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Civil Unrest on Plymouth Avenue, Minneapolis, 1967

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Black and white photograph of National Guardsmen patrolling Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, July 1967.

Civilians and National Guardsmen on Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, July 1967.

On the night of July 19, 1967, racial tension in North Minneapolis erupted along Plymouth Avenue in a series of acts of arson, assaults, and vandalism. The violence, which lasted for three nights, is often linked with other race-related demonstrations in cities across the nation during 1967’s “long hot summer.”

In the early twentieth century, North Minneapolis was known as a place where marginalized people came together. Restrictive housing covenants prevented both Jewish and African American citizens from buying homes elsewhere in Minneapolis, so the Northside became an area where residents from different backgrounds cooperated, built friendships, and even intermarried.

After World War II, however, trust between the two groups began to erode. As overtly anti-Semitic practices declined, housing options and job opportunities opened up more readily for Jewish citizens than for African Americans, straining relationships between previously friendly neighbors.

Civil rights leader W. Harry Davis described that unrest in his 2002 autobiography. North Minneapolis in the 1960s, he stated, was no longer the quiet, isolated small city of his youth. The anger over racial inequality that bubbled to the surface in places like Los Angeles and Detroit was also present in Minneapolis. Though some scholars refer to the events as riots, others argue that they were a series of criminal activities. Many, however, use terms like “uprising” and “rebellion” that suggest a strategic response to social injustice.

The city had two major incidents of civil unrest on the Northside in the 1960s. The first, in 1966, involved looting and arson on Plymouth Avenue. Arthur Naftalin, the city’s first Jewish mayor, acknowledged the lack of opportunities for blacks in the neighborhood and promised change in response. By the summer of 1967, conditions had not improved, and black residents’ frustration was stronger than ever.

Accounts vary as to how the 1967 incidents started. Some witnesses recall the mistreatment of a black woman by police at the Aquatennial parade as the inciting event. Shortly before 11:30 p.m. on July 19, a crowd of African American citizens moved north from the parade site towards Plymouth Avenue. There, they violently protested discrimination and mistreatment by police and Jewish business owners.

Some people in the crowd vandalized, looted, and burned stores on Plymouth Avenue. There were sporadic incidents of arson, rock and bottle throwing, and assault. Someone threw Molotov cocktails at the home of a Jewish city-councilman—Minneapolis Fifth Ward Alderman Joe Greenstein.

The city dispatched police forces with riot helmets and shotguns to control the crowds and minimize the damage. While trying to put out fires, some firefighters worked under a hail of rocks and bricks thrown by gathering crowds.

By the time the violence and looting subsided early in the morning of July 20, approximately ten Plymouth Avenue stores had been vandalized. Silver’s Food Market and Knox Food Market—both Jewish-owned businesses—were completely destroyed by fires. Approximately ten people were treated at local hospitals, and thirteen African American citizens—including children—were arrested. Another round of violence ignited later that day.

In response, Mayor Naftalin asked Governor Harold LeVander for Minnesota National Guard troops to occupy the area until tensions died down. Six hundred guardsmen were called in to work in round-the-clock shifts. For over a week, 150–250 National Guard troops were stationed on Plymouth Avenue.

Additional Guardsmen were stationed in other areas in both North and South Minneapolis and in predominantly African American areas of St. Paul. The peacekeeping efforts of many Northside citizens during the demonstrations were acknowledged in some media coverage.

On July 20 and 21, violence continued sporadically on and near Plymouth Avenue before tapering off. In total, there were eighteen fires, thirty-six arrests, three shootings, twenty-four injuries, and damages totaling 4.2 million. Of the arrests that were made, at least four were of white citizens. There were no fatalities.

Throughout the three-day period, demonstrators had showed their frustration with discrimination against African Americans on the Northside. They had focused most of their anger on white authority symbols, including businesses and property. Local police received few reports of assaults on white citizens themselves.

The media generally cited newcomers and a militant minority in North Minneapolis as the cause of the violence. Some local press addressed systemic causes—including alienation and racism– and called on community leaders and policymakers to prevent future violent incidents.

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“600 Guards Mobilized to Keep Order in City.” Minneapolis Tribune, July 22, 1967.

Bergin, Daniel. Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center. DVD. St. Paul: Twin Cities Public Television, 2011.

Blade, Joe. “White People Blamed for Plymouth Rioting: Negroes Heard by Clergy.” Minneapolis Star, July 25, 1967.

Davis, Harry W. Overcoming: The Autobiography W. Harry Davis. Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society Press, 2002.

“Fires, Fights Continue on North Side.” Minneapolis Tribune, July 21, 1967.

Goldberg, Scott. “North Minneapolis: Past and Present.” KARE 11 News, July 10, 2007.

“Guard Force in City Cut After Second Quiet Night.” Minneapolis Tribune, July 24, 1967.

“Guardsmen Sent Into Minneapolis: Governor Provides 600 Men—Fire Breaks Out.” New York Times, July 22, 1967.

Hoegemeyer, Marilyn. “North Side Residents Demand Action by City.” Minneapolis Tribune, July 24, 1967.

Maddox, Camille Venne. “The Way Opportunities Unlimited Inc.: A Movement for Black Equality in Minneapolis, MN, 1966–1970.” Thesis. Emory College of Arts and Sciences, 2013.

“Mayor Talk Won’t Quell Violence.” Minneapolis Tribune, July 22, 1967.

“Minneapolis Calls Guard to End Riots.” Chicago Tribune, July 22, 1967.

“The Minneapolis Riot That Wasn't.” Minneapolis Tribune, July 21, 1967.

Rohan, Barry. “Police and Troops Are Still on Alert in 2 Areas of City.” Minneapolis Tribune, July 23, 1967.

Records of The Way, Inc., 1966–1974
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
https://mplus.mnpals.net/vufind/Record/001713520
Description: Subject files, including correspondence, minutes, fund raising files, budgetary and other financial information, programming files, public relations materials, and printed matter, documenting the organization and activities of a voluntary association serving the black community on the north side of Minneapolis.

Rosh, B. Joseph. “Black Empowerment in 1960s Minneapolis: Promise, Politics and the Impact of the National Urban Narrative.” Master’s thesis, St. Cloud State University, 2013.
http://www.stcloudstate.edu/graduatestudies/overview/documents/JoeRoshThesis.pdf

Wiese, Gloria J. “History of North Minneapolis.” Youth Resources.
http://www.youthresources.ws/history-of-north-mpls/

Related Images

Black and white photograph of National Guardsmen patrolling Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, July 1967.
Black and white photograph of National Guardsmen patrolling Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, July 1967.
Black and white photograph of the intersection of Washington Avenue and Plymouth Avenue North in North Minneapolis, January 31, 1955.
Black and white photograph of the intersection of Washington Avenue and Plymouth Avenue North in North Minneapolis, January 31, 1955.
Black and white photograph of the aftermath of civil unrest in North Minneapolis, July 1967. Photographed by Twiggs.
Black and white photograph of the aftermath of civil unrest in North Minneapolis, July 1967. Photographed by Twiggs.
Black and white photograph of boarded-up storefronts on Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, July 1967. Photographed by Twiggs.
Black and white photograph of boarded-up storefronts on Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, July 1967. Photographed by Twiggs.
Black and white photograph of boarded-up storefronts on Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, July 1967. Photographed by Twiggs.
Black and white photograph of boarded-up storefronts on Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, July 1967. Photographed by Twiggs.
Black and white photograph of National Guardsmen patrolling Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, July 1967.
Black and white photograph of National Guardsmen patrolling Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, July 1967.

Turning Point

On July 19, 1967, frustrated by longstanding racial inequality and unmet promises for change, among other things, African American residents of North Minneapolis violently protest discrimination and mistreatment by police and Jewish business owners.

Chronology

1950s

Unequal housing and job opportunities strain previously friendly relationships between the Northside’s black and Jewish communities. Though many Jewish people move out of the neighborhood, several Jewish-owned businesses remain open on Plymouth Avenue.

1965

African Americans make up 4 percent of Minnesota’s population. A large number of newly arrived immigrants settle on the “Near North Side.”

August 1966

After incidents of looting and arson in North Minneapolis, Mayor Arthur Naftalin meets with representatives of the black community and promises to help improve local conditions.

1966

The Way Opportunities Unlimited, Inc. (The Way) opens in North Minneapolis. It attempts to empower the black community and provide economic opportunities.

Summer 1967

Opportunities for black citizens in North Minneapolis remain poor.

July 19, 1967

Violence erupts on Plymouth Avenue just before 11:30 p.m. Knox Food Market, a Jewish-owned business, is set on fire.

11:30 p.m.

Molotov cocktails are thrown at the home of Minneapolis Fifth Ward Alderman Joe Greenstein.

11:48 p.m.

Riot police arrive in North Minneapolis to restore order.

July 20, 1967

At 12:15 a.m., a crowd moves toward the Homewood Theater, a Jewish-owned venue. Police make several arrests.

11:30 p.m.

Alderman Greenstein’s garage is set on fire, but saved.

July 21, 1967

Samuel Simmons, an African American man, is shot at Wayne’s Bar at 12:30 AM.

12:30 a.m.

Silver’s Food Market and Country House Market—two Jewish-owned businesses— are set on fire.

1:05 a.m.

Police arrive and form a skirmish line.

9:15 a.m.

National Guardsmen arrive.

July 22, 1967

The unrest ends. National Guardsmen continue to occupy North Minneapolis for one week.