At about this time in 1931, a black family moved into an all white neighborhood. The resident whites tried to stop it from the beginning, even offering to buy the house at a price over that paid by Army vet Arthur Lee and Edith Lee. When these early efforts failed, the denizens of the segregated neighborhood found the solution that what was most obvious to them: Thousands of them surrounded the home, screamed racial slurs and threw stones at the house and family until they finally moved out.
Except that last part didn’t happen. Arthur and Edith stayed, and the racist citizens of this southern city lost their battle.
And when I say “southern” I mean “southern Minneapolis.” South Minneapolis, to be exact, just a few blocks from the now-diverse neighborhood that I first lived in when I moved to Minneapolis.
This reminds me (a little) of when I was a kid. My father had previously been a real-estate broker, and even though he had a new job as a civil servant, he kept his licence active long enough to handle the sale of our home when we moved away from an all-white all-christian working class neighborhood just a few blocks away to a slightly different neighborhood (downgrading house size as the children moved out). Some of the neighbors were concerned that my dad would sell the house to an African American family. After all, he was famous for being the only insurance salesman in town who would sell insurance to blacks, and he was famous for being one of the few real estate agents in town who would work in the “black neighborhood” and now he was hired by the city to be the main liaison for the new Urban Renewal projects in that self same neighborhood. His job included finding place for people from “downtown” to live while their neighborhood was being bulldozed and rebuilt. The chance that a black family might find their way into this neighborhood was not zero. So they asked, boldly, that he not do that. And he agreed to not sell the house to anyone from downtown.
The house wen on the market. People called now and then to see the house and my father would ask a few questions and then tell them that the house was not for them. This is how he operated as an agent. He was very good at matching people to houses, referring to the economics, the physical match of the family size and structure and the way a house and a neighborhood would meet those needs, etc. In other words, he knew the reasons that someone would walk away from a sale, and simply didn’t bother showing a house when that was likely. His goal was to show a house to a prospective buyer, or to show a prospective buyer a house, a certain number of times to close a sale, and that number was one.
So after a few weeks of people calling and my father telling them no, someone called and he said yes. He had the prospective buyer come over with the spouse in order to not waste time showing the house twice. He showed the two of them around the house, and then started talking about financing. There was a problem there, this man did not have well established credit and he did not have a lot of cash, so my father got his work number and called the people he worked with. He told them that each of them needed to supply a certain amount of money as a personal loan against the business to get a down payment. Several phone calls, a few verbal agreements, and a signature on an agreement to purchase were all secured in about two hours time, and the neighbors could be assured that my father did not sell the house to a black family from downtown.
Of course, they never did say anything about selling the house to a black family from another country. Huh. Muslims to boot. That was funny.
Anyway, getting back to the anniversary at hand, Steve Brandt has a nice writeup from a very local perspective on the Lee family in the Star Tribune.
(I hasten to add: Selling his own house to one of his clients from “downtown” would not have been possible for legal and ethical reasons … the neighbors need not have asked him to not do that. But since they did ask … well…. Bwahahahaaha!)