09t girls on bus 9-2-71

School Desegregation in Minneapolis

Published November 13, 2013 by Kirsten Delegard

In November, 1970, the Minneapolis Public Schools announced a modest proposal meant to begin the desegregation of its schools. Aimed at undermining the effects of residential segregation in the city, it recognized that neighborhood schools were stratified by race. In the scheme announced by the School Board, two elementary schools would be paired. The all-white Hale School would trade students with nearby Field School, which was almost entirely African American. Children in the youngest grades would attend Hale; grades four through six would go to Field.
The proposal was poorly received by a vocal minority, which coalesced behind Mayor Charlie Stenvig, a former police detective. Stenvig ran for mayor in 1969 as an independent, on a platform of law and order.  Anxieties about the urban disturbances on the North Side dissipated quickly after Stenvig took office. They were completely eclipsed by rising concerns about the racial integration of the school system.  District officials knew that if they could not come up with a workable integration plan, they would soon find themselves under a court order to begin widespread busing. A determined group of parents sought to block these efforts, calling on officials to defy any legal orders.
By 1970, anxious parents were voicing their opposition in marathon meetings; one meeting stretched twelve hours long, breaking up at 5 am after everyone had spoken for three minutes. Concerned citizens were not content to express their opinions in public forums. School board member Harry Davis–the only African American on the board–had to keep his phone off the hook to prevent a constant barrage of threatening phone calls.
Despite the popular opposition, Minneapolis moved forward with its plan to combine Hale and Field in the fall of 1971. The paired schools attracted a committed group of parents, who worked to build an integrated school community that could be a model for the rest of the city. This photo shows Monica Lash (left) and Molly Johnson (right) on their first day on the bus in 1971. The image comes from Dave Kenney, who curates the MN70s tumblr, and the Minnesota Historical Society.
map of bohemian flats, Bohemian Flats book, WPA

Bohemian Flats

Published October 10, 2013 by Kirsten Delegard

It’s map Monday. This map shows the Bohemian Flats in 1904, another lost world that is invisible to modern Minneapolitans.  An ethnically-mixed enclave on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Bohemian Flats was a neighborhood of small houses and shanties constructed by new immigrants who were either unwilling or unable to pay the urban rents demanded in the rest of the city. Underneath the Washington Avenue bridge, down a wooden staircase from Seven Corners and Cedar-Riverside, these newcomers built a world that was removed from the rest of the city. Each morning, the male inhabitants of this neighborhood climbed up the cliff to work as day laborers or in a nearby lumber and flour mills. During the day these low-lying flats by the river were the territory of immigrant women and young children, who helped to support their families by scavenging wood, construction materials and other debris from the river. Residents supplemented scant wages with ambitious vegetable gardens that were nourished by annual floods that inundated the neighborhood.

The Bohemian Flats were described –with great nostalgia –in a slim volume put out by the Writers’ Program of the New Deal Era Works Progress Administration. This account casts the neighborhood on the flood plain as a “happy, peaceful society united by generous neighborliness and . . colorful rites and customs.” Upon  publication, this characterization drew criticism from one Bessie Douglas, who had worked in the Flats as a Sunday school teacher for Westminster Presbyterian Church in the 1880s. Douglas presented a grittier vision of the Flats, describing how she could not visit her students without a male escort and police protection. The neighborhood was hardly idyllic as drunken fights and knifings were common among the residents, who included large numbers of prostitutes and alcoholics. Annual floods of the settlement prompted the city to clear the area of homes in the 1920s, prompted residents to riot. By the 1930s-when the work was being done on the WPA history of the Flats–most of the homes were gone and a barge landing had been constructed where the neighborhood once stood. Most recently, the site of the old Bohemian Flats was the depository for the wreckage from the collapsed 35W bridge. This map is taken from the WPA history of the Bohemian Flats, which was first published in 1941 by the University of Minnesota Press.

smaller version, photo of newspaper row, minneapolis journal, from hclib, published in downtown book

Newspaper Row: an “al fresco forum” on 4th Street

Published October 4, 2013 by Kirsten Delegard

Long before the internet, before television and before radio, the media had a physical location in Minneapolis that everyone knew.  Fourth Street was the “Fleet Street” for the local press. Newspaper row–which included the Globe, the Minneapolis Journal, the Pioneer Press, the Penny Press, the Tribune, the Minneapolis Time, the Svenska American Posten  and Lund’s Topics in 10 Point–stretched from 1st Avenue North to 1st Avenue South, across Nicollet Avenue.  The marginal status of journalists was highlighted by the close proximity of newspaper row to the Gateway district, the city’s skid row neighborhood where all of the liquor businesses were concentrated. Until “the Newspaper Guild was born, salaries were low, raises infrequent, vacations brief and fringe benefits hardly worth mentioning,” according to Bradley L. Morison, an editor for the Minneapolis TribuneMorrison remembers Fourth Street to be dense with characters, a stretch where showgirls and literary types rubbed shoulders with professional journalists of varying quality. “Some were hard drinkers, some had no college background,” he recalls.  “There were ‘floaters’ and deadbeats among them.”

