police on plymouth avenue, north minneapolis, after urban unrest or riots in 1967, mhs

A “disturbance born of disillusionment”: 50 years of Black Lives Matter on Plymouth Avenue

Published November 17, 2015 by Kirsten Delegard

A vigil has been kept for the last three days at the Fourth Precinct headquarters of the Minneapolis police on Plymouth Avenue North. Members of Black Lives Matter are demanding justice in the case of Jamar Clark, who died today after being shot in the head by police early Sunday morning.

For at least fifty years, this site on Plymouth Avenue has been a flashpoint for clashes between police and residents of the neighborhood, which is now largely African American. Today’s police station sits on the historic location of The Way, a community experiment that grew out of some of the most significant urban unrest in the city’s history. In 1966, neighborhood residents took over a building on this part of Plymouth Avenue and created this storefront organization “after a disturbance born of disillusionment and anger exploded spontaneously in the streets. Its emergency purpose was to help calm the neighborhood by providing an off-the-street facility for youth and a meeting place for residents.”

The way, north minneapolis, plymouth avenue, mhs

The Way, Plymouth Avenue, 1975. Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.


The short-lived unrest of 1966 was dwarfed by the events of 1967, which is now known as the “long hot summer” in the United States. Violence in Minneapolis erupted at the annual Minneapolis Aquatennial Parade and moved up Plymouth Avenue after police clashed with a crowd of 200 people. On July 21st, Minneapolis Mayor Arthur Naftalin requested assistance from the National Guard. Troops were stationed in North Minneapolis, where a series of fires had destroyed businesses along Plymouth Avenue.

The best account of this unrest can be found in the history of North Minneapolis directed by Daniel Bergin of TPT. Cornerstones puts the history of this unrest in the greater context of the neighborhood’s development.

Minneapolis was just one of 159 cities that went up in flames that year. Remembered in some quarters as a riot and in others as a rebellion, this unrest grew out of a broad frustration with the conditions of life in North Minneapolis. Residents decried segregated housing, constricted economic opportunities, struggling schools and police brutality.

The roots of this violence lay in the city’s racial inequities, according to the organizers of The Way. By the 1960s, Minneapolis had excluded “a large number of its residents from the opportunity system,” the organization asserted. “An invisible wall exists around much of the area north of Olson Highway and west of the river. The wall shuts people into overly-crowded neighborhoods which lack the civic amenities provided in other sections of the city. The wall shuts out the larger community’s concern for, interest in and even awareness of North Side problems.”

Quotes are taken from the pamphlet, “The Way of the New North Side,” from the records of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, Minnesota Historical Society. Images show Plymouth Avenue and are from the Minnesota Historical Society.


cropped version, Halloween_party_at_the_Hopewell_Hospital_Minneapolis_Minnesota, from MDL and Henn Co Medical collection

Halloween at Hopewell Hospital

Published October 31, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

Happy Halloween. This haunting photo captures an unconventional commemoration of this day almost 100 years ago. Patients at Hopewell Hospital in North Minneapolis donned masks and witches’ hats, readying themselves for what appears to have been a somber party. Their day would not have been enlivened by any visitors. For these unsmiling jesters and grim-looking Indian chiefs, Halloween in 1917 was just another day in quarantine.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Hopewell Hospital was the Minneapolis tuberculosis sanatorium. Situated in an isolated industrial quarter of the Camden neighborhood, the hospital looked out over city workhouse, the garbage “crematorium” and the brick works on the Mississippi River.

smaller version of 1914 plat map, hopewell hospital, plate 67, from hclib

The Minneapolis plat map from 1914 shows Hopewell Hospital and its environs in the Camden neighborhood of North Minneapolis. The TB facility overlooked the “Garbarge Crematorium,” City Workhouse and brick yards. Map comes from the Special Collections of the Hennepin County Libraries.

Established in 1907, the facility housed the city’s tuberculosis sufferers, who were seen as an acute threat to the community. A bacterial infection that attacks the lungs and is easily transmitted through air droplets, tuberculosis was a common and deadly killer in these days before life-saving antibiotics. It spread easily in the overcrowded quarters of American urban neighborhoods. Tens of thousands of Minnesotans died from TB in the thirty years before these clowns and witches posed for the camera.

Thanks to the recent outbreak of Ebola, Americans are grappling anew with the question of quarantine. Though less common today thanks to widespread vaccinations and highly effective antibiotic treatments, the practice of quarantine was routine when this image was created. In the United States, local governments had imposed quarantines since the eighteenth century. Starting in the late nineteenth century, federal authorities had played an ever-larger role in this process, focusing their efforts on quarantining individuals with tuberculosis, cholera, diptheria, plague and yellow fever. Hopewell housed only TB patients. Minneapolitans with smallpox were brought to another facility located in present-day St. Louis Park, where the survival rate was very low.

