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.”

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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.