Henry Broderick remembers Fourth Street as an “al fresco forum, with hordes of debaters, mostly all talking at once, a bedlam of sounds and furies, coming from people aroused to a high pitch. . . When political campaigns raged, the entire street area on Fourth from Nicollet to First Avenue would be crammed with crowds, arguing the merits of candidates and causes. At times, the open-faced orators would, in a jiffy, turn into tight-lipped combatants.”  This photo shows a crowd gathered in front of the Minneapolis Journal, probably around 1900. Broderick described how “between editions of the papers, crowds looking for news would gather on 4th street to read the bulletin boards posted in front of each newspaper building. ” Newspaper row had disappeared by the 1940s, when the Cowles family moved the Tribune to its new building on Portland Avenue.  With this move, the newspaper removed itself from the hurley-burley of the city, trading bars and vaudeville houses for new neighbors that included the Armory and the adjacent General Hospital. Photo from the Minneapolis Collection, Hennepin County Central Library.

smaller version, liquor clipping, patrol limits001, minneapolis collection, hclib

Why is it so hard to get a drink south of Lake Street?

Published September 16, 2013 by Kirsten Delegard

It’s map Monday. Ever wonder why it’s so hard to get a mixed drink south of Lake Street in Minneapolis? We can thank the historic “patrol limits,” which were incorporated into the city charter in the 1880s. The ordinance required bars and liquor stores to be concentrated in select parts of town, with the rationale that police could more easily control liquor-fueled crime if all of these types of businesses were in one place. The city’s largest liquor zone was the Gateway district on the banks of the Mississippi River.  Another was the “Hub of Hell”–shown on this map at the intersection of 27th Avenue and 25th Street.

This map delineates the liquor patrol districts in 1935, about 18 months after Prohibition was rescinded. It also shows the 37 establishments allowed to serve liquor outside of the districts. This group includes legendary institutions like the Nankin Cafe and the Curtis Hotel; it also includes highly selective locales like the Minneapolis Club and the Minneapolis Athletic Club, which were renowned for barring anyone who did not belong to the city’s Yankee elite. City voters were being asked to determine whether these outliers could continue to serve liquor. Voters must have approved this request, as a defeat would have provoked a revolt of the well-heeled. The first families of Minneapolis would not have ventured into the increasingly seedy Gateway for their daily cocktail. The liquor patrol limits were rescinded in 1974, though it is still difficult in Minneapolis to get a liquor license or serve liquor outside of these historic limits. Clipping is from the Minneapolis collection, Hennepin County Central Library.

streetcar burning, 1954, minneapolis special collections

Streetcars in Minneapolis: Now and Then

Published June 19, 2013 by Kirsten Delegard

The city has decided to invest millions to build new streetcar lines. Which beggars the question, what happened to our old streetcar system? It met its demise in June of 1954, when this sinister-looking photo was taken. This image records the celebration organized by the Twin City Rapid Transit Company, when it declared streetcars to be relics of the past. On this early summer day, the company actually burned streetcars –like the one in the background–to demonstrate its commitment to progress and innovation. The men in this photo were celebrating the purchase of 525 buses, which had been financed with liberal terms from General Motors. This allowed them to discard the streetcars and dispose of assets necessary to maintain the rail network. This image shows TCRT treasurer James Towey handing a check (from NSP for the company’s Main Steam Station) to company president Fred Ossanna, who was later investigated for shady business dealings and political bribes.

Photograph Credit: Minneapolis collection, Hennepin County Central Library.

racial covenant

Racial Covenants

To enforce racial segregation in Minneapolis, real estate agents encouraged property owners to attach covenants to their property. Covenants like the one pictured here were incorporated into the property abstract. They bound property owners to not convey the property to anyone of “Chinese, Japanese, Moorish, Turkish, Negro, Monogolian or African blood or descent.” Many homes in Minneapolis have these kinds of covenants buried in their abstracts. Do you know what is in your deed?