group was advised to focus on local issues that they could have an impact on. The Park group had chosen the issue of discrimination in housing as its major interest area. (“Face the Problems” City Human Rights Group Told, SLP Dispatch, July 16, 1964)
In an editorial in the same issue, it was noted that some Park citizens were grumbling that “the new group would sir up trouble where none had existed before.” The editorial went on,
We believe the council can and will be valuable to the community.
Members of many minority groups – including Negroes – already live in St. Louis Park. That more will find the city attractive is inevitable. So far there has been little or no trouble – a fact which residents can view with pride. Yet there have been hints of discrimination in housing; there is the unpleasant possibility of a Negro “ghetto” being formed by some unscrupulous speculator using “block busing” techniques; and there is a need here as well as elsewhere for someone to undertake the education of citizens….
It is probably that the council will head off more problems than it will create. (Human Relations Council: A Good Idea, SLP Dispatch, July 16, 1964)
The mid-1960s were a time of racial violence, as city after city experienced unrest. In 1964 many were injured in riots in Philadelphia and Elizabeth, NJ. Protesters demonstrating for civil rights disrupted the subways on opening day of the New York World’s Fair.
The U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed on July 2.
In January 1965, 40 members of a Blue-Tri group at St. Louis Park High School met with Rev. Trout, minister of the American Lutheran Church. Carolyn Belt of the Echo reported that the minister’s message was “We want only what comes to other American’s. In the trend toward freedom in the United States, the Negro comes into the picture because of the brute fact of his existence and the fact that man was born to be free.”
In 1965 a group that was making noise was the John Birch Society, founded in 1958 by Robert Welch. The Society was opposed to the United Nations, the Supreme Court, and accused former President Eisenhower and other government leaders of being communists. In 1965 the St. Louis Park Republican party publicly excluded any member of the John Birch Society from taking office in the party. There were two dissenting votes.
In March 1965 Dr. Fred Lyons, president of the St. Louis Park Human Relations Council requested funds from the City Council to accept an award at a conference of the National Assembly on Progress in Equality of Opportunity in Housing, to take place in Springfield, IL on March 18-20, 1965. No action was taken.
Violence broke out in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965.
“Local Volunteers Live with Negroes,” read the headline in the Dispatch on June 24, 1965. “They’ll Invade ‘Black Belt’ in Civil Rights Project.”
Twenty-two white Minnesotans will be Negroes by sundown Saturday. The color of their skins won’t change but their status will as they invade a section of the “black belt” — Peach County, Georgia, in the name of human rights.
Under the banner of SCOPE [Summer Community Organization Political Education project, made up of U of M students and alumni] and guiding hand of experienced civil rights worker, Jack Mogelson of 3152 Florida Ave., six suburbanites (among others) will pioneer voter registration, education and community benefit projects in general where Negroes earn livings by picking peaches and pecans for a pittance (about 20 cents an hour).
The group leaves by train tomorrow morning and will end up in Fort Valley, Ga. to live with Negro natives for 10 weeks working in teams of two.
“Don’t expect protection from the FBI or the police — remember you are considered Negro by Southern whites while you are there working for civil rights,’ Jack told the group during daily briefing sessions this week.
Jack told recruits he strives for personal moderation, quiet dedicated dignity — no beards no boy-girl affiliations, no tight suggestive clothing.
They must win the confidence and overcome the apathy of the Peach County Negroes and hopefully, the cooperation of at least a part of the whites.
All must meet at least twice daily together to discuss problems and bolster morale. While they will live with Negro families they will do their own cooking in a group; share an office keep records; read and learn about the people they are trying to help.
One of the participants was Kathy Connor of 4133 Utica Ave.
Jack Mogelson (1942-1999) was inspired to become a civil rights worker while watching the funeral of three other rights workers who had been killed in Mississippi. He dropped out of school and became a freedom rider in Mississippi himself. He was an organizer of the March on Selma, and then spearheaded the 1965 trip to Georgia. Jack did the lion’s share of the fundraising for these activities. He met his wife Judy, a nurse, on a picket line, and they moved into North Minneapolis just as most of the whites in that neighborhood were moving to the suburbs. He made his career as a Union organizer, working with hospital, University, and public employees. He died at age 57.
A NEGRO ISRAEL
A disturbing editorial appeared in the St. Louis Park Dispatch on July 29, 1965. Entitled “The ‘Insoluble’ Part of the Racial Problem,” the piece seems intentionally provocative – be warned that this is strong stuff. Excerpts include:
- The “insoluble” racial problem in the U.S. is the breakdown of the family in the ghettos of the great northern cities and the resulting rise in illegitimate births.
- [Rioting in other cities] came from the armies of boys and girls from broken homes or not homes at all, who grew up without any kind of family life or discipline and who, thrown on the streets, view the future without hope.
- [Gains of the Civil Rights movement are] challenged by the hopeless ones… the crowds of youngsters in the great center cities, fruit of animal-like alliances who will go on breeding in the same senseless and tragic way unless something can be done to call a halt.
- Negroes bear ten times as many babies out of wedlock as do white families. Over the nation, one fifth of all Negro children are illegitimate . . . with more than two-fifths the figure in Harlem so classified.
- What is the solution? Some sort of birth control, maybe? A change in the relief laws to remove the economic incentive which now prompts some women to make a kind of business out of rearing successive illegitimate children.
- Possibly a massive resettlement and educational program under the anti-poverty program.
- Perhaps the establishment within the United States or elsewhere of a kind of “Negro Israel,” a separate state where these rootless people build a new economy, a new society and a new future for themselves . . . with guidance and financial help in massive doses.
- All this is going to cost money and lots of it. But it would be worth the cost. The alternative is anarchy and a massive blood-bath such as this nation has never before seen.
Where this kind of rhetoric comes from in white suburbia is puzzling. The Publisher of Minneapolis Suburban Newspapers, which also published papers in Hopkins, Edina, Lake Harriet, Golden Valley, the Minnesota Valley, and Bloomington was J.E. Tilton.
Reaction was loud and clear. Letters from readers the following week included:
- Your solution to the “insoluble part of the racial problem” is certainly one of the poorest and most fascist solutions to be put forth so far. It may have been a solution for Hitler but it certainly was not a solution accepted by thinking people the world over.
- Mr. Tilton’s editorial was “reprehensible.” Until the time comes that our distinguished publisher has a broader outlook and a better grasp of the facts as they are, may I suggest that he leave all editorializing to his editors. It is an affront to the intelligence of his subscribers for Mr. Tilton to continue to editorialize on this subject without the objectivity and full comprehension of the facts that we expect of our newspapers in these times.
- I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. It must be the first part of a practical joke intended to stir up your readers. On the slim chance that you are serious, I must say that I’m deeply ashamed that a newspaper in our enlightened community should come up with such a proposal. References are so repugnant in illogical as to defy reasonable response.
The Editor of a rival paper, the Forum, had a lot to say as well:
- We had to read the editorial twice before we could believe what had been written.
- We believe that reasonable readers strongly object to the tone and manner of these statements, which virtually condemns and entire race without documentation.
- We note that this editorial was written not in Alabama or Mississippi, but right here in St. Louis Park!
- The Forum believes that the war on poverty, federal aid to education and new civil rights laws can help to get at the root causes of the symptoms and there must never be a moment’s thought given to the “banishment” of the Negro people from this country.
- Talk of the establishment of a “Negro Israel” is not only in extremely bad taste, but is obviously based upon little research into the causes of America’s racial problems.
- Creating a separate Negro state has been suggested by the Communists and the Black Muslims. That such a scheme is recommended as a possible solution is an alarming cause for concern by all of us who want to see an end to racial injustice and economic poverty.
Finally, here’s the response to the protests from Mr. Tilton:
You’d think, to read some letters to the editor in these newspapers today, that we’d sold out to the Fascists, lock, stock and barrel.
The reason: we suggested the creation of a “Negro Israel” as one possible solution to the Negro ghettos of the great northern cities which constitute the “insoluble” part of our race relations controversy.
You’d think, to read the letters, that we had proposed sending all Americans not of blue blooded Aryan stock to some distant Siberia where, behind barbed wire and under lash, they would be safely “removed” from America.
Trouble with some of our good readers is that they refuse to read or, reading, jump to a host of unjustified conclusions.
Because what we suggested was a purely voluntary plan, something like the exciting experiment in Israel and not too far removed from the camps proposed in the anti-poverty program, to provide some hopeless kids with a new chance in life. If that’s Fascism, bigotry and white extremism, then our dictionary’s wrong.
The St. Louis Park Dispatch of August 5, 1965, reported, “Realtors Again Postpone Open Occupancy Action.” The Minneapolis Board of Realtors apparently could not bring itself to make a stand on open occupancy – i.e. nondiscriminatory housing – for a variety of reasons that, judging from the headline, the Dispatch wasn’t buying.
In the same issue, the Dispatch reported that a leadership training institute for suburban human relations groups was being planned by the West Suburban Council on Religion and Race (WESCORR) for September 17-18, 1965. Participants would be from St. Louis Park, Golden Valley, Hopkins, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Excelsior, Deephaven, and Wayzata. Keynote speaker was Eugene J. Callahan, Executive Director of the Chicago Conference of Religion and Race. WESCORR President Stanley Breen, 2530 Pennsylvania Ave. S., invited mayors, police chiefs and councilmen from the western suburbs to participate, and encouraged churches, businesses, and real estate companies to participate as well.
Breen noted that there have been numerous instances where minority group families have been denied housing in suburban areas. “The realtors blame the reluctance to sell on the sellers, and the sellers blame it on their neighbors and its just one continuous round of passing the buck. We are going to attempt to get to the depth of the problem and seek a means of educatin00g suburbanites so we can unmask and overcome all the traditional objections toward selling or renting to minority group families.”
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed on August 6. At signing, President Lyndon Johnson said, “With the outrage of Selma still fresh, we enacted one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom. The Voting Rights Act will ensure Negroes the right to vote.”
On Sunday, August 8, 1965, Dr. and Mrs. Robert B. Lewis, a St. Louis Park veterinarian and future Minnesota State Senator, hosted a meeting in their home where three black youngsters from Mississippi told of the need for financial support to Mississippi tenant farmers who were put off the cotton farms when they asked for a minimum wage of $1.25 per hour. The three speakers were Rosemary Freeman, 18, Charlie Mae King, 20, and John Handy, 21. (Minneapolis Spokesman, August 12, 1965)
Riots broke out in Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, over three nights starting on August 13, 1965.
