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July 16, 1931: Angry white mob surrounds Minneapolis home

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Crime Updated: November 26, 2014 - 12:44 PM
 


In June 1931, Arthur and Edith Lee bought a two-bedroom bungalow at 4600 Columbus Av. in south Minneapolis. The Lees were black; the neighborhood white. Despite threats from the neighborhood association, they moved into the home in July, along with their 6-year-old daughter. A group of neighbors offered to buy the home back for $300 more than the Lees had paid. The family declined.
 
Lena Olive Smith

Lena Olive Smith

“Nobody asked me to move out when I was in France fighting in mud and water for this country,” Arthur Lee, a World War I veteran, told the Tribune. “I came out here to make this house my home. I have a right to establish a home.”

In mid-July, thousands assembled nightly at 46th and Columbus in protest, many hurling taunts and rocks at the home. Friends gathered in the Lee home to show their support. Police stood outside, urging the crowds to disperse as tensions rose. On Friday, July 17, an end to the “race row” appeared near. The Tribune reported “definite progress” in negotiations over the sale of the house, and said it appeared Lee would move soon, perhaps within a week. The protests waned, but neighbors continued to pressure the Lees to move. Years later, they finally sold the house and moved to another part of the city, but only after waiting long enough to prove they could not be forced out.

The “Miss L.O. Smith” mentioned near the end of the Tribune’s dramatic account below is Lena Olive Smith, then president of the Minneapolis branch of NAACP. Smith, the first black woman licensed to practice law in Minnesota, advised the Lees through much of the conflict. Before earning her law degree, she had practiced dermatology, studied embalming, owned a hair salon and sold real estate. Ann Juergens, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, wrote about this fascinating civil rights pioneer for the school’s law review in 2001.

[Reposted in November 2014 to note the passing of Pearl Lindstrom, who owned the home for more that 50 years and embraced its recognition as a historic site. Scroll to the end to read a brief interview with her in 2006, the year this was originally posted.]
 
Edith and Arthur Lee (photo courtesy of the Lee family)

Edith and Arthur Lee (photo courtesy of the Lee family)

Crowd of 3,000 Renews
Attack on Negroes’ Home

 
Stones Again Hurled at House on Columbus Avenue.
 
Neighbors Walk Out of Meeting When Peace Is Urged.
 
While city leaders tried desperately to effect a peaceful settlement of the affair, the rising tide of protest against occupancy of a home at 4600 Columbus avenue by a Negro family Wednesday night resulted in another, more violent demonstration outside the home.
 
More than 3,000 persons assembled outside the home, occupied by A.A. Lee and his family, to hurl defiance at the police and openly threaten Lee and his friends.
 
Every available police gunsquad was rushed to the scene to keep the crowd under control.
 
Stones Are Thrown.
 
From the windows of his darkened home, Lee and his friends looked out, as from a barricaded fortress, on a sullen, angry semi-circle of humanity. They heard themselves threatened continually, from all directions. They heard stones strike against the house and heard windows crash as some of the stones took effect. Now and then a firecracker exploded on the lawn.
 
A mass meeting of white home owners of that vicinity, held early in the evening at the Eugene Field school, was apparently unsuccessful. Half of the more than 100 persons who assembled at the school walked out indignantly as speakers were urging patience in the matter.
 
Police Guard Home.
 
“Let’s go over to Forty-sixth and Columbus and settle the matter right now,” shouted some as they left the meeting.
 
By the time the meeting was over the Lee home was once more surrounded by angry home owners, spectators from all parts of the city and a squad of 25 policemen.
 
During the early part of the evening the police were successful in keeping the crowd moving. Groups were broken up quickly and effectively. By 10:30 p.m., however, the crowd had grown so large that the police were forced to retreat toward the Lee home where they formed a protecting cordon. Standing 10 feet apart, they waited.
 
Patrolman Attacked.
 
Inch by inch the crowd moved closer to the Lee home, muttering threats, and loud in their denunciation of the police. More police reserves were sent for. A squad of motorcycle men mounted their machines. They drove straight at the crowd, turning sharply as they reached the front lines.
 
