Ride4Reparations was conceived in the fall of 2019. It was born on Saturday, August 15, 2020, when seven intrepid cyclists set out to explore the legacy of slavery in South Minneapolis. The group included both the beneficiaries of slavery (4) and descendants of the enslaved (3). We visited the Lee House at 46th and Columbus, the Tilsonbuilt Homes neighborhood, the 38th and 4th business district, the George Floyd memorial, the Nacirema, and Sharon Sayles Belton Plaza.
The Arthur and Edith Lee House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1931 the Lee family moved into a previously all white community. They were not greeted warmly. Four years earlier, the Eugene Field Neighborhood Association had gone so far as to ask homeowners to sign a contract stating that they would only sell their properties to Caucasians, a practice known as restrictive covenants.
Closely related to restrictive covenants is redlining, the practice by which designated neighborhoods where descendants of enslaved people lived as “hazardous” and lenders were discouraged from making loans. Thus, a program designed to make home ownership affordable was denied to people of African descent.
A short ride from the Lee House is Tilsenbilt Homes. Now designated a historic district, Tilsenbilt Homes was a mid-1950s response to the segregation that the Lee House exemplifies. A collaboration between Jewish builder Edward Tilsen and African-American Realtor Archie Givens broke the segregation practices of the federal government and built 53 homes in a previously nearly all white area of south Minneapolis. 90% of the buyers were African-American or mixed race.
The intersection of 38th Street and 4th Avenue South was the business district at the center of Black life in south Minneapolis during the most segregated time and continues until today. Our group stopped at the intersection and was introduced to much of its history. This article in the Southwest Journal from March 2019 describes a lot of that history and many of the current efforts to revive the area.
One of our stops that was not mentioned in the Southwest Journal article is the Nacirema Club, a private entertainment club that catered to African-Americans when they were not welcome at white venues. This article mentions several of the artists who performed there.
The murder of George Floyd at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis by a Minneapolis police officer was the catalyst for a worldwide awakening to the inequality of the races in America today. The agonizing image of a white policeman casually snuffing out the life of a Black man has drawn innumerable responses. One response is to argue that (at least some of) American policing has its roots in catching and controlling enslaved people. Our stop at the memorial and the nearby cemetery memorial to those killed by police was the most moving feature of our ride.
Our last stop was more positive. It was at a plaza and sculpture to the first Black and the first female mayor of Minneapolis, Sharon Sayles Belton. It was the conclusion of what everyone said was a worthwhile bike ride.