Hopewell treated TB patients until 1924, when Hennepin County decided to bring all sufferers of this disease under the same roof at Glen Lake Sanatorium in modern-day Eden Prairie. Hopewell Hospital became Parkview Sanatorium and continued service as a public charity hospital until the building was eventually razed.

A Halloween photo from the closed ward of a TB sanatorium may be the stuff of nightmares for some viewers. Or inspiration for a new gothic novel by Ransom Riggs set in the post-industrial landscape of the Minneapolis north side.

But this image ultimately strikes me as more poignant than terrifying. We have no way to know the real identities of the woman posing as a gypsy fortune teller or the man attired like Uncle Sam. The fates of these patients–and the question of whether they survived their encounters with this deadly bacteria–will remain a mystery.

The day after Halloween–known in Mexico as the Day of the Dead–might provide an opportunity to remember this group of Minneapolitans. On Saturday morning we could amble through North Mississippi Regional Park in search of traces of Hopewell hospital, thinking about family and friends no longer with us. And take a moment to reflect on the myriad connections between the living and dead in our city.

The photo is from the Hennepin County Medical Center Museum Collection via the Minnesota Digital Library. The detail from the 1914 plat map of Minneapolis is from the Minneapolis Collection at Hennepin County Libraries Special Collections. Special thanks to librarian Ted Hathaway for providing Historyapolis with a high-resolution version of this image.

clarence miller map from sumner library, north side map, daniel bergin

Sumner Field: A Tale of Two Maps on the North Side of Minneapolis

Published July 14, 2014 by Daniel Bergin

It’s Map Monday. Our guest blogger today is Daniel Bergin, Senior Producer at Twin Cities Public Television and the director/producer of “Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis.” First broadcast in 2011 on TPT’s Minnesota channel, this documentary about the history of the enclave known as the “Northside” was co-produced by TPT and the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC). Bergin writes here about two maps he found while researching “Cornerstones” and what they can and cannot reveal about the city’s near North side.

Maps can present context, scale and scope.  But it often takes the voice of the people to provide a meaningful ‘legend’ to interpret what cannot be conveyed in the abstract representations of a map.

In producing “Cornerstones,”  I came across two different maps that provide better understanding of this storied section of the city.  But it was the voices of the people that helped me understand what these maps conveyed and what they obscured.

Both maps show Sumner Field, an area of near North Minneapolis that has been reshaped several times in the last century and a half.  This multi-block area’s built environment and landscape has evolved from ramshackle, immigrant housing to the pleasantly manicured and landscaped community that is today’s Heritage Park.

A common element throughout this evolution, however, is the green space known as Sumner Field.  This approximate area is seen in both of these maps.

sumner field before construction, photo 1, side 1

Sumner Field, before construction, c. 1930s. From the collection of the Hennepin County Library Special Collections, uncatalogued newspaper photos. Thanks to Rita Yeada for digitizing.


The map at the top was hand-drawn creation by Northsider Clarence Miller. His graphic curio is on display at the historic Sumner Branch library. Sumner Field is the center of this brilliant layman’s map.  One gets the sense that this meticulously crafted folk-artwork is as much a quilt as it is a map.

Miller’s map shows Sumner Field before the area was bulldozed to create a federally-funded housing project during the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s. Sumner Field was the first federally-funded housing project in the city of Minneapolis. This map shows the new development as imagined by planners and promoters:

sumner field homes, promotional brochure map from daniel bergin

This overhead view–taken from a promotional brochure for the new development–provides a sense of the multi-dwelling units, their relationship to each other and the footprint of the development.  What the map does not show is the human geography of the new development, which was designed to be segregated by race. As University of Minnesota professor Kate Solomonson explained, there were “particular parts of Sumner Field Homes that were for African Americans, another section, a larger section, for what they called ‘mixed whites.’”

Neither map illuminates the racial boundaries that were seen as necessary for social order in the city that would become known as a bastion of racial equality under mayor Hubert Humphrey after World War II.

Nor do they convey how Sumner Field ultimately broke down racial barriers. In an encouraging testament to the power of place, Janet Raskin, a daughter of the Jewish North Side, explained how the park served as a commons for all Northsiders. “We had white, we had the park, and we had Afro-American,’ And we all played together in the park.”

For more about the history of Sumner Field and north Minneapolis, click here to watch Cornerstones.