This only served to rouse the throng. One motorcycle policeman was pulled from his machine and a squad of patrolmen went charging to his rescue. Word was handed around that someone had struck a woman spectator. There was an ominous roar of disapproval.
 
Mrs. A. B. Blomberg, 4925 Columbus avenue, was injured in the leg when struck by the machine of a motorcycle patrolman near the scene of the demonstration at the Lee home. She was taken to her home after lacerations were treated by a doctor.
 
At 11 p.m. a hurry call was sent to police headquarters and every available gunsquad car was sent to the scene.
 
The crowd also was incensed by a practical joke that brought a fire department hose cart and a hook and ladder truck clanging up to the Lee home. The firemen were greeted with a loud chorus of boos by the crowd which took it for granted that the fire department had been called as an emergency measure.
 
The firemen, plainly confused by their reception, immediately turned their trucks around and left.
 
By that time the crowd extended along Forty-sixth street from Park to Chicago avenues and for a block along Columbus avenue. Refusing to obey the policemen’s orders to stay out of the street they advanced almost to the sidewalks in front of the Lee home, standing almost face to face with the line of policemen. The shrill piping voices of small children were heard over the lower, more deliberate tones of adults.
 
Fire Hose Asked.
 
Traffic was blocked completely on Columbus avenue and on Forty-sixth street. Cars were parked for several miles along adjoining streets.
 
From time to time during the evening groups of Negroes appeared and entered the Lee home. It was estimated that more than 20 friends of the Lee family were assembled in the house at the time the demonstration was at its height.
 
Toward midnight Captain William Walsh at police headquarters received a call from a man who said he was at the Lee home.
 
“Send out the fire department and turn a hose on the crowd,” the man suggested.
 
Captain Walsh replied that he had no authority to do that.
 
By 11:30 p.m. the crowd was in a dangerous mood, ready for any excuse to jeer at the police. When a detective, seeing a youth about to hurl a stone, arrested him, there was a movement toward the detective which was frustrated by the prompt arrival of motorcycle policemen. The youth was hustled into a gunsquad car and taken to a precinct station.
 
The appearance of several Negroes in the crowd also caused a commotion. Police immediately rushed the Negroes to police cars and hurried them away, fearing a racial riot independent of the difficulty regarding the Lee home.
 
Urban President Speaks.
 
Mayor Anderson

Mayor Anderson

At the meeting of the Eugene Field school, H.W. Rubins, president of the Urban league, representing Mayor Anderson, pleaded with the assembled home owners to be patient in the affair and to respect as much as possible the principle of property rights.
 
“This is a time for sanity and patience, not hasty action,” he told the assembly. “This government has been founded on certain principles of human and property rights. We must respect those rights.”
 
Rubins had addressed the home owners for a scant 10 minutes when a decided unrest began to evidence itself. Several rose and left the room. Then there was a massed departure which interrupted Rubins. Muttering angrily, those who left their seats hurried from the school to join the crowd outside the Lee home.
 
Let Committees Work.
 
To those who remained Rubins continued his address. He pointed out that he was present as an impartial, unbiased observer, in the interest of a satisfactory settlement of the problem. He asked that the committees which have been appointed be given a fair chance to work out a solution to the problem.
 
Albin J. Lindgren, 4621 Park avenue, chairman of a committee of home owners which has been meeting with a committee appointed by Mayor Anderson and Lee’s attorney, presided over the meeting and also urged that residents of the district be patient.
 
“Let’s give the committees a chance,” Lindgren suggested, “to see if we can’t reach a satisfactory settlement. I suggest that everyone stay away from the corener of Forty-sixth and Columbus tonight.”
 
Lee Won’t Move.
 
Lee himself, in a statement issued through his attorney, H.E. Maag, made it known Wednesday that he has no intention of moving as long as his neighbors continue their demonstrations. He said he is willing to meet with a committee of residents and his attorney and settle the matter in a peaceful manner. Then, he said, after the attention of the city had been diverted from the house he would move quietly to some other part of the city.
 