The Suburban Young Republicans League sponsored a panel discussion in Bloomington on August 25, 1965. Panelists, who discussed the meaning of the term “Black Power,” were:
- Ralph Moss, founder and executive director of the Program for the Advancement of Community Education,
- Robert Williams, executive director of the Minneapolis Urban League,
- Curtis Chivers, former state president and now third vvice president of the Minneapolis NAACP,
- Milton Williams, counselor at the St. Paul Rehabilitation Center, who presented the view of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
The panelists rejected the term in general, except for Williams, who said that “Negroes need a psychological separation from whites.” (“Black Power” Theory Splits Negroes, by Betty Wilson, St. Louis Park Dispatch, August 26, 1965)
In the 1960s Phyllis Watson and another family from St. George’s Church sponsored 12 Cuban families, many of whom moved to St. Louis Park.
On September 17-18, 1965, community leaders from nine suburbs attended a Leadership Training Institute on Open Occupancy, which was sponsored by the West Suburban Council on Religion and Race. Mayors, police chiefs and councilmen were invited to attend. The purpose was to educate and stimulate community leaders to secure basic rights for all people, particularly as it relates to housing opportunities for minority groups. Residents were refusing to sell their houses to members of minority groups, supposedly because of the neighbors. Actions like these led to the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
“Discrimination in the North” was the theme of the 1965 Youth Conference, held on November 16, 1965. Guest speakers were Dr. Fred Lyon and Dr. Robert Lewis of the St. Louis Park Human Relations Council. The Conference was open to all students from Lake Conference schools.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated the national origin quotas put into place by the Immigration Act of 1924. The main impact of the Act was to create a shift in traditional immigration patterns from the Western Hemisphere by allowing residents of more countries to qualify for admission to the U.S. Visa limits (available on a first-come, first-served basis) were set at 170,000 per year for immigrants from countries in the Eastern Hemisphere with a per-country limit of 20,000 and 120,000 for immigrants from countries in the Western Hemisphere with no per country limit. The amendments also strengthened the preference given to those with family members already established in the U.S. who could serve as sponsors, and there was no limit to the number of family reunification visas issued.
An April 1966 issue of Westwood Jr. High’s newspaper the Westwinds reported an essay contest sponsored by the Human Relations Council of St. Louis Park. Roberta Gelt won the contest with her essay, “If I were non-white, Would my color be a Barrier to my Future?”
THE NORTH MINNEAPOLIS RIOT OF 1966
From the Minneapolis Spokesman, August 11, 1966:
Mill City Youngsters Riot; Quick Action, & Jobs Brings Quiet
An outbreak with racial overtones which occurred in Minneapolis Wednesday, August 3, has apparently been eased to the the point that no serious re-occurrence is expected, by the prompt joint action of Governor Karl Rolvaag, Mayor Arthur Naftalin, civil rights leaders, business and industry, and members of the teen-age and young adult group which dramatized its discontent by staging spontaneous planned disorder on the Minneapolis Northside along a principal business street.
Minneapolis had three hours of disorder in the early morning of August 3 by an estimated 50 to 60 Negro teen-agers.
For a time the discord threatened to achieve the proportions of a full scale riot extending through the last week-end. The rioting, window breaking and looting was confined for several blocks on Plymouth Ave. No. and its environs.
Order was restored early Wednesday morning by the Minneapolis police department riot squad led personally by Inspector Donald Dwyer.
The aroused youngsters did not challenge the police after an early incident when they threw rocks and bricks at two squad cars which had answered a radio call, reporting windows of stores near Fremont and Plymouth had been broken and looting was going on.
The four police officers in the squad cars were ordered by radio not to tangle with the yelling crowd and left the scene.
Shortly afterwards, 30 police equipped for riot duty moved into the area up Plymouth Ave. No., sealing off the area to auto traffic and ordering dispersal of the crowds. They were somewhat hampered in the dispersal by crowds of spectators, most of them friendly, who gathered to observe the diminishing disorder and the havoc in broken windows suffered by some business places.
There was no rocking of the autos of whites who were in the neighborhood, as has occurred in other cities or was there any attempt to attack those who live in the area. The chief ire seemed to be directed at some of the merchants along Plymouth, although most of the stores on the street remained unmolested.
One appliance store, Koval’s, 1601 Plymouth Ave, was robbed of a number of television sets after the store’s windows were smashed. One estimate was 16 sets and another 40. The store had been in process of moving to St. Louis Park.
There were reports of excessive gun fire during the rioting but only one youth of the three arrested had a revolver on his person. Two of the youths arrested were charged with looting. The only person whom witnesses identified as firing a pistol at all was one taken from Wayne Anderson of Wayne’s Bar at 2005 Plymouth Ave., who was accused of firing his pistol up Plymouth Ave. in the general direction of the Cafe Continental at 1924 Plymouth Ave. in the next block.
The building housing the bar also had bullet holes in its facade indicating somebody had returned Anderson’s fire.
As the police moved in the sound of gunfire was heard all over the area but nobody was hit. Apparently most of the shots were fired in the air.
Mayor Arthur Naftalin was summoned from a meeting he was attending in Toronto. A meeting in Minneapolis of community leaders, city officials, social workers, police, Plymouth Ave. businessmen, civil rights leaders and residents was held the next morning. Governor Karl Rolvaag and Police Inspector Dwyer presided while the Mayor was making his way home.
Dwyer stated that “the disturbance could not be correctly labeled as a race riot because there was not fighting between Negroes and whites throughout the entire three hours of turmoil. He said he felt that the rioting was instigated by some ‘hoodlums’ in order that looting of stores could be engaged in.”
“Negro leaders discounted the idea that the trouble was inspired by ‘hoodlum’ elements alone, because of the long-standing housing segregation, poor law enforcement, and job discrimination which affected the district for years, unchallenged and neglected by the community at large.” Black leaders said that “the disorder was the product of the failure of the total community to concern itself with the ghetto system which has packed several thousand Negroes, of all levels of economic status in a tight area, with the poorest among them living in rat-infested ill-kept houses.”
During the meeting, Clarence Benford, 20, spoke to the group:
Benford, who served as spokesman, said the real cause of the disorder was “jobs.” He told Mayor Naftalin [who had by then joined the meeting] that he and Larry Harris, OEO director, had promised a group of young Negroes jobs before and that they did not deliver.
Because of this Benford told the meeting the most recent trip of the Mayor and the Poverty Program executive was resented as nothing but a pack of promises which were not meant to be kept.
Benford stated the kids decided following the Northside Picnic Tuesday night, and as the result of an earlier incident at Silver’s Market in which the proprietor chased 11 young boys from his store with a pistol, that they were going to demonstrate and dramatize their discontent, even if they “had to burn down Plymouth Avenue.”
“We felt that we had nothing to lose, no jobs, no interest from elected officials, overcharging by many of the merchants on Plymouth Avenue, no decent playground facilities, very few recreational outlets and with many of the families living in housing not fit for human habitation,” Benford said.
“We figured that if we publicly demonstrated our distress and dissatisfaction, the city would pay some attention to our plight. If we didn’t get some attention on the Northside we planned to come down to the loop to attract attention to our joblessness and hopelessness,” Benford added.
The members of the meeting resolved to make a concerted effort to generate jobs for residents on the North Side.
In September 1966, the local Young Republican League held a forum around the topic Black Power, which was being espoused by Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Co-Ordinating Committee in Mississippi. Four African American organizations were represented, with two coming down on the side of Black Power and two espousing more conciliatory methods. At the time, blacks were still referred to, at least in the papers, as “Negroes.”
In an October 1966 interview with local band the Underbeats in In-Beat magazine there is a telling paragraph:
“The group agreed that the rise of quality pop music has revived this country’s interest in rhythm and blues but their interest is not desegregated. They pointed out that, ironically, it is difficult for Negro R and B bands to get jobs in the Twin Cities. This, they said, was because many places in the Twin Cities won’t serve or hire Negroes. ‘A lot of really good Negro musicians can’t even get in groups because the group is afraid that if they take them, they won’t get jobs.'”
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. appeared at an outdoor rally on the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota on April 27, 1967. As reported by Iric Nathanson, Dr. King told the approximately 4,000 people sitting on the lawn that there was much work yet to be done, citing segregated and substandard housing and schools. He called for a guaranteed annual income for the 40 million Americans who are in poverty and a commitment to fair employment practices. He also came out against the Viet Nam War, which was controversial to both white liberals and black civil rights activists who felt that King’s focus on the war detracted from his civil rights work. The photo below shows some of the signs; two called for “King for President,” although King had announced three days earlier that he would not be a candidate.
A state civil rights bill was passed in May 1967.
Stokely Carmichael was in Minneapolis on May 15, 1967, where he spoke to a crowd of about 4,800 people at the U of M Fieldhouse. The Tribune reported that he planned to live in Washington, DC and organize a “black power” community in the city, where the population was then 52 percent black. Carmichael had stepped down as the chairman of SNCC the week before.
The Minneapolis Spokesman reprinted an article from the Wall Street Journal, “America’s Uneasy Cities Surveyed as Violence Rears Ugly Head.” Another headline was “Some Cities Plan Against Riots, Others do Nothing.” Minneapolis was not mentioned.
Riots plagued Detroit on July 23, 1967.
THE NORTH MINNEAPOLIS RIOTS OF 1967
July 19-20 (Wednesday night, Thursday morning)
Violence erupted in Minneapolis at the Aquatennial Torchlight Parade on Wednesday night. Rumors of possible rioting had been circulating all day, and downtown businessmen had been urged to board up their windows before closing. Police Inspector Donald Dwyer said that the rumors came to fruition at the parade after two black girls fought over a wig. “One snatched a wig from the other’s head,” he said and “both ended up on the street. Police moved to separate them, and this led to a police confrontation with a crowd of about 200.” He concluded that police were getting nowhere and ordered a supply truck with riot equipment. Onlookers claimed that police used a club on one of the women, which the Mayor Naftalin later denied. The downtown incident centered on Marquette Ave. between So. 4th and 7th Streets. It then moved up to Plymouth Ave.
Nancy Piazza, Miss Golden Valley of 1967, was a candidate for Queen of the Lakes: “I do remember a racial disturbance towards the end of the parade. Immediately the candidate floats were directed to a different street where we rapidly disembarked for a quick return to our hotels.” (Albinson)
From the Minneapolis Tribune, Thursday, July 20:
The trouble on Plymouth Ave. started about 11:25 p.m. in front of the Knox Food Market at Morgan and Plymouth Ave. Negroes began throwing large rocks and bricks at firemen who were fighting a fire there, according to witnesses. Firemen ran to their trucks under a hail of rocks at about 11:48 p.m. Riot police armed with shotguns and helmets were arriving as the firemen pulled out. A witness said he heard shots during this melee. By 11:55 the fire trucks had gone and riot police were coming in force. Some police had automatic rifles.
