"Why Minnesota"
Posted Tuesday, June 9, 2020 06:07 PM


With Minnesota in the news recently,  I've had more than one friend say things like "Sorry about what's going on in your home state!"  And in a zoom gathering with my siblings and their families, my oldest brother asked "Why Minnesota?!" He has kept a correspondence and friendship with Richard Murray (a Swedish AFS student at Edina in 1958-59) and Richard had asked the same question. 

My sister Margit is the only one of us who stayed on in MInnesota...going to Carleton and then settling in Northfield.  She said there is so much she has learned that we didn't have an inkling about while were grewing up.  This is a copy of the letter she sent to Cary, Richard and all of us in the family.  Perhaps members of our class may be interested in reading her views. 


Good question, “Why Minnesota?” The New York Times titled one of their probes “The Minnesota Paradox.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/01/us/minneapolis-racism-minnesota.html  There are numerous articles about the persistent disparities between white Minnesotans and those of color – health care, education, incarceration, housing, employment, etc.; https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/06/02/npr-minneapolis-ranks-near-the-bottom-for-racial-equality?utm_campaign=MPR+News+-+AM+Edition_Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_source=sfmc_&utm_content=  

I will try to answer the “why here?” from my limited perspective. Like you, I grew up in an ostensibly liberal family. I was always proud of the fact that Bessie worked to integrate the YWCA swimming pools in the Twin Cities, and Clarence served on civic boards that promoted racial integration.

But we grew up in a suburb that we learned later had racial covenants, starting in the 1920’s. Mapping Prejudice (https://www.mappingprejudice.org) is a project based at the UMN.  “Our efforts in Minneapolis are made especially urgent by the city's contemporary racial disparities, which are some of the largest in the nation. Our initial research shows that covenants created demographic patterns that remain in place in Minneapolis today. Residential segregation reinforces other disparities in employment, education and health care. Most notable is the gap in homeownership rates. While 78 percent of white families own homes in the Twin Cities, only 25 percent of African-American families have title to their dwelling.” Maps found on their website show the progression of redlining in Minneapolis.

Several sources describe Edina’s early history, one that I didn’t learn about until long after I moved away.  Sure, we knew about the early farming community, the mill, the Grange, etc.  But a 2013 Star Tribune article (https://www.startribune.com/edina-s-historical-mystery-black-flight/184985461/ ) tells of B.J. Yancey, a black farmer and village council member, and his wife who founded the first school PTA in Edina.  They and about 16 other black families came to Edina after the Civil War at the beginning of the Great Migration.

In her book Chapters in the City History, Edina, local author Deborah Morse-Kahn links the “shrinking black population to the 1920s development of the Country Club area, where blacks and Jews could not buy homes. Second-generation black residents moved to farms northwest of Lake Minnetonka in Maple Plain and Independence township. Some early black settlers as well as their children also moved to Canada, continuing north to join friends or family who had settled there via Underground Railroad connections.”

In the 1920’s the KKK made an appearance in Minnesota and elsewhere.  There were 51 chapters and 30,000 members statewide, participating to various degrees in marches, picnics, KKK weddings, etc. NYU history prof Linda Gordon spoke about this period in Minnesota’s history; https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/01/03/linda-gordon-on-the-second-coming-of-the-kkk

Developing a rationale for the construction of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial in Duluth to memorialize the 3 black men lynched there in 1920, Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle, a Mpls history teacher, wrote, "I was given the Duluth Klan membership list with the members in 1925-26" -- names that included a county commissioner, two School Board members and paradoxically, police Sgt. Oscar Olson, regarded as the heroic ‘last officer to give up’ in the futile attempt to hold off the mob in the 1920 triple lynching… The majority of the men who joined the Klan in the 1920s were trying to preserve the values of an older, simpler, less urban nation that had already all but vanished;" https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/opinion/2454381-kkk-minnesota-yes-it-happened-here-book-documents

Do you recall any conversations among the Chaneys or the elder Carsons about the KKK in the 1920’s or lynchings in Duluth? I don’t, and it certainly wasn’t included in our Minnesota history books in the 1950’s and 60’s..

I’ve learned more from a Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edina,_Minnesota#Early_development) than I knew in the first 17 years living in Edina.

“Early development

           In the early 20th century suburban development brought discriminatory policies that led to nearly all of the African Americans who had been living in Edina to move away. James W. Loewen described the suburb as a sundown town.[19] Researchers point in particular to Samuel Thorpe's development of the Country Club Historic District, which used deed restrictions as means to exclude non-whites, stating explicitly that: 

No lot shall ever be sold, conveyed, leased, or rented to any person other than one of the white or Caucasian race, nor shall any lot ever be used or occupied by any person other than one of the white or Caucasian race, except such as may be serving as domestics for the owner or tenant of said lot, while said owner or tenant is residing thereon. 