Efforts to settle the controversy over Lee’s purchase of the home were made Wednesday by interested groups on Mayor Anderson’s office. A definite decision was not arrived at.
 
The Minneapolis Urban league, an organization devoted to the advancement of amicable relations between whites and Negroes, also held a meeting in an effort to mediate the trouble and influence the parties concerned into a settlement.
 
The National Association For the Advancement of Colored People Wednesday charged the police department with laxity in dispersing what it termed an “unlawful gathering” at the Lee home.
 
Miss L.O. Smith, president of the Minneapolis branch of the organization, called on Chief of Police William Meehan and charged that the police department had been wilfully negligent in its duty in permitting the crowd to form. She said that if the demonstrations continue she will appeal to Governor Olson for aid.
 
Mayor Anderson, after conferring with representatives of the Negroes and white property owners in the district, asked the latter to “be patient.” He asked that some sort of truce be effected pending settlement of the affair.
 
 
 
April 2006 update: 4600 Columbus Av. is now owned by Pearl Lindstrom, 84. She is white. I stopped by to photograph the house and spotted her holding the front storm door open, peering out at the intersection where I stood, camera in hand. I climbed the steps to the house and introduced myself. She said she had learned about the 1931 protests only a few years ago when another man stopped by to take pictures.

Lindstrom and her first husband bought the house from a white family for about $12,800 in 1958. Were there any black families in the neighborhood when she moved in? “None whatsoever,” she said. How about now? “Probably about four,” she said. How about race relations? “There’s no problem,” she said, with a surprised tone that suggested that such a thing would be an impossibility in 2006.
 

Nov. 21, 1903: Goose for Thanksgiving, and plenty of it

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: November 26, 2014 - 10:32 AM
 
In 1898, the Minneapolis Journal launched a Saturday section for young readers. For the next 15 years, the Journal Junior featured writing and artwork sent in by schoolchildren from Minnesota and surrounding states. The topic for late November 1903 was, of course, Thanksgiving. Top honors went to Helen Margolis and Margaret Harrison of Minneapolis. Helen wrote about an irresistible pudding in her kitchen; Margaret wrote about a live turkey let loose in her living room. Mildly amusing but not worth recounting here. John Knapp, a sixth-grader at Longfellow School, on the other hand, earned an honorable mention for this somewhat disturbing Thanksgiving memory.
 

A REALLY TRUE TALE.

 
It was a very cold day a week before Thanksgiving. My father and mother had gone to town and my brother and I were left alone. The night before this we had heard a big flock of geese flying over our house and when we looked out the air above seemed just full of them.  My father took his shotgun and killed about ten or eleven in two shots. The next morning when my father and mother had gone we heard geese screaming down by the pond, so we took the shotgun and went out. We found the pond covered with ice, and all over the ice were the geese. I took the gun and fired both barrels at them. We were surprised not to see them all fly, but they just screamed all the more. We ran to pick up the first dead one but could not, for its legs were frozen in the ice. My brother ran home for the ax and we chopped out about forty and killed them. We had goose for Thanksgiving and plenty of it. We sold the rest and got about fifteen dollars for them, so we were all very thankful.
 
 
 
An unrelated and uncredited cartoon anchored the front page of the section that week:
Journal Junior cartoon, Nov. 21, 1903

 

Nov. 4, 1905: Wisconsin game empties Minneapolis streets

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: November 24, 2014 - 4:46 PM
 
The University of Minnesota football team finished with 10-1 record in 1905, good for second place in the Big Nine conference. The team's only defeat: a 16-12 loss to Wisconsin at Northrop Field. Interest in the game was apparently intense. The Minneapolis Journal described the city as "football crazy" that afternoon and published this cartoon on the front page.
 
Minneapolis Journal cartoon, Nov. 5, 1905

Minneapolis Journal cartoon, Nov. 5, 1905

Nov. 11, 1940: The Armistice Day blizzard

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Disasters Updated: November 11, 2014 - 11:58 AM
 
The forecast for Armistice Day 1940, as reported in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune dated Nov. 11, gave barely a hint of what was to come that day: “Cloudy, occasional snow, and colder, much colder.”

