GFS: Sowing seeds of solidarity
By JILL BOOGREN
The Little White House at 4600 Columbus Ave. S. is a typical South Minneapolis home. It has a garden at the back and another at the front, where the black-eyed Susans bloom every year in mid-July. Its simple serenity belies its roots in Minneapolis history, as indicated by a limestone pedestal on the front lawn bearing a plaque that describes how it earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Formerly the home of Arthur and Edith Lee, it is the site of a 1931 racial ‘dispute’, as the Tribune at the time called it – a white crowd numbering in the thousands had gathered outside to force the Lees to leave. They initially tried to pay them off, but eventually resorted to throwing bottles, black paint, and racial epithets at the house.
The Lees were black.
And even though Arthur Lee was an American war veteran and postman, that wasn’t enough to break the racial pact that denied ownership of a home to people of his color.
In a 1931 edition of The Crisis, “A Roman Holiday in Minneapolis”, Chatwood Hall wrote: “Mr. Lee’s first serious indication of trouble was a large sign placed on his porch, bearing this inscription ‘No Ns [racial slur is spelled out] Allowed in this area. It means you.'”
“Please never forget that it’s not just the south that has had to deal with Jim Crow behavior,” high school teacher and GFS resident Marcia Howard told community members who gathered outside the house on July 11, 2022.
A steel sculpture that stands with the plaque, created by the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center (3749 Chicago Ave.) with Obsidian Arts, has a portrait with this Arthur Lee quote from July 16, 1931: “No one hath me asked to move when I was in France fighting in mud and water for this country. I came here to make this house my home. I have the right to establish a home.
Carla Jo “CJ” Bielawski, whose parents Carl A. and Pearl Lindstrom moved into the house in 1957, is the current resident and guardian of the property. She maintains the Lees’ contribution to the house by tending to the Black Eyed Susans that are planted throughout the property.
“These are the same babies that Edith Lee planted in 1931,” Howard said. “And for that reason, the idea of commemorating what happened here and bringing it to the square, where we had a distinctly different occupation from what happened here” – this drew cheers of the two dozen people in attendance – “because we are here for equality. We are here for liberation. We are here to dismantle the systems of racial redlining, profiling, inequity that have happened here.
People placed cut flowers behind their ears and, to the music of Brass Solidarity, marched in procession toward 38th and Chicago. There they were greeted by CJ who had already presented Jay the gardener with seeds to plant all over the place.
“Today was the day 91 years ago that [the Lees] They said to me, ‘Come on. We will give you money if you leave,” CJ said. “This man was American. Whatever color it is, it’s my color, we’re all the same color underneath. We all bleed red. So that no more blood be shed.
The Lees moved within three years, and the neighborhood had no other African American residents for 30 years.
Jay held up a box of “thousands” of Black-Eyed Susan Seeds and kissed CJ.
“If you see Black-Eyed Susans sprouting from every hem, hamlet and corner of this square, it’s because the legacy of Edith and Arthur Lee continues,” Howard said.
See the University of Minnesota’s Mapping Prejudice Project and watch the TPT documentary “Jim Crow of the North” to learn more about discriminatory housing practices in Minneapolis. See JustDeeds.org to see if your house has a racial alliance.
Beneath The Peoples’ Way that same evening, in another low-key act of solidarity, artist jordan powell karis constructed the components of a new wooden fist, like those that mark each of the square’s four entrances. Once ready, he hand-delivered it to its destination – Akron, Ohio, where on June 27, 2022, Jayland Walker was killed by police in a hail of bullets while fleeing on foot. The medical examiner’s autopsy determined that Walker had 46 gunshot wounds; 26 bullets were recovered from his body.
When asked what prompted him to build another fist, Powell Karis said, “I live in mostly white spaces. And in those white spaces, everything is back to normal. And it is intolerable. It’s really intolerable to see the white spaces continue while people are working and the work isn’t done yet. And it makes it harder for us to do the work when that continuation happens unconsciously.
Five days before, Powell Karis had no intention of doing so. Something called him. He reached out to a reverend there, and it just clicked.
“People there, they need support. They need to know that they are taken care of by the rest of the communities here,” he said. “We have to keep showing up for each other. We all have to keep showing up.
On the evening of July 14, to show solidarity with those close to Jayland Walker, activists gathered in the Square to bless the fist, which was now assembled and painted, for its journey east. Civil rights activist Rosemary Nevils offered the first blessing, pouring water for each name called of a person whose life was taken at the hands of the police. But there was one more name to say today, once again closer to home: Tekle Sundberg. (Articles at www.LongfellowNokomisMessenger.com).
The impact was felt across the square. GFS community member C Chase had spent the night watching live streams and trying to get information from residents.
“I had to tell people today that I can only stay a short time because I have two vigils to attend tonight. We have to bless this fist to go to Akron for Jayland Walker, who was absolutely slaughtered. And in the wee hours of the morning, overnight, we have someone presumably in what appeared to be a mental health crisis shot while their parents were out,” she said. A vigil was organized for Sundberg after that of GFS. “And I’m in coordinator mode. I show up to this space that holds grief and resistance to this very atrocity, and I show up to make sure we have water, to make sure people are seated, to make sure it’s is accessible to those who need it. And that’s not who I want to be in this space or anytime. I don’t want to facilitate the grief of others.
After community members spoke, everyone present was asked to sign their fist, which Powell Karis handed over the next day. A phrase, written on its base, reads: “Love to Akron. Peace, power and love from GFS. Minneapolis.