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Kim Hines said she moved to Minneapolis’ South Side in 1994 and finds it to be a safe and diverse area.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Population shifts from historically black South Side

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • July 15, 2011 - 9:49 PM

The black-owned businesses clustered at 38th Street and 4th Avenue, the Masonic temple and the juke joint, next-door neighbors Sponee and Bessie Ratliff, who built their house in 1918: these are what Kim Hines remembers from growing up in the Central neighborhood of south Minneapolis at the dawn of the Civil Rights era.

"There's something about being in the neighborhood and everybody knows you," Hines said. The African-American playwright-actress moved back into the neighborhood in 1994, when her block was nearly all black, but these days, many of the institutions she used to know are gone, the buildings demolished or occupied by tenants with Spanish signs. Her mother and siblings have left the city for good.

In a trend mirrored by urban areas nationwide, the four neighborhoods that are the heart of the South Side's black community are now dominated by Latinos as African-Americans move to the suburbs. Census figures show that since 2000, the black population in the Central neighborhood dropped by more than 1,200 as the Latino population grew by nearly 1,800.

As of last year, Latinos made up 44 percent of Central's population, compared to 25 percent for blacks.

"The historically sharp racial and ethnic divisions between cities and suburbs in metropolitan America are more blurred than ever," said Brookings Institution demographer William Frey. "There is this broad movement of blacks to the suburbs and to the South. The movement to the suburbs is clearly one of the headlines of the 2010 census that we did not see before."

The shift is particularly notable in this part of south Minneapolis, where black population declines were double those in the North Side. The decline was steepest in a census tract lying between Chicago and Portland avenues with a 44 percent drop in black residents. The neighborhood had been the home of Central High School, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder newspaper and Sharon Sayles Belton, who became the city's first black and first female mayor after being the area's council member.

The growing diversity means black and Latino storefront churches renting the same space. It means masses and neighborhood meetings conducted in Spanish and English. It also means homes once occupied by their owners are now rented.

Forces such as the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and uneven schools prompted some of the black flight, while suburbs that once resisted diversity began accepting the middle class of any ethnicity.

2010 is the first census in which a majority of the seven-county area's black population lives outside its two central cities -- almost 50 years after that happened for whites. It's the first census in which blacks make up a majority of a suburban census tract -- straddling Interstate 694 in Brooklyn Park.

But to Hines, those expanded opportunities come at a cost. Although the Central and later also the Bryant neighborhood played second fiddle to the North Side as a center of gravity for the city's black population, it had its own business, social and academic institutions. Until school busing intervened, generations of neighborhood kids moved through Warrington Elementary, Bryant Junior High and then Central High. Two have long since been razed, and Bryant is now the Sabathani Community Center.

The wave of school closings "was just a death sentence to many folks," said Greg McMoore, who moved back to Central in the mid-1980s from Washington, D.C.

Back in the 1950s, for blacks in south Minneapolis, moving to the suburbs meant living south of 42nd Street. Now it's moving out of the city altogether.

Some younger people never looked back when they went off to college. Jeff Hayden, the area's state House member, said most of his cousins, with roots in Phillips and Central, live in the suburbs.

That was driven in part by feeling greater acceptance there, as well as by a persistent achievement gap in city schools. "I know all of my buddies have sent their children elsewhere," said Giovan Jenkins, who grew up in Bryant and remains there, coaching and working as a dean at Washburn High School, his alma mater.

He remains because he wants to be near family for stability for his grade-school daughter and finds it rewarding to coach the relatives of friends he grew up with at King Park. A few blocks away, McMoore expresses a similar commitment to the place he grew up while attending the community bulwark of St. Peter's African Methodist Episcopal Church on 4th Avenue South.

But while he, Hines and Hayden remain, their parents live in Plymouth, Brooklyn Park and Medina. They had the resources to leave when conditions deteriorated. Census data show that the vacancies left by departing blacks were overwhelmingly filled by Latino residents, a population that more than doubled in Central in 10 years, and whites to a far lesser extent. The area offers some well-crafted century-old homes at depressed prices that can accommodate larger Latino and Somali households. The Senate district including Central is now the state's most heavily Latino, at 20 percent.

Jill Garcia, who grew up in Richfield but now lives in Field neighborhood, is a face of today's South Side. Despite the changes that some bemoan, Garcia said the community has adapted.

"What I find in the neighborhood is acceptance," she said. "There's not any of the bias that you would normally get."

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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