Three Molotov cocktails were thrown hear the home of Minneapolis Fifth Ward Alderman Joe Greenstein at 11:30 p.m. yesterday, the family reported. None hit the house…The Greenstein family extinguished resulting fires. According to the family, seven to ten young men were seen in the vicinity of the house at the time of the incident.
About 100 to 150 Negroes began milling about on the corner of Plymouth and Morgan after police arrived. The action then was limited to pushing and shoving.
Around 12:15, the scene of the action shifted to the front of the Homewood Theater between Oliver and Morgan on Plymouth. A large group began forming there. Police made 11 arrests by 1:20 a.m. One man arrested appeared to be a leader of the disturbance. The man, who had bandages around both wrists and his neck, was trying to incite the crowd. He taunted police.
At 12:40 a.m. Minneapolis Police Inspector Donald R. Dwyer ordered the police to the north side of Plymouth Ave. in order to give Syl Davis and Joe Buckhalton, two officials of The Way, 1913 Plymouth Ave., an opportunity to disperse the crowd. The crowd was on the south side of the street. The Way is a storefront community center that developed after similar disturbances on the North Side last August. Buckhalton is a liaison officer between police and the Negro community.
At 12.45 a.m., bottles were thrown at the police wagon by the crowd, which was estimated at 75 persons. About 40 police were lined up opposite them. Cars were reported to have been overturned at several spots along Plymouth Ave.
At 1 a.m., the North Side crowd drifted east on Plymouth Ave. and punched out the window of Silver’s Grocery store, 1711 Plymouth Ave, the site where last year’s disturbance began.
Thirteen people, all black, were arrested in conjunction with the Wednesday night disturbance: 12 of the 13 were from St. Paul, and 7 of them were between 12 and 17 years old. The grocery store was burned, windows were broken at seven other stores, three cars were hit by rocks, and nine persons were treated for minor injuries. In an editorial entitled “The Minneapolis Riot That Wasn’t,” the Tribune quoted a black social worker who toured the area during the disturbance who said “This was not a riot, not even an effort at a riot.” In a comparison of this event and the one the previous August, reporter Dick Cunningham pointed out that “Another group of perhaps 100 white people and Negroes never left the porches and front steps from which they watched the disturbance.”
July 20-21 (Thursday night-Friday morning)
Thursday night’s events appeared to have started with the shooting of Samuel Simmons, 25, a black patron of Wayne’s Bar, 2005 Plymouth Ave., owned by Wayne Anderson, who was white. Anderson was arrested and then released pending investigation by a grand jury. After that shooting youths set fire to the Country House Market, the building that formerly housed the Hi Hat Cafe and Silver’s Grocery (1711 Plymouth Ave. No.), the epicenter of the August 1966 disturbance (see above). Two other people were shot, one woman in a personal scuffle and another by shotgun pellets.
From the Minneapolis Tribune, Friday, July 21:
Crowds of Negroes milled along Plymouth Ave. early today, hurling rocks at police cars and setting fires. Two persons were reported shot, and two others beaten. Police reported several fires along Plymouth Ave., one of them at the Peoples Baking Corp., 1809 Plymouth Ave., where arson investigators said three Molotov cocktails or gasoline-filled fire bombs were thrown. Fire officials were forced to ignore blazes along Plymouth Ave. for about 45 minutes while they fought a four-alarm blaze at the N.C. Bennett Lumber Co., 2825 5th Ave. So. For a short time, firemen declined to send rigs into the North Side area. A fire official at Plymouth Ave. said the fire on 5th Ave. “May have been a distraction.” another fire was a two-alarmer at the Hi-Hat, a cafe at Plymouth and Newton Ave. No., formerly owned by Joe Buckhalton, official of The Way Community Center
When a second building at the corner was struck by a fire bomb at 1:05 a.m., a unit of 50 police formed a skirmish line, moving as one man down the street. At the same time, orders were given by an inspector at Penn and Plymouth Aves. to “shoot looters on sight.”
Silver’s Food Market at 1709-1711 Plymouth was a special target of the crowd. Irving and Ethel Silver actually sued the City of Minneapolis for damages, since they had asked the police for protection. The case went up to the Supreme Court of Minnesota, and on August 1, 1969, the court dismissed the complaint on its merits.
July 21-22 (Friday night-Saturday morning)
At 11:30 a.m. on Friday Mayor Arthur Naftalin sent a telegram to Governor Harold LeVander requesting 300 troops from the National Guard to keep peace in the troubled area. He said that in the past two nights there had been 36 arrests and 18 incendiary fires. The fire chief said that two widely separated lumber company fires, which broke out almost simultaneously with three fires on Plymouth Ave. early Friday were deliberately set. LeVander doubled the number of Guardsmen sent to 631, stationed in both south Minneapolis and on the North Side. Guardsmen had gas mask on their belts and, in a spot of Minnesota nice, were ordered to issue receipts for any knives or guns that they confiscated. Reported the Tribune:
..A contingent of 80 guardsmen .. moved into the Lake Street and Nicollet Ave. area, where police said about 200 Negroes had taunted them and thrown firecrackers yesterday morning.
Posts of three guardsmen each were stationed at intersections on streets immediately north and south of Plymouth Av. and running parallel to it. [From Fremont on the east to Russell on the west.] On the avenue, posts of six men were stationed at the intersections. Each trooper, armed with an M1 rifle and two clips of ammunition, was under orders to shoot only in self-defense or in cases of attempted looting or arson.
Some jeers greeted the guardsmen as they moved into the Plymouth area. However, curiosity and indifference appeared to be the prevailing attitudes of neighborhood residents last night.
It was a hot day, and some residents took pity on the police and Guardsmen and brought them ice water and lemonade. Curious kids went up and talked to the troops.
Seven people were arrested Friday night; all but one were white. Much of the trouble seemed to come from outsiders and sightseers:
- Four white youths were arrested when they ran a barricade. The Spokesman reported that “They allegedly told officers ‘400 niggers were coming northeast… and the niggers should be stopped.’ No weapons were found on the youths.”
- Three white youths in a Mustang refused to follow directions by a traffic director from The Way and pointed a pistol at him.
- KSTP-TV news photographer Brad Jacobs was dragged from his car by three black youths and kicked in the head, while trying to explain that he was just trying to do his job. He was able to get away and drive to the hospital.
Volunteers and staff from The Way community center at 1913 Plymouth Ave. did great work to try to control the destruction:
- They formed a human barricade to keep sightseers away.
- They cleaned up the debris from the scuffles the night before.
- They held a street dance Friday night to keep kids occupied and out of the troubled area. About 20 percent of the participants were white and the mood was reported as “jovial.” A band called the Niles played almost nonstop until curfew, and two more bands were waiting if needed. The idea for the dance came from Pat Carroll, a white U of M freshman who had been volunteering at The Way.
- They participated in meetings to try and stop the violence.
July 22-23 (Saturday night-Sunday morning)
Although 250 [later reported as 100 to 150] National Guardsmen remained on duty, heavy hailstorms cleared the streets and the police and Guards took shelter in doorways. Another street dance was planned but was rained out. 80 Guardsmen stationed in jeeps in a parking lot at Nicollet and Lake encountered no trouble.
July 23 (Sunday night)
More than half of the National Guard troops were pulled out of the city. About 30 military policemen patrolled Plymouth Ave. in jeeps, while others remained on alert at the Minneapolis Armory.
The North Side Federation (a coalition of civic groups) and leaders of the North Side welfare agencies met to adopt a list of demands for action in the areas of human rights, employment, education, housing, and community services. The meeting was held at the Phyllis Wheatley House and attended by about 200 people, about half and half black and white.
July 24 (Monday)
A meeting to discuss the demands adopted on Sunday was scheduled for Monday morning, but the Mayor would only meet with a delegation of 15 in a closed meeting. Syl Davis of the Way and other key people walked out of the meeting, and the others refused to meet without him.
The meeting was rescheduled for Monday night at Lincoln Jr. High School, this time attended by a racially mixed 500 residents. Davis represented the North Side and demanded a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild Plymouth Ave. The demands were made to 31 city and school officials, including the Mayor and City Council. He stressed economic viability, saying “One goal should be eventual ownership of new businesses by residents of the community that was once predominantly Jewish.” Three remaining grocery stores were destroyed by firest during the violence on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Davis said that the Silver Grocery was destroyed because “a Negro was arrested there for stealing luncheon meat. Another spokesman said the proprietor of another market was tough with Negro children.” The Mayor agreed to meet with the group once a month.
July 25 (Tuesday)
At 3 a.m. the National Guard was withdrawn from the area. At 6:01 a.m. the call came in that Wayne’s Bar, the site of the Friday night shooting, had been firebombed after an erroneous report had gone out that the victim had died.
According to Fire Chief Kenneth Hall, damage from the 11 fires set in connection with the disturbance was set at $421,000, listed as follows:
- Knox Food Store, $20,000
- Car and garage, $2,000
- Car, $1,000
- Garage, $1,000
- Silvers Grocery building, which contained a church and four apartments upstairs, $50,000
- Country House Grocery, $20,000
- Radio station news car, $2,000 (see below)
- Federal Lumber Co., $40,000
- Bennett Lumber, $250,000
- St. Joseph’s Catholic Chuch and School, $25,000
- Wayne’s Bar, $10,000
Photos of the aftermath of the riot below are from the Minnesota Historical Society.
W. Harry Davis wrote in his autobiography: “Minneapolis was no longer the quiet, isolated small city of my youth. It was growing and becoming more like every other urban area in the country. The racial anger that bubbled to the surface in places like Los Angeles and Detroit was present in Minneapolis, too.”
In a July 27, 1967, editorial, Cecil E. Newman of the Minneapolis Spokesman expressed disappointment at the three-day melee:
The burning and looting that has gone on is regrettable and in our opinion will solve no problems … In fact [it] threatens the lives, property, and of more than any group, our negro population. In Minneapolis there has never been a time in the past 40 years when officials have not beeen approachable to those who anted to present grievances in an orderly fashion. Until the peaceful demonstrations prove fruitless, no citizen should resort to jungle warfare tactics to gain attention to his demands. It is too costly and dangerous to our common communities.
Given the large Jewish community in the Park, acceptance of every race, creed, and color has been a high priority. Park was the first in the country to canvass local neighborhoods to promote an open housing program, welcoming minority families on their blocks. The City Council established a Human Rights Commission, with seven members and one student. And in a show of support for the riot-torn area, the Park voted to use the Plymouth Avenue Branch of the First National Bank, located in North Minneapolis, as one of its official depositories.
