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This content is shared with MinnPost by MNopedia, the digital encyclopedia created by the Minnesota Historical Society and supported by the Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

The history of Minneapolis’ Southside African American community

The Southside was a stable neighborhood of working and middle-class African Americans, many of whom owned their homes. Residents formed a tight-knit community with businesses, churches, and social clubs.

historic photo of storefronts in southside neighborhood
U-Meet-Us, Black Senior Citizens Lounge, and Minneapolis Urban League, East 38th St and 4th Ave, Minneapolis, 1975.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Minneapolis historically has been home to a small but vibrant African American population. From the 1930s to the 1970s, an African American neighborhood flourished on the city’s Southside, between East Thirty-Fourth and Forty-Sixth Streets and from Nicollet Avenue to Chicago Avenue.

In the early twentieth century, restrictive housing covenants in deeds discriminated against Blacks and limited them to living in certain areas. Homeowners and realtors refused to sell houses to them in white neighborhoods. As a result, three distinct Black neighborhoods developed in Minneapolis. The first two emerged on the near Northside and in Seven Corners.

By the 1930s, African Americans had begun to move to South Minneapolis. They came along with an influx of Blacks from southern states who were moving north in a demographic shift known as the “Great Migration.” The city’s third Black neighborhood developed on the Southside, between East Thirty-Fourth and Forty-Sixth Streets and from Nicollet Avenue to Chicago Avenue. The area, first populated by Swedes and Norwegians, now attracted many African Americans. In the 2010s, the Central, Bryant, and Regina neighborhoods make up what was historically known as the Southside.

The Southside was a stable neighborhood of working and middle-class African Americans, many of whom owned their homes. Residents formed a tight-knit community with businesses, churches, and social clubs. The corridor along Fourth Avenue South was the Black community’s residential heart. Thirty-Eighth Street and Fourth Avenue was the center of the Black business district, with over twenty Black-owned businesses from the 1930s to the 1970s.

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One of the neighborhood’s first businesses was Dreamland Café, which opened in 1939 and was owned by Anthony B. Cassius. Later, Cassius operated a private club on the Southside called the Nacirema (“American” spelled backwards). Local artists performed at the Nacirema before they became famous, including Prince, Flyte Tyme (The Time), and Alexander O’Neal.

Alvedia Smith, the daughter of Anthony and Florence Cassius, said the Southside was a nice neighborhood. Smith worked at Dreamland Café when she was a teenager, making sandwiches for customers. Her aunt owned Bea’s Beauty Shop, her father and uncle owned a real estate company, and her father was chairman of the Associated Negro Credit Union, which was established in 1937.

Another pioneer Southside business was the 38th Street Delicatessen, owned by Donald (Pat) and Pearl Schofield. Sandra Schofield Miller said her father opened a bakery specializing in wedding cakes before closing it and opening the delicatessen in the 1940s.

Miller and her sister, Marcia Schofield Dudley, worked at the restaurant, which was a community meeting place. Men stopped by for coffee in the mornings, and in the afternoons, students from Bryant Junior High ate the “blue plate special” lunch. Miller said out-of-town Black entertainers dined at the restaurant when they stayed with Black families on the Southside because they could not stay at white hotels downtown. Miller recalled that Frankie Lymon ate at the restaurant and kissed the back of her hand.

The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (formerly the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder), the oldest continuously operated Black newspaper in Minnesota, was founded in 1934 by Cecil Newman. In 1958 it moved to 3744 Fourth Avenue South. In 2015, the Spokesman-Recorder celebrated its eightieth anniversary and was designated a historic landmark.

Construction of I-35W in 1959 razed more than fifty square blocks and divided Southside residents from one another. The neighborhood changed further in the 1980s and the 2000s, when it was negatively impacted by rising crime, harsh economic conditions, and the crack cocaine epidemic. The closing of the last local school, Central High School, in 1982, destroyed the neighborhood’s cohesiveness. All of the African American businesses closed except the Spokesman-Recorder. The demographics of the Central and Bryant neighborhoods changed as the white and Black populations decreased. The Hispanic population also increased, surpassing both the Black and white populations.

In 2015, community members expressed interest in preserving the African American history in the neighborhood. The City of Minneapolis explored a historic designation for the Tilsenbilt Homes, a group of over fifty houses in the Bryant and Regina neighborhoods. They were built from 1954 to 1956 by Edward Tilsen and sold to Blacks with the assistance of Archie Givens and the Minneapolis Urban League. Another historic landmark in the neighborhood is the home of Lena O. Smith, who was the first female African American attorney in Minneapolis.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.