Both maps are from the collections of the Hennepin County Library.


demolition of oak lake park, august 5, 1936

Demolition of Oak Lake Park

Published April 17, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

The forgotten neighborhood of Oak Lake Park, 1936. More photos digitized by Rita Yeada when we visited the tower archives at City Hall on Tuesday. In these images, demolition of the once-grand Victorians is in process. Oral histories of the North Side recount how nothing was wasted or thrown away in this neighborhood, which was home to some of the city’s least affluent and most entrepreneurial residents.

demolition, march 25, 1936

grand jury abortion indictment, theresa solie

“An Illegal Operation”: The Case of Theresa Solie, part 2

Published April 24, 2014 by Derek Waller

Today’s guest blogger is Derek Waller, a senior from St. Olaf College who interned with the Historyapolis Project for his January term. A history major with a minor in gender studies, Waller explores the history of abortion in Minneapolis in this two-part post.

Shortly after Theresa Solie died from a botched abortion, the Minneapolis Tribune reported “2 Face Arraignment In Illegal Operation.” An inconspicuous piece on page 20, the article gave the names and addresses of the doctor and Martin Schmidt, reporting that the men were put on trial for performing the operation. The doctor, R.J.C. Brown, was an African-American who had operated a small practice in the Near North side for over a decade.

The average cost of an abortion in the 1930s was $67; Solie paid less than half that amount for her abortion. This probably indicates that Brown was catering to a less affluent group of women. We have no way to know whether he specialized in abortions or merely began to offer this service as a way for making up for the income that many physicians lost in the economic collapse of the Great Depression.

At the trial, Dr. Brown was represented by Lena Olive Smith, a prominent civil rights pioneer and Minnesota’s first female African-American attorney. Smith called on only two witnesses at the trial, Dorothy Johnson and Marie Schmidt. Dorothy, a friend of Theresa’s, testified that she was working as a prostitute, and Mrs. Schmidt’s testimony supported this claim. She said that Theresa was rarely home in the evening, and was unemployed. Mrs. Schmidt testified further that Theresa had received a package with medication to induce an abortion. However, the court refused to admit the pillbox as evidence, which was found among Theresa’s belongings. At every turn during the trial, the court ruled against Brown and Schmidt, admitting all the testimony for the prosecution while blocking evidence and testimony from the defense.

The court charged Brown and Schmidt with first degree manslaughter, sentencing both to prison. Schmidt was released after a year, while Brown served nearly 10 years; racism was almost certainly a factor in this outcome. Whether either of these men were responsible for Theresa’s death, we will likely never know. What does seem likely is that Theresa was a sex worker. No records of employment or testimony from an employer surfaced during the trial. Under desperate circumstances, Theresa had few connections in Minneapolis, and did not really have other options. Given the economic climate of 1938, many women ended up working as sex workers. Without the money or support system to raise a child, Theresa had to terminate her pregnancy. An unregulated and non-standardized practice in 1938, abortion was more likely to lead to death than it is today.  The state found two men to blame for Theresa’s death, but did not recognize the material circumstances that caused it.

Thanks to William Mitchell law professor Ann Juergens, who shared this case and her other research on Lena Olive Smith with Historyapolis.


photo for solie abortion post, 6th avenue north and 7th avenue north, 1936, from the streetcar museum

“An Illegal Operation”: The Case of Theresa Solie

Published April 24, 2014 by Derek Waller

Today’s guest blogger is Derek Waller, a senior from St. Olaf College who interned with the Historyapolis Project for his January term. A history major with a minor in gender studies, Waller explores the history of abortion in Minneapolis in this two-part post.

When Theresa Solie arrived in Minneapolis in 1938, she hoped to find more opportunities than she had in her hometown of Cornell, Wisconsin. A high school graduate with a degree from a business college in Wausaw, Theresa had strong credentials for a young woman seeking employment.

But given the economic climate of the time, it’s not surprising that Theresa was unable to put her training to use. In 1938, the city was still mired in the Great Depression. The previous winter had been miserable; only a huge infusion of federal aid had kept the community afloat. Labor conflicts, escalating racial tensions and intensifying Anti-Semitism had fed the dark mood of the city.

During her first few weeks in the city, Theresa stayed with a distant relative, Clara Leines. She then found domestic work with various families around the near North side, which meant that she had food and a place to stay. Eventually, she got a job as a waitress and began renting her own room. At least this is the story she told Clara.

A year later, Theresa died a few days after undergoing an illegal abortion. On her deathbed, she identified the doctor who had performed the procedure. She also reported that her landlord, Mr. Martin Schmidt, gave her $25 to pay for the procedure. When a policewoman questioned her further, she said that Schmidt was also responsible for her pregnancy.

Abortion had been outlawed in the United States since the middle of the nineteenth century. The procedure was legalized in 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down its Roe v. Wade decision. Solie died from a botched termination in the middle of this long century. The safety of illegal abortions varied according to the race and class of the patient. And from all indications Solie had no economic resources and little in the way of family support.