St. Louis Park City Council minutes for July 1967 show that Dr. Fred A. Lyon of the St. Louis Park Human Relations Council testified that acts of discrimination had taken place in the City. He stated that the Minnesota State Legislature had authorized a Department of Human Rights, but it had not been established yet.
Apparently some people in St. Louis Park thought that the racial strife in Minneapolis was part of a Communist Plot. A group calling itself TACT – Truth About Civic Turmoil – hoped to educate the populace through speakers, films, books, and study courses to show that racial unrest is a tactic of agitation “utilized by subversive forces in inciting passions and hatred of both whites and Negroes.” On July 28 a new St. Louis Park chapter was to air the film “Anarchy, USA” at City Hall. Other fine films available were “Civil Riots, USA,” The Practical Communist,” “Berkeley Revolution,” and “Show Biz in the Streets.” The president of the new North Hennepin TACT Committee was William E. Humble, who believed that “this [race trouble] is a Communist-inspired deal to take over control of the United States of America, and those colored people who are in on this are pawns.” Almost sounds like Helter Skelter.
Will Jones’ entertainment column in the Minneapolis Tribune for July 31, 1967, gives an interesting perspective:
Despite all the lip service given to integration, and all the law designed to bring it about, there’s precious little of it in the Twin Cities saloon scene, and in the heart of downtown Minneapolis it’s almost unheard of. That’s why it’s so heartening to see the development at King Solomon’s Mines in the Foshay Tower building.
The crowds that have been gathering there in recent weeks are as nearly cosmopolitan in their makeup as we’re likely to find in these parts, with a range of ages as well as colors among the clientele. What’s brining all the people together is a rhythm-and-blues group called The Amazers, who produce a sound to match their name.
It’s a beautiful, swinging scene. So beautiful that operator Dean Constantine says his landlords have been making nervous noises about it. This is, however, a small sample of where it all at for the future, and should be now.
It’s a time for nervous landlords to tae a few tranquilizers and allow themselves to be amazed not only by the Amazers but by the amazing young among their following, who already have the whole thing straightened out neatly in their heads.
On August 16, 1968, the club was raided for underage drinking and serving drinks after closing time and the club lost its license.
On August 1, 1967, the Tribune reported on a report by the U.S. Community Relations Service:
- Minneapolis Negroes are twice as likely as whites to have family incomes under $3,000 a year.
- The Negro unemployment rate is 1.9 times as high as the white rate in the city.
- Median income for Minneapolis Negro families is 69.47 percent of the white figure.
- The percentage of Negro school dropouts is 2.43 times the percentage for whites.
- The illiteracy rate among the city’s Negroes is 2.67 times the rate or whites.
The study used 1965 Census data for dropout and illiteracy rates and 1960 Census data for the other comparisons. The disparities would have been greater if suburbs were included, said James H. Laue, Chief of Evaluation.
A headline in the August 17, 1967, Minneapolis Spokesman read, “Neighborhood Merchants in Selby Dale Area Worry Over Rumors.”
In the fall of 1967 St. Louis Park High School began teaching a course called “The Nature of Prejudice.”
A headline in the November 9, 1967, Minneapolis Spokesman, reprinted from the Wall Street Journal, read “Plans to Avert Urban Riots Next Summer in Making.”
In an article dated November 22, 1967, in the Dispatch, City Manager Camille Andre estimated that (with no exact figures available) “the city’s population included about 30 percent Catholics, 25 percent Jews and the remainder Protestants.”
The December 13, 1967, issue of the Park High Echo featured an article “Local Negro Indicates Racism in the Park.” The article was about Dr. B. Robert Lewis‘s move to the Park. Dr. Lewis was a veterinarian, and he told of his move to the Park:
He recounted an incident of reading of hospital facilities available here, making the trip from Omaha to Park to see the facilities and, upon arrival, being refused lease or purchase of the hospital.
After securing [Dr. Fitch’s] hospital in St. Louis Park, Dr. Lewis and a friend rented a U-Haul truck to move the family’s possessions to the new home in Park. the truck bore Georgia license plates and was to be dispatched to Hopkins after use.
Dr. Lewis continued, “My friend and I arrived and began unloading the furniture, and the neighbors, I assume, thought we were just workmen unloading the furniture. They had no idea that a Negro was moving in next door. And then, after about three or four days it dawned on them that one of the Negroes hadn’t left with the truck, that there actually was a Negro living here. And this was when one of my neighbors circulated a petition, but only one person signed it.”
To the charge that a black family would bring down home values, Dr. Lewis noted that the Fitch home and pet hospital were “a shambles” and he actually improved home values by fixing them up. (The property at 5700 Lake Street was later demolished.) Dr. Lewis became a much-respected member of the community, serving on the Park school board and in the State legislature. At the time Lewis was one of 26 black residents of the Park.
In 1968 Frankie L. Taylor sued several school board members and school district administrators for not hiring him as a biology teacher because he was black. He lost the suit and was ordered to pay court costs.
George Mitchell, Dennis Banks, and Clyde Bellecourt formed the American Indian Movement (AIM) in Minneapolis in 1968. “At first AIM focused primarily on alleged police harassment and other problems, but it soon expanded its vision.” (Kenney, Twin Cities Album)
INTERSTATE 94 AND RONDO
On December 9, 1968, the 11-mile stretch of Interstate 94 was opened between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Delegations from both downtowns left to meet at the border, at the Highway 280/University Ave. exit. Speeches were made by dignitaries, including Governor Harold LeVander. At 2:15 pm, Minneapolis Queen of the Lakes Janet Johnson and St. Paul Queen of the Snows Barbara Strobush tied a large ribbon across the highway to symbolize the linkage of the two cities. The road was opened to traffic at 4:00 pm.
What was probably not mentioned in the speeches were the 400 homes destroyed in order to build the highway, and the fact that about 300 of the 400 were occupied by members of St. Paul’s black community, known as Rondo. (See 1956 above) The highway was built in a depression so that the noise would not impact the remaining houses as much. The loss of Rondo was devastating to the community, and there have been many efforts to preserve the memory of this neighborhood that had housed the black community since 1865.
THE ASSASSINATION OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING
Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
On Sunday, April 7, the Tribune announced “Whites Plan Walk to Honor Dr. King.” This was planned as a”silent walk of grief” of white persons through the “heavily Negro Minneapolis North Side.” The one and a half mile walk was to begin at 7th Street and Lyndale Ave. No., westward down Plymouth Ave. No. to Theodore Wirth Park.
Unnamed organizers distributed a flier primarily at church services that morning. The circular’s instructions included:
- Confident that the black community will accept it in the humble spirit offered, private citizens of the white community wish to express their bereavement and shame at the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King — whom we regard as our fallen leader also.
- Wear appropriate clothing of mouring
- No signs, banners, political emblems, prayers, songs or speeches would be fitting to the occasion
- Transportation would be provided back to the starting place – “It is most important that walkers do not return through the Plymouth Ave. area after completing their part in the walk.
The account in the Tribune is a little confusing:
The mourners, who were predominantly white, began their silent walk, eight abreast, at N. 7th St. and Lyndale Av. They proceeded through a steady rain down Plymouth Av. to Theodore Wirth Park, where six buses were waiting.
About 500 marchers walked back to Plymouth and Penn Avs., where they dispersed, many being driven back to their own cars by Citizens’ Protectors, and organization of Negro youths recently formed to patrol the city’s North side.
Those who made the complete march separated from a larger group of marchers who began from N. 7th St. and Lyndale at about 1:15 pm. The larger group was turned back by police who feared for the marchers’ safety. [There were false reports of armed men waiting along the march route.]
As originally planned, the march proceeded past the crumbling houses and vacant lots of the Grant Urban Renewal Projects along N. 7th St., towards Plymouth Av., the heart of the city’s Negro community.
At Girard Av. N. and Plymouth, however, the march was hastily halted by Eugene Eidenberg, [Mayor Arthur] Naftalin’s administrative assistant, and Minneapolis Police Sgt. John Vooge.
After consultations with some of the march’s organizers, the march was re-routed down 12th Ave. N. when it was learned that the police had received a report of possible snipers on Plymouth Av.
The line of march dissipated quickly and the marchers returned to the point of origin, despite murmurs of discontent from many who wanted to continue.
While march leaders were discussing the situation with police and with Eidenberg, many of the marchers were reorganizing to begin again along the planned route.
The plan of starting the march anew appeared to be a spontaneous decision on the part of most, but Ronald Welsch, organizer of the South Side Way, and Evan Anderson, one of the Citizen’s Protectors, were active in arranging the crowd in marching order.
Many of the organizers of the first march continued with the new group; others, particularly those with children, decided otherwise.
Police made a brief effort to turn the crowd back but when that failed, several squad cars and ccars driven by Citizen’s Protectors drove ahead, clearing traffic.
Anderson estimated that about 100 Citizen’s Protectors and volunteers were patrolling the route for about three blocks ahead of the march.
At several points in the march, Citizen’s Protectors curbed cars filled with youths, both negro and white. The cars and occupants were searched, and they were warned to leave the neighborhood. At one point Mrs. Gwen Jones Davis, the Way’s program director, conferred with Anderson, saying, “You need to know what you might be walking into.”
“The people aren’t scared,” replied Anderson. He was critical of the police for having stopped the first march and said that the armed men were security guards posted by the Citizen’s Protectors.
After the first attempt was halted, Eidenberg said that the decision to terminate the march was made jointly by himself and the police authorities.
Davis and Eidenberg were edgy because of three shooting incidents the previous morning on Plymouth Ave. near the Way when whites driving through the area fired three shots. No one was hurt.
Another memorial service encouraged participants to bring all their guns and place them in a casket. Following the service, a motorcade would carry the casket to the Wesley Foundation on the University of Minnesota campus, where it would be buried. Other organizations called for the elimination of weapons as well.
On Tuesday, April 9, the Minnesota Council on Religion and Race and the Twin Cities Opportunities Industrialization Center (TCOIC) sponsored a citywide “memorial service of repentance and commitment to racial justice.” A march began at 9:30 am, approximately the same time that services began for Dr. King in Atlanta. A procession began at about 8:30 am in Pioneer Park, proceeding down Second Ave. to 12th Street, to Harmon Place and into Loring Park where the memorial service took place. Clergymen, civic leaders, and human rights leaders spoke on the legacy of Dr. King. The group of about 2,000 sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “We Shall Overcome.”
An estimated 15,000 marched statewide, and the Minneapolis Spokesman estimated that approximately 75 percent of the marchers were white. The TCOIC manned a rumor center, and men drove through the city “looking for incipient disorders.” There was no violence in Minnesota. Elsewhere in the country there were riots in 110 cities involving 22,000 Federal troops and 34,000 National Guardsmen, the largest contingent ever sent to deal with a civil disturbance. In Washington, DC, alone the damage was estimated at $50 million. Nationwide, 39 people were killed and of those, 34 were black.