           Other developments, like that built by N. P. Dodge Corporation just a mile away, followed suit in attempting to protect land values through racial policies.[23] Though the Supreme Court ruled these kinds of discriminatory housing clauses unenforceable in its Shelley v. Kraemer decision of 1948, reports of discrimination persisted through the 1950s and 1960s.[15][18] According to the Edina Historical Society's story about the first black family in Morningside (then a separate village) in 1960, attempts to keep them out included tactics like trying "to get [their] lot condemned for drainage."[18] In response, then-mayor Ken Joyce wrote a note dismissing the drainage concern and challenging citizens "to live the Golden Rule". Shortly thereafter the village voted in favor of inclusion.[18]

           Jewish residents were also affected by exclusionary deed covenants. In the 1960s, some residents boasted that Edina had "Not one Negro and not one Jew.” 

I don’t remember hearing boasts of “Not one Negro and not one Jew.” But I do remember that I-35W began its inexorable march through south Minneapolis in the 1960’s with completion in 1969. My flute teacher lived in that area. When it was decided to clear the width of two city blocks from downtown Mpls to the Minnesota River, my teacher Mary Wilson and her quiet husband Bert relocated to Buffalo MN.  My flute lessons continued in a rented church room near Lake of the Isles.

That highway project gutted the neighborhoods east of Lake Harriet. This account comes from the Phillips Neighborhood Network (http://www.pnn.org/History/Stories/35W.htm).

"Thirty-five W went through a Mexican and Black area to the north of Lake Street," says Beverly Larkin who lived at 2431 Fourth Av. during the time the freeways were built. "The neighborhood was blue collar mixed," she explained. "Some people from the South, lots of Mexicans. My mother came here from the South. She came for work and a better life…"The freeway did a number on my childhood space. It barreled right through the middle of a minority neighborhood. I watched the houses go down one by one. There were caterpillars that started waking us up in the morning. They went up and down, up and down, till they hewed out a ravine. Before that it was flat across to St. Stephens," Larkin adds. "The freeway creates barriers; the barriers become very real. Even though it was only two blocks for miles, it displaces [people and their way of life]," Judith Martin pointed out.

The same story can be told about the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul. Rondo was a large black community west of the state capitol building. This description is from Mnopedia (https://www.mnopedia.org/place/rondo-neighborhood-st-paul):

           “Beginning in the 1910s and 1920s, Rondo experienced a social and cultural boom. Music and theater flourished. African American newspapers such as the Appeal, the Northwestern Bulletin, and the St. Paul Recorder represented Rondo’s interests and needs. In 1913, St. Paul established its chapter of the NAACP, making it a center for civil rights activity. One member of the chapter, Rondo resident Roy Wilkins, later led the national NAACP. 

           As Rondo’s Jews advanced economically in the first decades of the twentieth century, they moved to new areas. This left behind affordable housing for African Americans. By the 1930s, half of St. Paul’s black population lived in Rondo. Even during the Jim Crow era, blacks and whites mixed relatively freely; interracial dating and even marriage sometimes took place.”

I-94 that links Mpls with St. Paul was constructed between 1956 and 1968. I remember clearly that the few times we drove to St. Paul where Uncle Ted and his family lived, the drive took almost an hour.  Now it takes 15 minutes to make the same trip.  But at a great cost to the Rondo community. Local public television has interviewed numerous well-known black leaders who grew up in Rondo and describe how the freeway cut their community in half, never to fully recover.

Not surprisingly, the race riots of the mid 60’s caught up with Minneapolis in July 1967.  North Minneapolis, which had been a strong Jewish business community (apparently known as the ‘gilded ghetto’), had evolved to become home to many of the displaced blacks from Rondo and south Mpls. I was working a summer job and living at home that summer. Like now when I find myself in the quiet safety of Northfield, 40 miles south of Lake Street, I was 10 miles west of Plymouth Avenue in North Mpls and only read about the riots in the paper. But the riots bear a striking resemblance to Mpls today.

From MPR (https://www.mprnews.org/story/2017/07/19/minneapolis-plymouth-avenue-riots-anniversary) “Young African-Americans, fed up with a system they saw as racist, started to destroy shops on the north side. Many of those businesses were owned by Jews who had once lived in the near north side but moved elsewhere after the loosening of anti-Semitic housing practices.” The sad reality is that the businesses along Plymouth Avenue in North Mpls have yet to fully recover from the destruction in 1967.

So “why Minnesota?” From my perspective I think that the loss of generational wealth in the form of stable housing over time and family resources, the re-segregation of schools (after busing failed, and magnet schools floundered), job discrimination, poor health care, and the notorious schools-to-prison route (black kids get suspended at much higher rates, which often leads to incarceration later) all contribute to the deep disparities that plague our state.

A podcast of the “system that protects the police” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/podcasts/the-daily/george-floyd-protests.html?searchResultPosition=1&showTranscript=1) on the NYTimes The Daily on June 2 spells out how the Mpls police department is a textbook case of police dysfunction and how difficult change will be.

More than perhaps you wanted to know.   ~ Margit