Southside Minneapolis

Prior to 1959, residents living in the planned corridor of 35W in South Minneapolis couldn’t have imagined what would become of their quiet, residential, tree-lined streets. The slice of the city between Nicollet and Chicago avenues, with 38th Street to the north and 46th Street to the south, was the hub of the black community in South Minneapolis, known as the Old Southside.[1] It was one of the few parts of the city where black residents were able to  own and rent their homes.


Racial Housing Discrimination

Old Southside Minneapolis and overlay of I-35W. Map created with Mapbox.

Policies encouraging racial housing discrimination were rampant throughout the 20th century, In the early 1900s, race wars popped up across Minneapolis. White homeowners felt increasingly threatened by the presence of black families in their neighborhoods. By 1910, the first racial covenant appeared in Minneapolis, barring anyone who wasn’t white from owning or occupying property. Covenants spread like wildfire throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the surrounding suburbs for decades, limiting access to housing for people of color.[2] Compounding the issue of racial covenants, real estate steering, in which realtors “steered” black homebuyers into established Black neighborhoods, ensured that communities of color had little chance of integrating into white neighborhoods. Redlining in the 1930s further devalued many neighborhoods where people of color could live. The Old Southside black community was one of the few integrated areas that existed for communities of color in the city.[3]

[The neighborhood] “helped to build a stable child-rearing environment for people of color as they migrated to the city.”

Old Southside was a neighborhood that working- and middle-class black Minneapolitans called home. One resident of the area stated that the black middle class in the Old Southside “owned their homes, had pretty houses, lawns and gardens”.[4] Another remarked that the neighborhood “helped to build a stable child-rearing environment for people of color as they migrated to the city”.[5]

Although the community was thriving, it was still plauged by discrimination. Patty Connelly, in her oral history interview with A Public History of 35W , recalled her experience in the area as a child. Her family was white and lived in  what they felt was an integrated community. Even though she was a young child in the 1950s, she could  recall the racial tension that permeated the otherwise tight-knit neighborhood. Connelly lived at 38th Street & 2nd Avenue South in the early 1950s. She described there being distinct racial boundaries: “4th Avenue was a line. It was an undesignated, well understood line. People of color lived on the east side of 4th Ave and white people lived on the west side of 4th ave. As I recall that’s pretty much how it was. Unspoken but clear.”[6]

Interview with Patty Connelly. March 2020. A Public History of 35W.



Community Division and Displacement

“Policy makers ignored the existence of an integrated neighborhood/community during their planning.”

Construction began on the I-35W corridor in South Minneapolis in 1959 when the Minnesota Department of Highways began demolishing more than 50 square blocks of homes and businesses. Planners and engineers decided the route the freeway would take. Residents in the area were not involved in the decision making process and “policy makers ignored the existence of an integrated neighborhood/community during their planning”.[7] I-35W plowed through the heart of the Southside black community. Residents of the area later interviewed said that the design of Interstate 35W, including the design and location of entrance ramps, exit ramps, and bridges significantly ‘“split and divided the community’””[8] and that “the routing had the cumulative effect of segregating the schools and creating a barrier between those on the east and west sides of the freeway””.[9]

The trench excavated for 35W in South Minneapolis. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

This local example echoed national trends in freeway displacement and disruption of communities of color. “By the 1960s, federal highway construction was demolishing 37,000 urban housing units each year […] and a large proportion of those dislocated were African Americans, and in most cities the expressways were routinely routed through black neighborhoods.”[10] In 1960, when the local interstates 35W, 94, and State Highway 55 were being constructed, the freeway routes disrupted 27% of Minneapolis’ white population while inversely disrupting 82% of the black population.[11]

Racial housing discrimination limited where black residents displaced by the construction of 35W could find a new home. . Where did they go? We don’t know a lot about where exactly black residents moved when they were forced to relocate. However, historical papers can give us some clues. In March of 1964, Mr. and Mrs. North, a black couple, having lived at 2522 4th Ave S for a decade, reported to the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune that they objected moving into “another ghetto,” which Mrs. North felt was in the making, just a few blocks south of their home.[12] They wanted to ensure that their children could grow up in an integrated neighborhood. In November of that year, the Minneapolis Tribune reported that along the path of 35W from 18th Street to 32nd Street, 42 black families were moved southward, remaining in the city’s “quasi-ghetto section” between Nicollet and Chicago Avenues south of 42nd Street.[13]

Policymakers in Minnesota were aware of the relocation issue that black residents were facing. Cy Magnusson, Assistant on Housing and Relocation, sent a memorandum dated October 15, 1957 to Governor Orville Freeman. Magnusson told the governor: “Housing and relocation has become a very sensitive problem among the colored folks in St. Paul. As the time draws near for moving because of freeway construction, the anxiety of these folks becomes more intense. Housing for negroes is critical.”[14]


A Dividing Line

According to a 1964 article in the Minneapolis Tribune, the State Highway department had, at that point, relocated 216 families due to 35W construction. Forty-two of these families were black and were moved southward to the “quasi-ghetto section” that the North family was worried about.[15] Black families had a difficult time moving to the west once the freeway was in place. In a 1990 interview with The Alley, South Minneapolis resident Joe Steffel recalled “when blacks were trying to go over to the west of 35, houses were being sold for nothing to keep them white.” Steffel also remembered black guys on the west side of 35W being chased by white drivers back to the east side.[16] Today, the freeway still appears to serve as a racial dividing line in South Minneapolis. Census data from 2016 shows that the census tracts with the highest percentage of non-white population are located east of 35W.

Map of Minneapolis census tracts. Darker color indicates a higher percentage of non-white population. Map created with Mapbox. Data from 2016 U.S. Census.

A Public History of 35W wants to hear from you. We are looking to find and record personal experiences and histories of the freeway told from a community perspective. Your stories matter. Do you or someone you know have memories about the Old Southside before or after the freeway? Do you live in the area now? Contact us here.


[1] https://www.mnopedia.org/place/southside-african-american-community-minneapolis

[2] www.mappingprejudice.org

[3] https://www.owningup.dash.umn.edu/

[4] Ernest Lee Lloyd, “How Routing an Interstate Highway through South Minneapolis Disrupted an African-American Neighborhood,” PhD dissertation, Hamline University, 2013.

[5] Ernest Lee Lloyd, “How Routing an Interstate Highway through South Minneapolis Disrupted an African-American Neighborhood,” PhD dissertation, Hamline University, 2013.

[6] Patty Connelly’s Interview. A Public History of 35W.

[7] Ernest Lee Lloyd, “How Routing an Interstate Highway through South Minneapolis Disrupted an African-American Neighborhood,” PhD dissertation, Hamline University, 2013.

[8] Interviews from Ernest Lloyd’s dissertation

[9] Interviews from Ernest Lloyd’s dissertation

[10] https://www.prrac.org/pdf/mohl.pdf?origin=publication_detail

[11] https://minneapolis2040.com/policies/freeway-remediation/

[12] Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. March 8, 1964. Road Paved with Heartaches.

[13] Minneapolis Tribune. Nov 8, 1964. The Negro and Urban Renewal.

[14] Governor Orville Freeman Files. Minnesota Historical Society.

[15] Minneapolis Tribune. November 8, 1964. The Negro and Urban Renewal.

[16] The Alley. August 1990. I35W disrupted minority community, boxed-in Phillips.

Categories: Essays

0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

css.php