The criminalization of abortions never stopped women from seeing this procedure. Particularly during the Depression, women were desperate to control their fertility. Birth control became widely accepted. And a growing number of women sought abortions. The economic environment forced committed couples to delay marriage and put off child-bearing. Some families placed their children in orphanages, since they had money for neither food nor clothing. An unplanned pregnancy could bring economic catastrophe to a single woman.

Every city had doctors—like Dr. R.J.C. Brown—who were known to perform this procedure. In Minneapolis, Brown was probably well-known as an abortion provider, maintaining an office on 6th Avenue North, a main thoroughfare shown in this photo from 1936. This section of the near North side was known for its tippling houses and shabby brothels, a magnet for those seeking cheap liquor and illicit sex.

Despite the shifting landscape of reproductive rights, abortion was still considered a serious crime with severe legal consequences for doctors. And when Solie died, the state pressed charges against the doctor and Schmidt. When the defendants appealed for a retrial, the case went before the Minnesota Supreme Court nearly a year after Theresa’s death. The testimony before the court and the aftermath of court’s decision complicated Theresa’s story, shedding light onto a darker history that Minneapolitans of the time preferred to overlook.

This 1936 photo is of the intersection of 6th Avenue North and 7th Avenue in Minneapolis. It comes from the Streetcar Museum via the Digital Public Library of America. Thanks to William Mitchell law professor Ann Juergens, who shared this case and her other research on Lena Olive Smith with Historyapolis.


social composition of near northside neighborhoods, map from a study of social conditions, 1925

“The mixture of races in this district is detrimental”

Published March 24, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

It’s map Monday. This “Social Composition of North Side Neighborhoods” was drawn by a researcher associated with the Women’s Cooperative Alliance, which assembled an encyclopedic analysis of moral conditions in the city in 1925. The Cooperative Alliance was a consortium of women’s groups organized in April, 1917 to identify and eradicate conditions contributing to juvenile delinquency.  The Alliance had broad community support and attracted active representatives from nineteen local women’s organizations, including the Council of Jewish Women, the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis and the League of Catholic Women.

None of this would be obvious from this map, which seems merely to codify popular ethnic and class prejudices. The key on the right side shows how the research cartographer divided this district into sections defined by race, ethnicity, class and moral rectitude. It delineates blocks of “American Born, socially inadequate” from “American Born, socially adequate.” It distinguishes areas inhabited by “Colored” from those dominated by “Foreign Born Slavics” from those defined as “Jewish” and “Jewish, prosperous families.” These categories were separate from the sections annotated as “Miscellaneous Nationalities unskilled wage earning families” and “Scandinavian- thrifty comfortable homes.”

These crude characterizations obscure the complex and contradictory mission of the Women’s Cooperative Alliance, which employed twenty-four staff members, who had assembled this data in this report to demonstrate the need for a more wholesome urban environment for children. They lobbied for improved lighting in the city parks and better enforcement of juvenile curfew laws. They monitored the treatment of women and children in the judicial system—an issue that I will discuss more in a later post. They fought to mute the siren song of commercial amusements. The women associated with the Alliance would have been delighted to see the city shutter all of its dance halls, pool halls, movie theaters, candy stores and carnivals, just as Prohibition had closed its saloons.

The work of the organization had yet another element. More than 3,000 women volunteered with the Alliance to serve as block, precinct and ward workers, who were charged with visiting every home in their district to ascertain conditions and educate mothers. They hoped to reach out to immigrant mothers in particular, who they feared had neither the resources nor the knowledge necessary to keep their children out of pool halls, movie theaters, saloons and dance halls.

This map—which was part of the group’s five-part Study of Social Conditions–sought to guide this work by illuminating where education was most necessary. The accompanying text explained that the moral crisis was acute on the city’s North Side where the greatest “evils” were “prostitution and the liquor traffic. Not only are many of the furnished rooms over stores on Sixth Avenue vice resorts, but in many of the homes through the district women are prostituting themselves before their little children.” There was plenty of blame to go around, the writer asserted. “This vice is not confined to one race but occurs between colored and white, both Gentile and Jew. It does not include many Jewish women. The making of liquor, however, is reported by social workers to be common among the Jewish women and under cover of junk peddling it is easily distributed.” The problems of the North Side, according to the researcher, were rooted in its polyglot character. “The mixture of races in this district is detrimental,” she concluded. “The situation grows more serious because of the continual influx of migrant people of both races.”

The map is from a Study of Social Conditions, held at the Minneapolis Collection at the Hennepin County Central Library. Information about the Cooperative Women’s Alliance is from the vertical files at the Minneapolis Collection  and Leigh Ann Wheeler, Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873-1935 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).