This week brought sad news of the death of Pearl Lindstrom, age 92, the most recent occupant of 4600 Columbus Avenue South. This tiny white bungalow in the Field neighborhood was the site of the ugliest racial clash in the city’s history.
When Edith and Arthur Lee bought this house in July, 1931, the neighborhood exploded in rage. During the hot summer days and nights that followed, a mob gathered. One eyewitness recounted:
I have never seen anything like it. Here were literally five or six thousand people, men, women and children, both on the curbs and sidewalks, just standing and waiting as near as they could get to this little, dark house…Six thousand white people, waiting to see that house burned.
The house didn’t burn, thanks to the determination of a group of black veterans who maintained an armed vigil after the police ignored pleas for protection. Arthur Lee was defiant as he demanded equal citizenship in the City of Lakes: “I have a right to establish a home,” he declared, citing his military service in World War I. “Nobody asked me to move out when I was in France fighting in mud and water for this country.” The Lees also drew vigorous support from a Minneapolis civil rights pioneer, Lena Olive Smith, a crusading lawyer and leader of the NAACP.
The mob did eventually disperse. But the Lee family moved after two years, succumbing to the ongoing hostility of the neighbors even after the immediate threat of violence subsided. The house passed back into white hands and at some point Pearl Lindstrom became the owner.
Lindstrom knew nothing of the conflict surrounding her home until the last several years, when neighborhood activists began to uncover this history. They worked with University of Minnesota professor Greg Donofrio and his students to document this episode and have Lindstrom’s house placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lindstrom handled this community interest in her abode with grace and good cheer, demonstrating an empathy and openness to new understandings of the past in her ninth decade of life. Here she is, talking about the new historic marker:
We will miss you, Pearl Lindstrom. Thanks for being part of efforts to help our community grapple with one of its darkest moments.
Material for this post the Twin Cities Daily Planet obituary for Pearl Lindstrom as well as Maurine Boie, “A Study of Conflict and Accomodation in Negro-White Relations in the Twin Cities–based on Documentary Sources,” M.A. Thesis (University of Minnesota, 1932); Chatwood Hall, “A Roman Holiday in Minneapolis,” The Crisis (October, 1931); Ann Juergens, “Lena Olive Smith: A Minnesota Civil Rights Pioneer,” William Mitchell Law Review 28, No. 1 (2001).