On April 9, 1968, some 300 to 400 students from Benilde Catholic Boys’ High School in St. Louis Park marched on City Hall as a memorial gesture to the late Dr. Martin Luther King. In a statement issued to Mayor Leonard Thiel, the students wrote,
We hereby condemn the violence and racism which perpetrated this crime against a great man and our society. And, we hereby propose that we, as a people, awake to our individual and corporate responsibilities by reacting reasonably and non-violently toward alleviating the hatred and injustice which is rampant in our society. We beg that our governmental representatives meet the legislative needs and demands which our society must have if it is to survive and become a land of equality and justice for all men.
The St. Louis Park Sun reported that “After an orderly ceremony and a statement from the mayor, the students marched back to the school.” (April 11, 1968)
On April 11, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. It was the first Federal protection that African Americans and other minorities received of the right to live where they chose. The law prohibited:
1. Refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin. People with disabilities and families with children were added to the list of protected classes by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.
2. Discrimination against a person in the terms, conditions or privilege of the sale or rental of a dwelling.
3. Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling indicating preference of discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin (and, as of 1988, people with disabilities and families with children.)
4. Coercing, threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a person’s enjoyment or exercise of housing rights based on discriminatory reasons or retaliating against a person or organization that aids or encourages the exercise or enjoyment of fair housing rights.
In April 1968 Rev. Robert Bardy of Westwood Lutheran Church came before the St. Louis Park City Council and urged it to implement a nine point plan for the elimination of bias. It required all City employees, contractors, depositories, applicants for licenses and permits, and elected officials to operate in accordance with fairness and equality. The declaration called for affirmative action, low-income housing, and changes in the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance. The proposal was passed by the Council on April 21. In May, Bardy appeared before the School Board with the same message. An article in the Park High Echo by Steve Bob with the provocative title “White Racism Must Go!” noted that the proposal was similar to one put forward by Civilizing Communities, a group that included many Park High students.
In response to urban unrest and the black community’s primary demand for jobs, major employers began running large ads in the Minneapolis Spokesman. Companies included Dayton’s, Honeywell, Powers, NSP, Northwestern Bell, Coca-Cola, several banks, Donaldson’s, General Mills, J.C. Penney, Woolworth’s, and the Star and Tribune.
A group called the Civilizing Communities made a proposal to the School Board at its May 13, 1968, meeting for a program that would eliminate white racism from textbooks and curriculum and to provide courses on minority groups. The proposal also called for education of school employees in race relations, recruitment of minority teachers, statements from all contractors that they do not discriminate, and a policy of doing business with banks that provide at least 1 percent of loan funds to minority individuals “regardless of whether they are considered high risks.” The City Council approved a similar program at its meeting on April 21. (Echo, May 8, 1968)
On May 16, 1968, panelists were invited to a meeting at Union Congregational Church to describe to church members and guests “how it really is with local minority peoples.” (SLP Sun, May 23, 1968) Panelists and their comments:
- Mrs. Mary Kyle, Editor of the black newspaper Twin Cities Courier, said “All Negroes don’t live in abject poverty and conditions of deprivation. Some have comfortable homes, education and responsible positions. The daily press often misrepresents the views and conditions of the Negroes. She did point out that problems still existed, with the story of her son’s experience looking for an apartment in the suburbs. The caretaker had offered the son – “a light skinned Negro — intelligent, educated, and with a high position in the space program” the choice of two apartments, but reneged when he met his dark skinned wife.
- Richard Parker, chairman of the racially-integrated Concerned North Side Residents, said “Most are law abiding citizens who want peaceable conditions in their neighborhoods, just like anyone else.”
- Albert Briscoe, a teacher at the Work Opportunities Center, discussed the accomplishments of the center, saying that the vocational training program had an 85 percent placement rate.
On May 20, 1968, the St. Louis Park City Council approved creation of a City Human Rights Commission with a paid executive director. The Commission was to have 15 members, all of whom had to be from St. Louis Park. Appointments to the Commission were to be made at its June 3 meeting.
The next day, May 21, 1968, the School Board was to vote on seven proposals to change school curriculum to include more instruction on minority history. The Board voted them down, agreeing with the school Administration that enough was being done. Four minority teachers had been hired, the Board argued: one Chinese, one Filipino, one American Indian, and one Negro. Another Negro applicant was on file and would be notified if an opening in his field occurred. It was noted that it was difficult to find qualified black teachers to recruit. Many of the 120 citizens at the meeting felt that the Board had skirted the issue and made the decision before they had heard the discussion. (Board Vetoes Rights Measures, St. Louis Park Sun, May 23, 1968)
A Sensitivity Symposium was held on May 23, 1968, at the Leamington Hotel, reported the St. Louis Park Sun. Keynote speaker was Whitney M. Young, Jr., executive director of the National Urban League. After Young’s address was a panel discussing the areas of education, human rights, and community attitudes. Panelists were:
- Dr. John B. Davis, Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools
- Miss Lillian Anthony, executive director, Minneapolis Department of Human Rights
- Mrs. Mary Kyle, editor and associate publisher, Twin Cities Courier
The event, which also featured “Afro-American culture music” and the Twin City Indian-American dance group, was sponsored by Citizen Alert, Inc., a department of the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce.
Two Park ministers described the 1968 Baccalaureate ceremony as “Disgraceful, Ridiculous, and Disgusting.” The problem was that it featured “liturgy in the folk medium,” performed by Cyril Paul, a teacher at St. Rose of Lima school in St. Paul, with guitar, flute, piano, and bongos. After a calypso-style song called “The Lord of the Dance,” Paul jumped down and began dancing with a girl graduate in the front row, with another 25 students following suit. Knollwood Church of Christ and the SLP Free Church discouraged young people from dancing, in or out of church. Other pastors thought the dancing was relevant and part of the message. This was the first year that the senior baccalaureate was sponsored by the SLP Ministerial Association instead of the school district. (SLP Sun, June 6, 1968)
The June 4, 1968, issue of the Park High Echo featured an article entitled “White, Black Need New Education, Says City Urban Affairs Director.” Interviewed were Robert Williams, Assistant Director of Minneapolis Urban Affairs and B. Robert Lewis of the St. Louis Park School Board. Dr. Lewis rejected the idea of bringing black children to white schools as “phony,” and advocated bringing black teachers from Minneapolis to Park High for a year instead. However, finding enough black teachers proved difficult. Organizations such as Head Start, the Twin Cities Opportunity Industrialization Center, and reading centers were advocated to help “the racial situation.”
On June 13, 1968, Mrs. Lavinia Howell, age 54, was put in handcuffs and taken to police headquarters after a traffic accident at Central Ave. and 1st Street NE. Mrs. Howell was accused in the Minneapolis Tribune as a “Negro woman … who speaks slowly and walks with a cane because of a medical condition.” She was arrested and “charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs even though a breathing test showed she had not been drinking.” For two days, demonstrators came to downtown Minneapolis to demand that Mayor Arthur Naftalin suspend the two policemen how handcuffed her. Members of a group called Black Patrol directed the demonstrators near City Hall, observing the traffic signals but tying up traffic.
On June 15, 1968, young people participated in an area-wide march “calling attention to white racism problems.” This may have been related to the incident on June 13.
An article in the SLP Sun from June 1968 tells the story of the Pete Peterson family, who adopted Timmy, a three-month-old mixed race boy. Peterson, a popular speech and drama teacher at St. Louis Park High School, said “We decided to adopt a multi-racial child because we felt that this type of child had the least chance for adoption. We [also] believed that all of us – the other boys and ourselves – would be one step ahead in this multi-racial world by having someone of mixed birth in our family.” The Petersons met about 250 people at a meeting of the Open Door Society, and organization of people who have adopted or plan to adopt multi-racial children.
In June 1968 the St. Louis Park Ministerial Association, in cooperation with the Twin Cities Opportunities Industrialization Center (TCOIC) organized four “sensitivity” courses: two at Peace Presbyterian Church and two at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. (Others at Aldersgate Methodist Church and Holy Family Catholic Church were eliminated for lack of teachers from TCOIC.) The courses used the books Before the Mayflower (History of the Negro in America from 1619 – 1964) by Lerone Bennett, Jr., and The Crisis in Black and White, by Charles E. Silverman. To supplement the texts, Mrs. Helen Wilson from TCOIC “further summarizes African history.” (SLP Sun, June 20, 1968)
Because the North Minneapolis riots had started after the 1967 Aquatennial Torchlight Parade, in 1968 there was talk of cancelling the parade. Instead, organizers encouraged African Americans to play a more active role. One initiative, the Citizen’s Patrol, made up of both blacks and whites, helped with crowd control during the parades and the Aretha Franklin concert on July 19, 1968. (Albinson)
In 1968 the City Council committed St. Louis Park to equal opportunity in housing, employment, public services, public accommodations, and education.
Seniors in Ronald Allen’s fall 1968 social studies classes learned about minority problems. Allen explained that the primary objective was “to get kids to react to individuals as individuals, as another human being, not as someone who belongs to another category. As soon as I say that someone is black or someone is Jewish, we begin to categorize. Study was divided into the categories of:
- Law, order, and justice
- Employment and jobs
- Housing and welfare
- Protest movements
- Prejudice-attitudes-social relationships.
On October 7, 1968, it was proposed to the St. Louis Park City Council that a minority group subcommittee be formed of the Citizen’s Advisory Board.
The November 6, 1968, Echo included interviews with three black Park High School students:
- Ted Hunter, sophomore, moved to Park the summer of 1968.
- Debbie Stone, junior, had been a Park student for six years.
- Carolyn Chapman, senior, had been a Park resident for five years.
Opinions among the three were quite mixed about the extent of prejudice at Park High.
Professor Odin from the College of St. Thomas spoke to students at Westwood about “communication in the black community and more particularly communication problems in the ghetto,” as reported by the Westwinds.
Park High’s “Nature of Prejudice” course debuted in January 1969. In the Echo (November 20, 1968), Principal Bertil Johnson described the course as an attempt “to create a necessary understanding of the minority cultures in this country.” The course was taught by Mrs. Lorraine Taylor a relatively new teacher who has worked a great deal in ghetto schools and community organizations in Chicago. The course would cover prejudice against four major minority groups:
- American Indians
Students were excused for three days in January and February 1969 while Park High faculty attended four workshops dealing with minority problems “to give an introduction into the contributions and uniquenesses of the Negroes, Orientals, Jews, and Indians,” explained Richard Koch, chairman of the faculty In-Service Committee on Human Relations.
