Pearl Lindstrom, who embraced commemorating the horrific racial history of the Minneapolis house in which she'd unknowingly lived for over 50 years, is dead at 92.
Lindstrom’s death was confirmed Thursday by the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office. No other details were available.
Lindstrom lived at her Columbus Avenue house for more than 50 years. Not until several years ago did she become aware that it was the site of huge racially motivated demonstrations in 1931 in which mobs of thousands of whites tried to force out a black couple, Arthur and Edith Lee, and their small daughter.
Once she learned that ugly truth however, she embraced the efforts by neighborhood leaders to commemorate the Lee family’s stand against intolerance. A marker commemorating the incidents was installed in 2011 in a corner of her front yard, and the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year, something she wanted before she died.
She often flew a U.S. flag from the porch of her white craftsman house, and she told a University of Minnesota researcher this about her inherited house history: “Oh, it means a lot to me; I’m a U.S. citizen, and I’ve been through a war. This house stands for freedom! You know, that freedom that they talk about? Well, some people believe in it and some don’t. Yet, there are a lot of people that are prejudiced. When I tell people I’ve got a historical house, they say, ‘Oh really?’ Some say, ‘well, our house is historical, too.’ And I say, ‘well, this one is special.’”
Added Greg Donofrio, a University of Minnesota professor who helped to prepare the national register nomination: "I doubt I'll ever hear another person spontaneously explain so clearly why the history of a property was personally meaningful because it represented a broader set of values and ideals."
“She wanted people to realize that we can all get along regardless of their skin color,” Stearline Rucker, a staffer and former president of the Field Regina Northrop Neighborhood Group, who also helped resurrect the Lee history.
Lindstrom outlived two husbands, both ministers, Rucker said. “She said her faith grounded her in looking at people for who they are and beyond their skin color,” she said. She was exposed to a wide variety of people because of the international ministry of one of her husbands.
After World War II, Lindstrom continued working at Munsingwear despite societal pressures of the time. “She was one of those women, I would say, before her time,” Rucker said.
The Lees stuck out the hostility in their all-white neighborhood before moving about 10 blocks north to a traditionally black neighborhood. Their story remained only as lore among south Minneapolis black families until the 2001 publication of research by law professor Ann Juergens.
Lindstrom had one daughter, Carla Bielawski, who lived with her and found her dead at home Wednesday morning.
Video below from a 2014 Twin Cities Daily Planet interview: