edited version, newspaper clipping for dereks' linden hills post

Race War continued: Linden Hills, 1909

Published February 25, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

Prospect Park was not the only Minneapolis neighborhood to experience racial turmoil in 1909. Linden Hills erupted in protest when one resident decided to retaliate against her neighbors by selling her home to an African-American newcomer to the city. When Marie Canfield announced that Methodist Reverend William S. Malone had purchased 4441 Zenith Avenue, neighbors were enraged. Vandals shattered the home’s windows. And the white minister of the Western Avenue Methodist Church condemned the temerity of the African-American buyer. “Black people should avoid going into a community where their presence is irritating,” he told his parishioners.

Earlier in the year, Canfield had sued the New England Furniture Company for selling her a faulty stove with a gas leak. At the trial, three of Canfield’s neighbors testified that she was frequent user of opiates. She lost her case, and was fined by the court. Her response was to list her property–in the growing streetcar suburb on the West side of Lake Harriet–“for sale to negroes only.” The resulting ruckus was closely followed by the Minneapolis Tribune, which nicknamed the property the “Spite House.”

Neighbors decided to fight the sale, hiring an attorney to represent their interests. Their choice was strategic. They tapped William R. Morris, one of Minneapolis’s few African-American attorneys. Born in Kentucky to former slaves, Morris graduated from law school in Chicago, and moved to Minneapolis in 1889. Morris became the executive chairman of the newly-founded Minneapolis NAACP in 1914, and was a leader in the local black community. By hiring Morris, the neighborhood association legitimized their mission to the city’s established black community. The following Sunday, Rev. Wharton of the Minneapolis African Methodist Church preached: “there is no necessity of our thrusting ourselves where we are obnoxious to others and can never feel at home.”

An outsider to the city’s small African-American middle class, Malone had planned to start a small mission at 707 Washington Avenue. Malone’s mission in a poor, working class neighborhood conflicted with the African Methodist Church’s image of black respectability. Wealthier blacks like Morris and Wharton helped build an image of middle-class respectability for the small black community in Minneapolis. They were eager to distance themselves from Malone, bolstering their own reputations in the process.

The neighbors tried to raise money to buy the Canfield house from Malone. Before they reached a settlement, the Hennepin County sheriff seized the property. Canfield had not paid the judgment from her lawsuit against New England Furniture Company, so the county took the property. After the seizure, Canfield sold the property to the neighborhood association, cutting out Malone. The Tribune reported: “By the payment of good, hard coin, the residents of Linden Hills have averted the establishment of a ‘dark town’ in their midst.”

Image is from the Minneapolis Tribune, December 28th, 1909. Proquest Historical Newspapers. Access provided by St. Olaf College.

This post was written by Historyapolis intern Derek Waller, who researched the origins of residential segregation in Minneapolis for his January term project at St. Olaf College. Waller is continuing his research into this and other incidents, which he will present as part of a senior capstone paper.

map of prospect park, 1914, real estate atlas, for derek's post

Minneapolis “Race War” 1909: Prospect Park

Published February 24, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

It’s map Monday. This plate–from the 1914 real estate atlas for Minneapolis–shows the Prospect Park neighborhood near the Mississippi River. This orderly grid gives no hint of the emotions stirred in this section of the city in 1909, when an African American family purchased three lots at 17 Melbourne Avenue.

William H. Simpson had decided to establish a home in the leafy, middle-class neighborhood at the advice of his friend and fellow Pullman Porter Madison Jackson. Both Jackson and Simpson were African American. Both had good jobs with the railroad, which provided some of the best employment prospects in the Twin Cities for black men at the time. Neighbors grumbled when Jackson had moved his family into the all white neighborhood. But when his friend Simpson decided to do the same thing, they sprang into action.

On October 21, 1909, a crowd of over one hundred residents marched to the Jackson residence, where Simpson was staying to oversee the construction of his new house. There they delivered an unequivocal message to Simpson: members of his race were not welcome in Prospect Park. In the face of threats and insults from the Prospect Park Improvement Association, Simpson held his ground, hoping that residents would come to accept him and his family, as they had Jackson. He continued building and improving his home, investing over $4,000 into the property. Some residents interfered with the process, blocking builders from working on the property. According to the Tribune, these intimidation tactics brought Simpson to the negotiating table with the neighbors, who had organized a corporation to buy him out.

Local clergy proved supportive of Simpson. The pastor at St. James African Methodist Church in St. Paul, the leading black church in the Twin Cities, denounced neighbors from the pulpit as “colossal hypocrites.” Perhaps more surprising was the reaction of the minister of the local Methodist Church, who announced that he would not aid white residents, who were probably some of his parishioners. He told the Minneapolis Tribune that  “I am glad if my absence in the gathering of Thursday night was noticeable.”

The Simpsons remained in the Prospect Park home into the 1920s. The small African-American community in Minneapolis did not forget the conflict. When the leader of the white neighbors was nominated for County Attorney the following year, The Twin City Star, an African-American newspaper, reminded its readership of the Simpson house conflict. When the same man was arrested for forgery a year later, the Star reported: “Negro-Hater in the Toils, Prospect Park Agitor in Jail.”

This post was written by Historyapolis intern Derek Waller, who researched the origins of residential segregation in Minneapolis for his January term project at St. Olaf College. Waller is continuing his research into this and other incidents, which he will present as part of a senior capstone paper.

jpeg version phyllis wheatley house, 1936, hclib

A guide to traveling “without embarassment”

Published January 13, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

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.”

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.

This 1936 photo of the Phyllis Wheatley Settlement House is from the Minneapolis collection at the Hennepin County Central Library.