- On January 20, 1969, Milton Williams, educational director of The Way, spoke to Park High faculty on “Race Problems.” Echo reporter Sam Stern wrote that Williams claimed that “educators have helped create the problem of American racism [and] it is up to the educational institution to undo the wrong.” Stern described the faculty audience as “somewhat attentive.”
- On February 12 there were two sessions:
- Rev. Andrew Otani of the Japanese-American Community Center spoke on the history of the Japanese-American
- Rabbi Max Shapiro of Temple Israel Synagogue discussed the contributions of Judaism to Western culture, the Jewish family and other themes relating to Judaism.
- The fourth session on February 27 was scheduled to be Clyde Bellecourt, identified in the Westwinds as the “Chairman of the Concerned Indians,” although Bellecourt had founded the activist American Indian Movement in July 1968. In addition, the Echo reported, the film “The Forgotten American” may be shown.
In January 1969 the Afro-American Action Committee staged a 24-hour takeover of Morrill Hall at the U of M. In October the organization’s president, Horace Huntley; secretary, Rose Mary Freeman; and Warren Tucker went on trial for unlawful assembly, a misdemeanor. In support of the defendants, about 1,000 mostly white students marched from Coffman Union to the Hennepin County Courthouse. Tucker was acquitted, and Huntley and Freeman were given 90 days in the Workhouse, stayed, and two years probation. (As reported in the Minneapolis Spokesman.)
In February 1969 City department heads, supervisors, and foremen attended sensitivity training sessions “in an attempt to gain insight into the feelings and situations of minority groups and learn how to deal with problems that may arise. Five three-hour sessions began February 11, 1969. University of Minnesota instructor Lou Mahigel moderated the presentations and discussions.
In May 1969 Park’s Nature of Prejudice class was addressed by Hans Peter Meyeroff, founder of the “Buy Black” organization. Meyerhoff, “a typical white suburbanite,” explained how his attitude toward racial relations changed with the assassination of Martin Luther King. He wanted to do something, and in May 1968 he started by buying his groceries at Jesse Warren’s store at 1521 Plymouth Ave. North. This became inconvenient, and made arrangements to have the grocer deliver – to him and his neighbors in the Moore Lake area of Fridley. He eventually quit his job as an engineer at Honeywell and went to work for the Urban League, organizing similar arrangements in other cities.
On 24, October 1969, 50 students in Park High’s Nature of Prejudice classes visited the Red Lake Indian Reservation to gain insight into the causes of prejudice against Indians and possibly develop solutions to the problem.
On November 18-22, 1969, Roger DeClerq produced and directed the play “And People All Around,” which “centers around specific events on the long road of trying to break down deep-rooted feelings against Negroes in the South.” DeClercq explained, “It’s the idea of freedom workers bucking-up against prejudice and hatred for other Blacks.” The play was written in 1965 by George Sklar. The play highlights the martyrdom of the main character, Don Tindall, whose life crumbles because of his outspoken objections to bigotry. Bob Brill played the lead role. DeClercq chose the play because he was looking for something new. “It has something to say about issues that are contemporary and it has a fresh and new format.” (Echo, October 22, 1969)
In December 1969, Walter R. Scott was selling his book called “Minneapolis Negro Profile” which included photos of black citizens in various professions, vocations, businesses, jobs, and civic activities.
In 1969 there were 22 churches and synagogues in St. Louis Park representing 12 faiths.
In 1970 David Williams, a black janitor at Jenning’s Red Coach Inn and O’Toole’s, sued for harassment when his coworkers peppered him with racial slurs and aggressive behavior. Williams won $21,750.
In 1970 there were 34,868 black people residing in Minnesota, just under 1 percent of the population. The entire minority population of St. Louis Park was 0.8 percent.
In March 1970 Archie Holmes of the State Department of Education addressed the Human Relations Council of St. Louis Park. The headline in the Sun was “Schools Must Deal With Race as a Fact of Life.” Holmes stated, “It is difficult to teach people about minorities in a school where there are little or no minority people. But those are the places where it is really most important.” He urged his audience to examine the real estate system and local industry, and get them to house and hire minority people.
The theme of the 1970 Aquatennial, Seas of the Orient, “brought hundreds of members of the Thai, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Filipino communities together. They spent many hours organizing events and raising money to finance their parade floats and other attractions based on their cultures. One such contribution was the Chinese Arch, the design and color of which blended beautifully into the cityscape. The arch became an instant downtown landmark, and when the decision was made to remove it to the International Center at the State Fairgrounds, it created quite a stir.” (Albinson)
The Park’s Human Rights Commission was created by ordinance in 1970. It consisted of 15 members. City Council minutes show that one of its first actions was to recommend the removal of the book Minnesota, Star of the North from the library.
St. Louis Park High School began teaching a course on Minorities in 1970.
In 1971 the City of Golden Valley was ordered to pay $7,500 to black musician Ollie Lyle for harassing him constantly on his way to his job at the Point nightclub.
In May 1971, leaders of the American Indian Movement (AIM) organized a takeover of the soon-to-be closed Twin Cities Naval Air Station at the Airport in an effort to reclaim land that the US Government had abandoned. The takeover lasted four days, but AIM remained active by opening “survival schools” where youngsters could learn how to negotiate two cultures. (Kenney, Twin Cities Album)
At the 1971 Aquatennial Torchlight Parade, about 150 members of the American Indian Movement staged protests, “arguing that some of the floats exploited and desecrated Indian culture and religion.” (Albinson)
RELIGIOUS HOLIDAY GUIDELINES
In January 1970 the School Board voted to change “Christmas Vacation” to “Winter Vacation” and “Easter Vacation” to “Spring Vacation.” The change came about through a request from the Social Action Committee of Westwood Lutheran Church.
Administrative guidelines that severely restricted the observance of Christmas in St. Louis Park schools were announced by Superintendent Harold R. Enestvedt on November 16, 1971. The guidelines, which were written by a committee of 12 teachers and administrators in response to guidelines set by the Minnesota Department of Education the year before, provided that:
- Christmas carols should not be sung in the schools, but Santa, toyland and winter songs are permitted.
- Christmas parties should not be held.
- Religiously oriented articles, including evergreen trees, should not be displayed.
- Students should be discouraged from exchanging gifts.
- Literature, movies, and tapes which have religious doctrinal impact should not be used.
After the guidelines were announced by the Superintendent, heated opposition arose. In response, the School Board met at Westwood Jr. High School, and after a spirited but orderly 90 minute discussion (with 450 people in the audience), the Board voted 4 to 1 not to overturn the guidelines. They also voted to appoint a 15-member committee to draw up guidelines “more acceptable to the entire community” to be used next year. The committee was to be comprised of six Jews and six Christians, plus one rabbi, one priest, and one protestant minister. The issue, though controversial to parents, was not as drastic as some thought; it was reported that during the previous year’s holiday, only 29 of 219 classrooms had Christmas trees, and seven of the eleven elementary schools had no trees at all. Further, only two elementary schools had programs with Christmas carols in them. (Minneapolis Tribune, December 14, 1971)
In an article in the St. Louis Park paper two days later, opposition leader Donald H. Wright said that he felt that the guidelines were in violation of Minnesota Department of Education regulations and Supreme Court rulings. “He also said that Christmas activities should be increased in local public schools. ‘Christmas is slowly being taken out of our public schools and a lot of people aren’t aware of it,’ he said. ‘There are some outside influences working in our public school systems,'” including the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union.
There were also some angry letters to the editor, some bordering on anti-Semitism. One read:
If we are not to mention Christmas in the St. Louis Park Public School system such as carols, parties, religiously oriented articles, etc., then I suggest Jewish merchants quit capitalizing on a Christian holiday. I certainly hope when my children are of school age there is not separation between church and state.
In June 1972, religious guidelines drawn up by the citizens’ committee were approved by the school board. The committee included six lay Jews, six lay Christians, a Unitarian, a rabbi, a priest, and a minister. The guidelines were consistent with those issued in 1971. They were spelled out in a ten page report, which said “Aside from this instruction in the curriculum we feel that religion has no other formal place in the official public school program.” Such instruction must be “objective” and must not attempt to “proselytize or convert.”
Under the guidelines:
- Religious holidays may be “recognized” but not “observed.” For example, the “universal values” of the Christmas season, such as peace and good will, should be emphasized but not depicted as stemming from a religious event. “The significance of holidays may be explained or discussed as questions from children arise.”
- Religious symbols, such as the Star of David, and objects associated with religion such as Santa Claus, may be displayed in cultural studies, student reports, art and shop assignments and similar circumstances. “Seasonal” symbols like the Menorah and Easter eggs may be displayed “as part of a broad cultural study appropriate to the season but should not be encouraged.”
- Musical programs during school hours should not be religious or religious-holiday oriented, but seasonal programs may include some religious music. “Religious music” is defined as anything from “Silent Night” and the Kaddish to “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” but not “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells.” Volunteer groups may present religious music in the school outside of school hours.
- Classes in the history, sociology, and literature of religions are encouraged at the senior high level, “not to espouse religion but to teach about it and its effect on our world.”
- The school calendar should minimize conflict with religious holidays of all faiths. When there are conflicts, the day’s work should avoid tests, special projects and other activities difficult to make up.
“We want our children exposed to cross-cultural literature and music, including that of all religions … whether Eastern or Western or aboriginal, so long as the purpose or effect is not the encouragement or discouragement of religion,” the study concluded. (Minneapolis Star, June 10, 1972)
The 1972 population of St. Louis Park topped 51,000. This included 89 negroes (as reported by the Sun in 1973), 107 Indians, 92 Japanese, 41 Chinese, 12 Filipino, and 35 other. The foreign-born population was 5.4 percent.
At the 1973 Aquatennial, about 20 “Palestinian sympathizers protested Israeli and Lebanese participation in the Pageant of the Seven Seas events, without seriously disrupting them.” (Albinson)
In 1973 Park High teachers Lee Smith and Wes Bodin began offering a World Religions class. In a September 14, 1979 article in the Park High Echo, Smith said the class is designed “to improve human relations, help kids learn about the religious diversity of the world, develop attitudes of understanding about their own beliefs and the belief and practices of others.” With grants from the State Department and the Northwest Area Foundation, the World Religions Curriculum Development Center was created. Field testing of the curriculum involved 40 teachers and 5,000 students in eight states.
In September 1974, the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights announced that Thomas Properties, 4500 Excelsior Blvd., was successfully sued by Leon Williams for not renting him an apartment because of his race. As part of the conciliation agreement, Thomas Properties was required to pay $300 to Williams, $100 to the City of Minneapolis for administrative costs, and for three months it was required to advertise apartment openings in at least one weekly newspaper serving the black community.
