Two women, both legendary for their leadership roles in the black community, were commemorated Friday when the Minneapolis City Council renamed parallel six-block stretches of S. 3rd and 4th avenues in their honor.
Clarissa Rogers Walker Way, honoring a community organizer and leader at the Sabathani Community Center, runs between E. 36th and 42nd streets on 3rd Avenue. Launa Q. Newman Way, named for the longtime publisher of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, is on S. 4th Avenue between E. 36th and 42nd streets. The community center and newspaper office happen to occupy the same square block, between 37th and 38th streets in the Bryant neighborhood.
Walker, who died in 2011, created the Sabathani Family Resource Center to provide emergency housing, a food shelf and a clothing shelf for youths and families in the area. She brought Southside Neighborhood Housing Services, a national affordable housing program, to Minnesota in the 1970s.
She gathered food and clothing for families in crisis. She also helped residents plant a community garden on Sabathani property, and helped people in the community file their taxes and collect refunds.
“She was the community’s mom,” daughter Sara Rogers said when Walker died.
A Kansas City native who moved to Minneapolis in the mid-1950s, Walker transitioned from work as a nursing assistant to social work and community organizing. Her youngest daughter, Neva Walker, was Minnesota’s first black female legislator, serving four terms in the state House.
Newman, who died in 2009, served for 30 years as publisher, president and CEO of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. The 85-year-old paper is the oldest black-owned newspaper in Minnesota and one of the longest-standing family-owned newspapers in the country.
Newman was born in Kansas, grew up in Iowa and moved to Minneapolis in 1958. Nine years later, she married Cecil Newman, who founded the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder in 1934. They worked side by side: He focused on editorial content, she managed the business.
When Cecil Newman died in 1976, Newman immediately took the reins. Naysayers said she could not keep the papers going, but she proved them wrong. She ushered the newspapers into the era of electronic publishing. In 2007, Newman merged the publications to create the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, which has a circulation of about 10,000. It celebrated its 85th anniversary this year.
“She was the saving force behind the newspapers,” Tracey Williams-Dillard, Newman’s granddaughter and the current CEO and publisher of the Spokesman-Recorder, said when Newman died. “She took pride as an African-American woman to run a newspaper with such elegance.”