Many took advantage of the mild holiday weather and made plans to spend the day outdoors. Then came rain … which turned to snow, accompanied by howling wind … and more snow … and then the cold. More than 16 inches of snow fell in Minneapolis, more than 2 feet in other parts of the state. Temperatures dropped from near 60 to the single digits in less than 24 hours. Telegraph and telephone lines went down, cutting off communications and complicating the task of reporting the big story. In the end, 49 people died in the Armistice Day blizzard in Minnesota, many of them duck hunters trapped in remote bottom land along the Mississippi when the blizzard hit.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune’s “6 A.M. Alarm Clock Edition” of Tuesday, Nov. 12, 1940, provided exhaustive coverage. Here is the lead story, followed by a few of the dozens of storm-related briefs. The photos below appeared in subsequent editions of the Tribune and the Star Journal.

(Originally posted in August 2005.)
 
Forty-nine people died in Minnesota in the 1940 Armistice Day storm, including these lightly dressed duck hunters.

Forty-nine people died in Minnesota in the storm, including these lightly dressed duck hunters.

 

N.W. STORM RAGES ON

Forecast Gives No Hint of Letup; 7 Die as Zero Wave Rides Blizzard

Motor Traffic Paralyzed; Scores of Towns Isolated

Gale Hits Hard at Telegraph and Telephone Services — Auto Mishaps Trap 100 Near New Brighton – Blocked Streets Send Hundreds to Hotels

 
The Armistice day blizzard that virtually paralyzed transportation and crippled wire communications in Minneapolis and the northwest, roared into Tuesday with no sign of abating.
 
The weather bureau offered little comfort with a forecast for today of partly cloudy in the south and west parts of Minnesota, with occasional light snow in the northeast portion; Wednesday; fair and continued cold.
 
Snow had stopped falling at Bismarck and Grand Forks, N.D., this morning but high winds continued the blizzard conditions of Monday.
 
The storm, which passed through stages of rain and sleet to a blinding gale of snow, hit telegraph and telephone services hard. Most communities were isolated. Temperatures fell by the hour. At 4 a.m. it was 5 degrees above zero in Minneapolis.
 
The full extent of casualties will not be known until communications are opened up again, but deaths of six men, three of them hunters, and one woman, were reported last night.
 
The dead:
 
Walter Strom, 1700 Hawthorne Av., Soo Line fireman, killed in wreck at Watkins.
Mrs. E.Y. Arnold, 2124 Ann Arbor St., St. Paul, traffic victim.
John C. Johnson, 55, 222 Tenth Av. N.E., died of exhaustion.
Harry S. Mason, 75, 329 South Warwick St., St. Paul, died of exhaustion.
Herbert Junneman, Wabasha, Minn., a hunter.
Theodore H. Geiger, Eau Claire, Wis., a hunter.
 
Thousands of persons stranded in the loop crowded downtown hotels, taking every available room, and overflowing into dining rooms and lobbies. It was the buiest night hotel men could recall.
 
During the storm, winds reached a velocity of 60 miles an hour, drifts piled up as high as five feet, and there was a temperature drop to sub-zero depths, Williston and Minot, N.D., and Hot Springs, S.D., reporting 10 below.
 
Practically every road in Minnesota was blocked early today, the state highway department reported.
 
Plows were kept off highways because of poor visibility, and the danger of accident, but officials said every effort would be made this morning to open up the travel lanes.
 
Motorists Warned
 
Meanwhile, they warned motorists not to venture forth unless they had specific and authentic information about road conditions. Those who had found shelter were urged to stay there until conditions improved. Plans were made to send out bulletins on the radio this morning.
 
Storm Causes Train Wreck
 
Blanketing out visibility by the storm caused a train wreck on the Soo line at Watkins, Minn., in Meeker county, west of Minneapolis. Passenger train No. 106 coming into Minneapolis from Enderlin, N.D., overran a switch signal and collided head on with a freight train. Fireman Strom on the freight train was killed and Engineer Floyd Terpening, 2408 Central Av. N.E., was seriously injured. Two other trainmen were injured.
 
