The four people who opened fire on Black Lives Matter protesters on Nov. 23 have been called “white supremacists,” but in charging them Monday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman had a better descriptor: “sick people.”
That’s understating it. I know the animal fairly well, having spent time among the mooks and written about the rise of Nazi youth and the Ku Klux Klan for City Pages in 1991. I’ve kept an ear out for their pathetic proceedings ever since, and from the sounds of things, the rodents are still out there, albeit underground, with the attack on the peaceful BLM protesters their most visible action in many years.
But at an anti-racism rally at a park in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood 25 years ago, they were emboldened by their numbers — 30 or so — and a gang of them tried to intimidate me and photographer Daniel Corrigan by calling us “nigger lovers,” screaming about how everyone from “the Jews” to “the niggers and gooks” had ruined their all-white world. Coming from cars cruising past these jarheads, whom had pinned me and Corrigan up against the hood of a car in a semi-circle, were cries of, “White power!”
“Racially conscious white people need to preserve their heritage and culture,” said one redneck to me matter-of-factly, like he was reciting an elementary school lesson. “That’s the number on thing. Blacks got black pride, gays got gay pride, but if a white man speaks out for his race, he will be put down as a Nazi and labeled a racist.”
And so on, and so repeated by their kin-sheep before the shootings last week. In the reporting of the story, I witnessed an unforgettable scene: a club in East St. Paul full of racist skinheads making the Nazi salute over a self-conscious mosh pit to the strains of a sonically timid and soulless hardcore punk rock band called Bound For Glory. I reported on the history of the Ku Klux Klan, which boasted 51 chapters in Minnesota in the 1920s and ’30s, complete with cross burnings and initiation ceremonies at Cedar Lake and St. Paul. The Minnesota Daily contended at the time that “many U of M students” were Klan members.
The main piece was on two skinheads from St. Paul’s Eastside, hometown of Lt. Bob Kroll, the current president of the Minneapolis police union and a member of the City Heat Motorcycle Club, a biker gang that the Anti-Defamation League has referred to as “Bigots on Bikes” who “has members who have openly displayed white supremacist symbols.”
All this institutional racism, and the race war-baiting rhetoric the shooters used at the 4th Precinct occupation, proved once again that racism is a learned thing, passed down from generation to generation. With the help of the Minnesota Historical Society and local historian Jeanne Anderson, here’s how little black lives have mattered in Minnesota, leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1968:
In 1920, three black carnival workers were accused of raping a white girl and lynched. No one was convicted of the crime.
In 1921, Minnesota passed the nation’s first anti-lynching law and the Klan set up shop in Minneapolis.
In 1924, the “country club division” Edina was founded. The subdivision, built by Samuel Thorpe, was meant from the beginning to be a whites-only suburb. Homebuyers faced many restrictions, most notably that occupants were strictly restricted to the “white or Caucasian race.”
A 1927 flier advertising lots in the Norwaldo neighborhood of St. Louis Park read, “No lots sold to colored people or unnaturalized foreigners, belonging to the ‘Dago’ class.”
In 1931, African-American couple Arthur and Edith Lee purchased their home at 4600 Columbus Avenue. When word of the purchase spread in the previously all-white neighborhood, a mob of 4,000 people gathered, in an effort to force the family out of the small white bungalow.
In 1947, the Governor’s Interracial Commission of Minnesota issued a report on “The Negro and His Home in Minnesota.” Polling revealed that 63 percent would not sell their property to a black person, even if offered a higher price.
In 1948, Nat King Cole, in town for a show, was refused admittance to the Carnival Club in Minneapolis. He and his wife had been invited to a party there, and although the host was waiting for them, the maître de told Cole there was no room and used a racial slur. The next day the club issued an apology and said it was all a mistake, and Cole accepted the apology.
In the summer of 1956, the theme of the weekly radio show “Twin City Heartbeat” was “The Invisible Fence.” The show featured interviews with middle-class black residents, who told of their experiences and “what they endured in a supposedly tolerant Northern city.”
In 1959 the White House Restaurant at 4900 Olson Memorial Highway in Golden Valley refused to seat three black patrons, who sued and were awarded damages.
In 1966, North Minneapolis was overcome by protests for three days, when hundreds marched and gathered along Plymouth Avenue in protest of police brutality and profiling.
In 2015, a few hours ago, as pressure mounted for protesters to evacuate the three-week-old occupation of the 4th precinct police station, Black Lives MPLS tweeted, “60th anniversary of Rosa Parks yet our City is the best for Whites & the worst for Blacks #taleof2cities #justice4Jamar.”
All of which means we all need to look in the mirror and work harder for racial justice, and say something every time an idiot opens his mouth and the present reminds us that the past is not so long ago.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org