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A History of Minneapolis: an Overview by Staff at the Hennepin County Library

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Featuring historical photos and items from the collections of the Hennepin County Library, with contemporary photos from the Phototour of Minneapolis by Chris Gregerson.

20th Century Growth and Diversity

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By 1930, the Swedes had become the largest foreign-born group in every section of the city except in the heavily eastern European First and Third wards. The Norwegians followed as the second largest group. Danish settlers, the third largest group, originally settled on the west bank of the Mississippi River, under the Washington Avenue Bridge, in an area known as the "Danish Flats." Other immigrant groups eventually settled there as well. As Slovaks, Poles, French Canadians, Germans, and Irish settled in the area it became known as the "Bohemian Flats." Depending on proximity to the river, rents ranged from an average of $15 to $25 per year. While the inhabitants were poor, the housing crude, and the landscape inhospitable, the community possessed a strong spirit. It recovered from periodic floods but finally was dismantled in 1931 to make way for municipal coal docks.

Bohemian Flats.
Minneapolis Collection, Uncat Photo Neighborhoods: Bohemian Flats

Phyllis Wheatley Settlement House at 809 Aldrich Avenue North (1936).
Minneapolis Collection, M0901

Bandshell at Juneteenth Celebration, Glenwood Avenue at Wirth Park, June 2000
Photo courtesy of Chris Gregerson

By 1880, there were 362 Blacks in Minneapolis, and by 1930 the Black population numbered 4,176. The Black community tended to concentrate in two areas--on the near north side of the city and on the south side near Fourth Avenue South and 38th Street. The first African-American Church organized in Minneapolis was the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1863. The Minneapolis Urban League was established in 1925 to assist African-Americans in overcoming obstacles in employment, education, housing, health care and social services. One of its prominent leaders was Gleason Glover, who served the organization from 1967 to 1992. The Minneapolis Spokesman, edited by Cecil E. Newman and focused on the African-American community, began publishing in 1934.

The Jewish community was comprised of German Jews who arrived earliest, followed by Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian Jews, and finally Romanian Jews. These groups tended to settle in one of three areas: the near north side of the city, on the south side between Chicago and Cedar Avenues near Franklin Avenue, and near Lake Calhoun. The City's first major synagogue, dedicated in 1880, was Shaarai Tov ("Gates of Goodness"), located on Fifth Street between First and Second Avenues South. It later was named Temple Israel and is presently located at 24th Street and Hennepin Avenue. One of its illustrious rabbis was Samuel N. Deinard. Rabbi Deinard worked to unite the various ethnic groups within the Jewish community. He was devoted to social justice beyond the Jewish community as well, and served as the first president of the local chapter of the NAACP. A more recent wave of Russian immigration to Minnesota began in the late 1980s. Since 1987, more than 3,000 Russian-speaking Jews have settled in Minneapolis, constituting 10% of its Jewish population.

Gypsy camp, possibly by Cedar Avenue and the Mississippi River, circa 1926.
Minneapolis Collection, Uncat Photo Nationalities: Gypsy

Welcoming signs to the national convention of the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association (1940). Minneapolis chapter was located at 318 South Third Street.
Minneapolis Collection, Uncat Photo Nationalities: Chinese

Reverend Daisuke Kitagawa at St. Mark's Church
Minneapolis Collection, Uncat Photo Portrait: Kitagawa, Daisuke

The City's Asian residents have come from China, the Philippines, Japan, and Korea, and in the past thirty years, from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. Minneapolis had the largest Chinese settlement in the state in the early decades of the 20th Century. Westminster Presbyterian Church had Chinese-language services in 1918, and the congregation's Chinese members started a Chinese language weekly newspaper. The first large scale Japanese-American migration to the state, and to Minneapolis, occurred during World War II as the War Relocation Authority, recognizing the harmful effects of the detention camps, relocated the internees to other parts of the country. From 1942 to 1948, between 6,000 and 10,000 persons of Japanese descent came to the state. Most eventually returned to the West Coast. A national leader who remained in Minnesota was Rev. Daisuke Kitagawa. He was the director of the Japanese American Community Center at 2200 Blaisdell Avenue (established in 1947), and served on the Mayor's Human Relations Council in the 1940s.

Man applying for U.S. citizenship at an adult education naturalization class in 1940.
Minneapolis Collection, M2289

Historically, the Mexican-American population of the Twin Cities has largely been concentrated in St. Paul's West Side. The 1990s saw a burgeoning Latino population in Minneapolis, particularly in the Powderhorn, Phillips, Whittier, Central, and Lyndale neighborhoods. In 1999, a mercado--a retail center comprised of several dozen Hispanic businesses owners and operators--opened on Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue.

Native Americans began returning to the Twin Cities in large numbers during the 1950s, largely the result of the Bureau of Indian Affairs program to relocate reservation Indians to urban areas. Of the major cities in the United States, Minneapolis had the fourth highest percentage of American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut people in the 1990 census (behind Anchorage, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City). The city, however, lost nearly 4,000 Indians to outstate Minnesota in 1990s, perhaps due to the healthy casino economy coupled with the desire to return to the reservation. The American Indian Movement (A.I.M.), which brought Indian issues, sovereignty, and treaty rights to the public's attention, was founded in Minneapolis in 1968.

Unfortunately, over the course of the city's history, not all were made to feel welcome. Immigrants often faced job, housing, and racial discrimination. By one estimate, there were as many as 10 active Ku Klux Klan chapters in Minneapolis in 1923. Their attacks were broadly focused on nonwhites, socialists, Jews, Catholics, and the new Communist threat. The Klan popularity quickly lost ground amidst scandals surrounding its leadership based in Indianapolis. Sociologist Carey McWilliams named Minneapolis the most anti-Semitic city in the United States in 1946. Stung by this designation, Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey established the city's civil rights commission that same year (then known as the Mayor's Commission on Human Rights.) The Commission operated without public funds and exercised no powers save those of education and persuasion. In its first year, the Commission sponsored a training program in race relations for police officers and helped prepare the way for the enactment of a fair employment practice ordinance. Minneapolis later elected a Jewish mayor, Arthur Naftalin, in 1961. The Phyllis Wheatley House was established in 1920 in North Minneapolis as a settlement house where Blacks could reside and enjoy community life. The Rainbow Club, organized by Reverend Daisuke Kitagawa, served to help Japanese American families who were facing racial prejudice settle in the area.

According to the 1990 census, foreign-born residents numbered 6% of the city's total population. Since 1990, there has been a significant wave of immigration to the city, bringing immigrants, many of whom are refugees from Africa (including a large Somali contingent), Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Today there is an effort among the public and private sectors to offer services for, and combat discrimination against, new arrivals to Minneapolis, building on the city's social service tradition while striving to avoid the mistakes of the past.

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