Only the tops of cars are visible in this view of snowbound Excelsior Boulevard, looking west toward the Minikahda Golf Club overpass in Minneapolis.

Only the tops of cars are visible in this view of snowbound Excelsior Boulevard, looking west toward the Minikahda Golf Club overpass in Minneapolis.

 
One woman was killed and her husband and another woman were hurt when their car apparently was thrown into the path of an oncoming truck by the strong winds near the Ramsey county line on highway No. 212. The fatality victim was Mrs. Arnold. Mr. Arnold and Mrs. Nels Chamberlain, 139 East Winnifred St., St. Paul, were taken to Mounds Park hospital. The truck was traveling about 15 miles an hour when the crash came, Mrs. Arnold being thrown out as a door of the automobile was sprung open.
 
Nearly 100 Marooned
 
Nearly 100 persons, a dozen of them cut by flying glass, were marooned near New Brighton following a mass traffic accident in which 30 or more cars piled into each other on highway No. 8.
 
Ramsey county deputy sheriffs, with one of them injured in the mixup, helped to get the motorists to New Brighton, while others found refuge in a farmhouse. One of the sheriff’s squad cars was almost demolished as it got caught in the crash of cars.
 
The jam started when an automobile collided with a White Bear-Stillwater bus. Three more cars piled into the bus, and one of them sideswiped an oncoming car in the opposite traffic lane. Within a short time two dozen other motorists, blinded by the snow, slid into the pile of disabled machines. The injured deputy, Kermit Hedman, was severely cut below the knee.
 
Pedestrian Collapses
 
Johnson collapsed while walking at University Av. N.E. and Broadway. Passersby carried him to a nearby filling station, where he died a few minutes later. Dr. A.N. Russeth, deputy coroner, said death was due to a heart attack, brought on by exhaustion.
 
Mason, a retired St. Paul police lieutenant, was found dead in the garage of his home. He apparently died of over-exhaustion while digging tulip bulbs to keep them from freezing. He was found by his daughter, Mrs. John W. McBride, with whom he lived.
 
Junneman, 38, a barber of Wabasha, Minn., drowned in the Mississippi while he was hunting with several companions. The boat was capsized by the storm. He clung to the side of the overturned craft for awhile, but became numb and exhausted and slipped into the icy water when rescuers were stalled in attempts to reach him.
 
The bodies of Geiger, 30, and Detra, 34, both of Eau Claire, Wis., were washed up on the shore of the Mississippi river seven miles north of Alma, Wis., last night, victims of the violent snow and windstorm. The men apparently had been hunting ducks in the vicinity.
 
Duck Hunters Marooned
 
Warner’s Hardware must have had this ad on standby, ready to appear after the first big storm. It ran alongside storm coverage inside the Minneapolis Morning Tribune on Nov. 12, 1940.

Warner'€™s Hardware must have had this ad on standby, ready to appear after the first big storm. It ran alongside storm coverage inside the Minneapolis Morning Tribune on Nov. 12, 1940.

 
Hundreds of Holiday duck hunters were marooned – 100 along the Mississippi river between Winona and Wabasha, and another 100 near Parkers Prairie, in addition to smaller parties in various sections. One group on an island near Winona was rescued by a government tow boat.
 
In Minneapolis, where the rush hour of automobile traffic late in the day packed ice into the ruts of trolley rails, street cars were practically at a standstill by nightfall. Every available plow, 17 in the Twin Cities, of which 11 were in Minneapolis, got on the job, but the fact that nearly 40 street cars were of tracks in various parts of the city served to stall the plows, too. Under the direction of Fred Bjorck, general superintendent of the Twin City Lines, an all-night fight was made to open up street car traffic.
 
Early today Mr. Bjorck said it appeared likely that most lines would be open to the public in time to get to work today.
 
Pack Ice Into Tracks
 
Not only did motorists pack ice into the streetcar tracks, but in some instances, motorists who got stalled on tracks locked their cars and abandoned them. Ice on trolley wires also served to handicap the service.
 