In 1975 $20,000 was awarded to Charles R. Lewis (Minnetonka Blvd.) against the Micro Switch Branch of Honeywell, Edina. His claims that he was paid less than other employees with the same job, denied promotions, and denied desirable job assignments were investigated by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Honeywell settled before the case came to court.
In April 1975 students at Westwood Jr. High “had the opportunity to hear and see a black poet, Mr. Roy McBride, who read and discussed his poetry in classes on March 11,” reported the Westwinds newspaper. It was during a unit on Black Poetry in 8th Grade English class.
The Aquatennial hosted the Freedom Train, a traveling history museum crossing the country in anticipation of the upcoming Bicencennial. The train was parked at Minnehaha Park, and to complement the museum a series of heritage nights were presented at the Falls. Six ethnic groups, one per evening, were featured: Black Americans, Mexican and Spanish Americans, Scandinavians, Asians, Hawaiians, and Native Americans. (Albinson)
The Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, passed by Congress on May 24, 1975, provided funding for the resettlement of Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodian refugees who had provided assistance to the Americans during the Vietnam war and need to escape the brutal communist regime, the Khmer Rouge. Refugees were processed through resettlement camps in the Philippines, Thailand, and elsewhere, paired with sponsors (churches and local aid organizations) in the U.S., and provided with $300-500 resettlement grants.
The first wave of Hmong refugees came to America in December 1975, mainly from refugee camps in Thailand. Dang Her, 31, and his family were the first Hmong family to arrive in Minnesota. 3,466 were granted asylum at that time. In May 1976 another 11,000 were allowed to enter the United States, and by 1978 some 30,000 Hmong people had immigrated. This first wave was made up predominantly of men directly associated with General Vang Pao’s secret army.
In response to outspoken criticism from minority leaders, in 1976 the Minneapolis Aquatennial Association adopted an affirmative action plan for both paid staff an volunteers to encourage more non-white participation in the festival. (Albinson)
Minneapolis Spokesman editor Cecil E. Newman died at his desk of a heart attack on February 7, 1976, at the age of 72. In October his widow, Launa, became president of the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder.
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1978.
In 1980 St. Louis Park was 97.9 percent white. There were 446 citizens of Asian ancestry (1 percent) and 240 black citizens (.6 percent). Those of Hispanic origin, regardless of race, numbered 240 persons, or .6 percent.
The February 6, 1980, issue of the Park High Echo featured an article by Steve Roth that headlined “Influx of foreign students creates need for English language class.” It noted that “Park has become a microcosm of America …” English as a Second Language classes had recently been added to the curriculum, but was offered only one hour per day. ESL teacher Lyle Gerard noted that he receives a new Vietnamese student in his class every 3-4 weeks, as well as an influx of Russian immigrants and foreign exchange students.
The Islamic Cultural Community Center was built at 2534 Central Ave. NE in Minneapolis.
The Refugee Act of 1980 established U.S. policies for refugees using the definition of refugee as established by international law. Under this act a refugee is defined as “any person unable or unwilling to return to his or her country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
The second wave of Hmong immigration came with the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. Wikipedia gives the number of Hmong people in the United States as 260,073, with 66,181 living in Minnesota. By the end of 1980, nearly 6,000 Hmong had settled in the Twin Cities – the nation’s largest urban Hmong community. “We are happy to be here and start a new life,” said Ya Yang, one of the first Hmong to settle in Minnesota.” [But] no matter how happy we are here, we dream to the jungle, the mountains, the trees, the singing birds, the waterfalls. Like the deer – he used to live in the jungle, you put him in a zoo; he has food but he is still homesick. I think the Hmong are the same.” (as quoted in Kinney, Twin Cities Album)
In 1981 Pamela G. Alexander became the first African-American woman prosecutor in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, Criminal Division, specializing in sexual assault and abuse cases involving children. She then set another precedent by becoming the first African-American woman and the youngest attorney to serve as a judge in Hennepin County, appointed by Governor Perpich in 1983. She became a Hennepin County District Court Judge in 1986.
Volunteer participation at the Aquatennial reached a high due to the enthusiastic participation of the Chicano community in response to the theme Mexico Magnifico. Three thousand volunteers participated. The Fiesta of the Americas took place on July 16 in Loring Park. The centerpiece of festival design was a drawing of a stone calendar created by the sun worshipping Aztecs. (Albinson)
By the 1980s an estimated 6 million undocumented aliens were living in the U.S., most of them from Mexico. The Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed by Congress in 1986 in an attempt to try and limit illegal immigration to the United States. The law created penalties for U.S. companies who hire undocumented workers and also provided amnesty to illegal immigrants who had lived in the U.S. since 1982, legalizing nearly 500,000 individuals.
In 1988 the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed, giving tribes an economic boost.
The 1990 census asked people what their ancestry was, and the big winner in St. Louis Park was German, which both the Norwegian (2nd) and Swedish (4th) together couldn’t beat.
Although ethnic diversity was growing, St. Louis Park was 95.3 percent white. Those of Asian ancestry numbered 921 (2.1 percent), and the city’s black population was 826 (1.9 percent). The Hispanic population (distinct from race) was 452 (1 percent).
Park’s Human Rights Commission estimated that approximately 15 percent of the city’s population had a disability, and that about 4.6 percent of households were in poverty.
In 1990 Carlos Mariani from St. Paul was the first Hispanic elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives.
In the summer of 1990, a burning cross was found in the yard of a black family in East St. Paul. The 17-year-old perpetrator was charged with the city’s hate crime ordinance, and it was set to go before the U.S. Supreme Court in December 1991 to test the ordinance.
The Immigration Act of 1990 contained changes to U.S. immigration policy that temporarily raised the ceiling on immigrants coming into the country to 700,000 per year for three years, and to 650,000 per year thereafter. The law favored family members of U.S. citizens, people who had invested more than $1 million in U.S. business enterprises, and while it did not address refugees specifically, it granted special consideration to political refugees fleeing government oppression in their homelands. It also held special protection provisions status for illegal aliens who would face hardship if deported back to countries where dangerous living conditions prevailed. The act provided an annual quota of 140,000 for immigrants whose job skills would benefit the United States.
While a small number of Somalis came to settle in the Northeastern United States in the 1920s, and others came to study in the 1960s, a surge in Somali immigration occurred in the 1990s as a result of decades of civil war, drought and famine. According to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, 55,036 Somali refugees came to the United States between 1983 and 2004. The largest community of Somalis chose to settle in Minnesota, attracted by educational opportunities and by job prospects in the food processing industry.
RESURGENCE OF THE KLAN?
On June 29, 1991, City Pages reporter Jim Walsh and photographer Daniel Corrigan followed a group of about 20 skinheads who had been protesting an anti-racism rally in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood, looking to interview them. The group shouted that it refused to talk, citing the “Jew publisher” that was sure to twist their words, and then proceeded to shout their proclamations of white/Nazi/redneck pride, looking as menacing as they could muster.
The Twin Cities’ heyday for racist skinheads was 1989, when most of the activity centered around Minneapolis. A sort of turf war took hold and the estimated 150 or so racist skinheads were “kicked out of Minneapolis” by the local grassroots organization Anti-Racist Action (ARA) and an anti-racist skinhead faction called the Baldies, according to ARA member Jane Schmidt.
White supremacy groups in 1991 included:
- The White Christians Patriot League, which had a St. Paul hotline and a weekly cable TV show
- The Minnesota White Man’s Association, led by Adrian Helmsley, who was distributing literature at St. Paul High Schools
- White Aryan Resistance (WAR), a national movement led by Californian Tom Metzger
- The Northern Hammer Skins, which originated in Dallas in the mid-1980s
Walsh interviewed 18-year-old Duane Haatvedt, who, with his friend Derek B. Schumacher, had joined/formed the Minnesota Ku Klux Klan. Schumacher explained that The Minnesota White Man’s Association had aligned with WAR, and then WAR “switched over to the Klan,” so that Minnesota is “all Klan” now. The Minnesota Klan, with headquarters in Stillwater, was sanctioned by the national office in North Carolina. The Great Titan, who oversaw Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas, lived in South St. Paul. The number of Klan members in Minnesota was kept secret, and although Walsh suspected that it might consist of his two interviewees, Schumacher said “Our deeds will speak for itself in the future. The Minnesota Klan is fairly new as far as doing anything in the last 50 years. So now the Minnesota Klan is back in action, I guess you could say.”
Much like the Klan described in Call of the North back in the 1920s, the Klan was described by Haatvedt and Schumacher as anti-drug, anti-crime, and anti-violence. Law and order seemed to be in common with both eras, with modern complaints centered around upkeep of the neighborhood, people on welfare, and the general downward spiral of the area. Fear of invasion – then by immigrants and Catholics, now by blacks – appeared to be a common denominator, bringing on a nostalgia for a time that perhaps never was.
Suburban residents and students shared their experiences with racism at a conference panel “Life in the Suburbs: Perspectives of People of Color,” sponsored by West Hennepin Human Services. No incidents from St. Louis Park were shared in the article by Lisa Harden dated May 27, 1992, but there were from neighboring communities:
- One man kept a restrictive covenant (no longer valid) on his Golden Valley home as a teaching tool for his children. The document forbade anyone selling a home in certain areas of Golden Valley to people of color.
- One black woman was wrongly accused of shoplifting.
- One Hopkins student was placed in a special class because he was “not high potential.” He later graduated from college with majors in physiology and microbiology.
- Hopkins High School had no black teachers, and did not take swift action when a white teacher made racist comments. There were also no black colleges included in college guidance information.
- After a fight between a white and black girl at Kennedy High School, white students declared a “White Friday” protest. That situation was quelled through the efforts of Larry Counce, a black student at the school, who facilitated communication between the two groups.
In 1992 former Viking Alan Page became the first African American to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
In 1990 Congress passed the the Tibetan Resettlement Act, which provided special visas for 1,000 Tibetans living in exile in India and other locations to resettle in America. The first Tibetans came to Minnesota through this program in 1992, settling largely in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota was formed in 1992 to assist in resettlement and to help preserve Tibetan culture and religious traditions.
The St. Louis Park Human Rights Commission, originally chartered in the 1960s, was reactivated in 1992. It was expanded from seven members and one student representative to eleven members and two student reps. Marcia Macauley was the chair of the commission.
In February of 1993 an organization called the United Patriot Front appeared out of South St. Paul with hate fliers:
- One flier had the statement “Support the PLO” beneath a sketch of a person holding a grenade on a tank.
- One had an illustration of a microwave oven, with slogans “Jew Dwarfs! There is an oven in YOUR future! Communism is Jewish! White America Unite!! Our Race is our Nation.”
The February 18, 1993, article alluded to a recent cross-burning in Eden Prairie.
