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Minneapolis lags on black history listings

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 15, 2014 - 1:41 PM

The recent addition of the Arthur and Edith Lee house to the National Register of Historic Places highlights the paucity of black-oriented Minneapolis sites on the prestigious federal list.

St. Paul boasts five of the state's nine national register sites associated with black history.  The Lee home at 4600 Columbus Av. S. represents only the second such black-oriented listing for Minneapolis on the national list. It was the site of mob gatherings of thousands in 1931 when a black family bought the home in an all-white neighborhood.

To be sure, there may be additional sites that have been designated as worthy of historic preservation as important parts of the city's heritage under a local preservation ordinance. But one can use the city's searchable map of such landmarks to scan areas of long significance historically for black residents, such as the South Side area around Hosmer library, or the entire North Side, without finding a single locally designated site with an obvious association with black history or residents. That's aside from the city's lone other national regisrter site associated with black history, the Lena O. Smith home.

But one group has no trouble finding a collection of sites associated with or commemorating black history. That's the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota, a group of black cyclists.

The club is sponsoring its annual Dark2Dawn ride on Aug. 23. The all-nght ride begins at 9 p.m. at Martin Luther King Park, 4055 Nicollet Av. S., winds to about a dozen sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and ends with a 6 a.m. breakfast. Registration is required for the $25 event that's a fundraiser for the club, named after the legendary black cyclist who competed professionally at the turn of the 19th century, setting world records for speed.

The moderately paced ride of about 50 miles is billed as a tour through African-American historical geography, and will feature speakers at each site.  In Minneapolis, the tour includes the Lee house, the historically black E. 38th Street and 4th Avenue S. business district, the Minnesota African American Museum, Bassett Creek and the Van White Bridge, the J.D. Rivers garden, the Homewood subdivision in the Willard-Hay neighborhood, and Morrill Hall at the University of Minnesota. St. Paul sites include St. Peter Claver and Pilgrim Baptist churches, the Hallie Q. Brown complex with Penumba Theatre, Minnesota History Center, and Union Depot. More information is at: http://tinyurl.com/m9kzhso

Until the Lee house designation, the only national register listing associated with black history in Minneapolis was the home of Lena O. Smith, an early black lawyer, and a longtime leader in the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP. She also representated the Lees in their negotiations with the the white-dominated homeowners association.

One black-oriented business long at the corner of 38th and 4th, the 80-year-old Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, is being considered for local designation.  More may emerge next year. That's when the city's heritage preservation staff hopes to focus more on properties associated with people of color, according to city planner John Smoley.

(Photo above: The Lena O. Smith house at 3905 5th Av. S., was the only Minneapolis site associated with black history on the National Register of Historic Places until July.)

        

      

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