In the effort to open up the lines, Mr. Bjorck made arrangements to hire a number of city trucks to help the streetcar company. These, in turn, supplemented a fleet of private trucks hired by the company.
 
Streetcar busses were blocked as well as the street cars by the traffic jam, and by icy hills.
 
Games Called Off
 
The storm came on a holiday, when schools were closed. Holiday football games between prep school teams were called off, and Armistice day ceremonies, including a parade in Minneapolis, were curtailed or cancelled entirely.
 
In Minneapolis, the prevailing wind was 27 miles an hour from the northwest, though gusts at times reached 40 to 50 miles. By 7 p.m., the moisture brought by rain and snow measured 2.13 inches in a 24-hour period. There was a high temperature of 38 degrees at 3 a.m. yesterday and then throughout the day and the night, the mercury fell steadily.
 
Communications Hard Hit
 
The fact that telephone and telegraph service was hard hit added to the isolation of various communities of the northwest. Towns were cut off from towns and farms from farms. Scores of communities were able to grope about only within their own immediate snowbound areas and could only surmise what was going on in other places.
 
The storm brought special handicaps to various services.
 
Power company officials, fighting to restore lines, were hampered by road and street conditions, which made use of trucks and automobiles nearly impossible. It was difficult, too, because of the condition of communications, to locate fallen wires.
 
It was the worst November storm in years, and it was all the more demoralizing because it marked a swift turn from rain to snow, with little warning. Railroads, street car companies and other transportation agencies were caught by surprise and were not immediately prepared to muster equipment and crews. That gave the storm quite a headstart.
 
Then, too, because of poor visibility and the danger of accidents, snowplows were kept off the highways in many sections.
 
The Milwaukee railroad’s westbound transcontinental Olympian train, which left Minneapolis at 9:25 a.m., got as far as Bird Island, Minn., 98 miles west of Minneapolis, where it was tied up because broken wires interfered with the dispatching system. From their car windows, the passengers watched the drifts pile up around them.
 
A dozen other trains were either halted or slowed down.
 

 

5 Get Rides Home When
Ambulances Answer Calls

 
Fifteen persons, stymied in efforts to get rides, thought of a novel solution to their problem. They went to the General hospital receiving station to await ambulances calls which might send an ambulance to their section of town. Five rides were obtained this way.
 

 
CHIP OF WOOD HITS EYE
 
At the peak of the storm Claus Johnson, 57, who lives in a small cottage at Twenty-seventh avenue north and the river, was chopping wood to replenish low fuel stock. A chip hit him in the eye, perforating his eye-ball. He was in fair condition in General hospital.
 

 
Mrs. Anna Tollefson, police matron, was hostess for the night to 30 women, who, marooned in the loop, sought lodging in the matron’s quarters. An emergency kitchen was set up, and sandwiches were served to about 100 people. A number of men were given lodging in the city jail.
 

 
HOUSE IS RAZED WHILE FIREMEN BATTLE DRIFTS
 
The two-story home of Nick Smith at Nineteenth Av. S. and Sixty-sixth St. in Richfield burned to the ground last night while a Richfield fire truck was trying to reach the home. Three times the truck was blocked by stalled cars — first at Portland Av. and Sixty-sixth street, then, as it tried another route, at Cedar Av. and Seventy-eighth St., and, on its third and final unsuccessful effort to reach the blaze, at Thirty-fourth Av. S. and Seventy-eighth St. For an hour and a half, while they futilely tossed buckets of water on the blaze, Smith and his neighbors could hear the siren of the fire truck as it cruised to the vicinity.
 

Nov. 5, 1884: 'Slippery Jim' Blaine’s goose is cooked

Posted by: Ben Welter under Corruption, Minnesota History, Government Updated: November 4, 2014 - 5:24 PM
 
The St. Paul Daily Globe made a hell of a front page out of scandal-plagued James G. Blaine's defeat in the 1884 presidential election. That’s "Slippery Jim" in the cartoon at the top of the page, served up on a platter, the damning words “MY DEAR FISHER” and “BURN THIS LETTER” stamped on his goose feet. The winner, Grover Cleveland, isn’t even mentioned until the sixth headline.
 

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