The United Patriot Front was not limited to anti-Semitism. Apparently there was a serial rape suspect at large, prompting this flier, showing two sketches of black men wanted by the police:
“WARNING White Citizens Beware!
These Black men and countless other Negroes are responsible for several sexual assaults, rapes, and robberies of several White women in the Minneapolis area and Nationwide.
These people are extremely dangerous and can not be trusted!
What will it take to make you realize that YOU are the VICTIM, and these are HATE CRIMES?!
BLACK CRIME MOTIVATED BY PURE HATRED FOR WHITES!
TAKE ACTION NOW!
HUMAN RIGHTS EXPO OF 1993
The big project of the reactivated St. Louis Park Human Rights Commission was a Human Rights Expo, held on February 21, 1993, at the High School. The Expo, co-sponsored by the City of SLP and Independent School District #283, featured entertainment, workshops, and exhibitors celebrating the diversity of St. Louis Park and its commitment to combat prejudice. It had unprecedented support by the City, allowing signs advertising the event to be placed in places that were otherwise off-limits.
Co-chairs of the event were Pat Foulkes and Patrick Devine. Programs included:
- The SLP Children’s Choir, led by Deborah Lamb
- Native American dances by the Leech Lake Twin Cities Drum & Dance Group
- A vocal tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King by Bob Thomas
- Irish Songs from Sean Rachtagan
- Stories from Nothando Zulu of the Black Storytellers Alliance
- A Finnish version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Cheryl Sawyer
- Middle-Eastern music by Miriam Gergerg
- Hmong folktales and songs from Boy Scout Troop 100
- Accordion music from around the world by Mark Stillman
- Native American stories from Andy Favorite, historian, educator, and storyteller from the White Earth Band of Chippewa
- Filipino bamboo dancers
- Russian Songs by five young girls from the former Soviet Union
- Selection from the play “A Raisin in the Sun” by members of the SLP High School speech team
- Bagpipe music by Russell Lane
- A multi-cultural “Jeopardy” show put on by the High School’s Human Mosaic Project
- Undoing Racism
- Names can Really Hurt You
- Human Rights Begin at Home
- Women’s Rights at Human Rights
CROSS BURNING IN ST. LOUIS PARK
An attempted cross burning incident on the 5800 block of Goodrich Ave. on November 12, 1993, shook the community. This had never happened in St. Louis Park before. Police found scorched newspaper wrapped around the bottom of a homemade wooden cross standing against the side of a garage. The cross measure 2 by 4 feet, with partially made from a carpenter’s level. The cross had the word “monster” positioned at the top. Apparently the perpetrator had tried but failed to light it. Five African Americans lived in the upstairs of the duplex and a biracial family lived in the bottom.
St. Louis Park City officials and representatives of the Jewish Community Relations Council and faith communities held a press conference at City Hall on November 15 to “condemn hate crimes and let the perpetrators know that bias crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Speakers, who condemned the act with strong language, were:
- Lyle Hanks, Mayor of St. Louis Park
- Gail Dorfman, Council member
- Mancel Mitchell, Chief of Police
- Barbara Bearman, SLP Human Rights Commission
- Carol Wirtschafter, Acting Director, Jewish Community Relations Council/Anti-Defamation League
- Rev. Gary Reierson, Executive Director, Minneapolis Council of Churches
- Rev. Richard Wagner, Pastor, Union Congregational Church
- Rabbi Jerome Herzog, Kenessseth Israel Congregation
- Monseigneur James Habiger, Minnesota Catholic Conference
- Matthew Little, former president of the Minneapolis NAACP
The Police Chief and a member of the city’s Human Rights Commission paid a personal visit to the victims living in the house to assure them that everything was being done to find the person(s) who had placed the cross, and that the community was united in its condemnation of the act. A $500 reward was offered for information leading to the perpetrator(s) of this hate crime.
The Islamic Institute of Minnesota was founded in 1993 as a non-profit religious corporation serving Muslims in the State of Minnesota and surrounding areas regardless of color or place of origin. IIM founded and operates three mosques in the Twin Cities area; Assalam Mosque in Maplewood, Burnsville Mosque in Burnsville, and Altawba Mosque in Eden Prairie. It also owns and operates an Islamic funeral Home in Burnsville, Maplewood and Columbia Heights. For Islamic burials, IIM owns and operates two Islamic cemeteries: AlBaquee Cemetery in Roseville and Garden of Eden Cemetery in Burnsville.
In an article in the St. Louis Park Sun-Sailor (February 23, 1994), reporter George Severson asked several Park students whether the schools did enough to include minorities in their history and other classes, and many of them said no. As part of the school district’s policy, each school has a minimum of culturally divers material that must be included in the curriculum. High School principal Fran Crisman said that teachers strive to add culturally diverse perspectives to their lessons throughout the year.
There was dissension within the city’s Human Rights Commission, with several members resigning. Commission member Sy Friedman, in particular, cited bigotry and racism, although one of his issues had to do with the dealing of charges against staff at Eliot School, which didn’t seem to have to do with racism. (Sun-Sailor, May 9, 1974)
Sharon Sayles Belton became Minneapolis’ first female AND first African American Mayor.
The Confederation of the Somali Community in Minnesota was founded in 1994.
Satveer Chaudhary was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1996, the first member of the state legislature of Asian Indian heritage, and was reelected in 1998. In 2000, Mr. Chaudhary became the first Asian Indian state senator in American history. He was reelected in 2002 and 2006. Senator Chaudhary’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from India in the 1960s.
Ojibwe hunting, fishing, and harvesting rights were upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1999.
The Karmel Mall, the first Somali mall in the United States, opened in Minneapolis in 1999. The mall serves as meeting place and recreational facility for the local Somali community as much as it does a venue for commerce.
Census data showed that in St. Louis Park:
- 88.9 percent of the population was white
- 4.4 percent was black or African-American
- .4 percent American Indian and Esskimo
- 3.2 percent Asian
- 35.4 percent Hispanic or Latino
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, nearly 60,000 Asians – mostly Hmong – lived in the Twin Cities.
Minnesota’s Somali population was somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 by 2000, with about three quarters living in the Twin Cities. Many concentrated in the Phillips and Cedar-Riverside neighborhoods of Minneapolis. (Kenney, Twin Cities Album)
Residents of both Minneapolis and St. Paul identifying themselves as Hispanic or Latino equaled eight percent according to the 2000 census. Many lived in the traditional Latino community on St. Paul’s West Side, while others concentrated in areas near Nicollet Ave. and East Lake Street in South Minneapolis. (Kenney)
In January 2000 the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder were merged and became the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder.
In response to the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the the USA Patriot Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. Its title is a ten-letter acronym that stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” One of the law’s goals is to prevent political extremists from entering the country.
In January 2002 Mee Moua, a St. Paul attorney who came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1978, became the first Hmong American elected to a state legislature in 2002 when she was elected Senator for District 67 on St. Paul’s East Side. She was reelected in November 2002 and in 2006, making her the highest-ranked Hmong-American elected official in the U.S.
In 2002 the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) was reorganized as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security. Enforcement of immigration laws was transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to the Minneapolis Foundation, 1,000 Tibetans lived in Minnesota in 2002, the second largest number of any state, after New York.
In 2003 the U.S. stepped in to accept 15,000 Hmong refugees for resettlement, to prevent their forced repatriation back to Laos from their Thai refugee camp.
Several thousand Hmong arrived in the Twin Cities when the last remaining refugee camp in Thailand closed.
A new Hindu temple opened in Maple Grove, Minnesota in July, 2006. Construction of the building had begun in October, 2003, by which time the temple’s membership had grown from 10 in 1973 to 130. The temple serves as a spiritual and social center for the Twin Cities Hindu community.
In 2006 Representative Keith Ellison was elected the first Muslim member of the U.S. Congress. Ellison represents the 5th District of Minnesota, which includes St. Louis Park.
In 2006, Cecil E. Newman’s granddaughter Tracey Williams-Dillard became the CEO of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, continuing the paper that began publication in 1934.
Watt Munisotaram, the largest Cambodian Buddhist temple in Minnesota and possibly in the U.S., opened in Hampton, Minnesota in July, 2007. Construction of the temple had begun in 2002.
The 2008 U.S. Census American Community Survey showed 2.5 million Asian Indians living in the United States, with 29,000 in Minnesota. The same survey showed 171,000 Hmong living in the United States. Of those, 46,000 lived in Minnesota, the second most of any state, after California. 83,000 Somalis were found to be living in the United States, with 27,000 in Minnesota. While the number of Khmer in the United States had risen by 14,000 since 2000, to 186,000, the number of Khmer in Minnesota had dropped from over 8,000 to 5,000.
Stephen Glasper won St. Louis Park’s Human Rights award for 2009. Glasper was the owner of Brookside Barbers at 6102 Excelsior Blvd. A city report stated:
Stephen has created an environment at Brookside Barbers that furthers the cause of racial harmony, which extends far beyond the walls of his barber shop. Stephen demonstrates a sincere interest in each person who enters his shop and is always a positive role model, primarily for the minority youth and young adults who are always present at the shop.
In a November 2012 article in the Sun Sailor, Seth Rowe reported:
Demographic information provided by the St. Louis Park School District indicates the minority percentages in St. Louis Park have increased district-wide from 14 percent in 1999 to 39 percent this fall. In that time, the percentage of students who speak English as a second language has increased from 3 percent to 9 percent while the number of languages spoken at home district-wide has risen from 30 to 44.
The percentage of Asian or Pacific Islander students and American Indian students has remained fairly stable, but the percentage of Hispanic students has increased from 2 percent to 10 percent. The percentage of black students has increased from 8 percent to 22 percent.
Meanwhile the percentage of white students has decreased from 86 percent to 61 percent.
Statistics at St. Louis Park High School largely mirror the district as a whole, with a slightly lower percentage of Hispanic students – 7.5 percent – and a slightly larger percentage of black students – 23 percent.
In 2008 Liberian immigrant and investment banker James Sanigular of Shoreview founded Global African Foods, Inc. to bring traditional African products into Minnesota grocery stores. In October 2012, 17 Cub Food Stores, including the one in St. Louis Park, began to carry the company’s products. See the story in the Sun-Sailor.
Four self-avowed white supremacists opened fire on a Black Lives Matter protest on November 23, 2015.
Most of the information for the St. Louis Park-related stories comes from the St. Louis Park Dispatch, and its successor papers, the Sun, the Sailor, and the Sun-Sailor.
Information pertaining to the Aquatennial is from Pam Albinson’s book, Seventy-Five Years of the Minneapolis Aquatennial.
Much of the immigration information found at the end of this timeline came from http://education.mnhs.org/immigration/