North Mpls history told by residents who lived it

“Northside Oral History Project” showcases the voices of Black people who have lived in North Minneapolis over the last 50 years.
Photo courtesy of MAAHMG

Plymouth and Penn Avenue in North Minneapolis has a tall new building across the street from the Urban League. Inside the new building, the Regional Acceleration Center, is a well of local Black history on the fourth floor that houses the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery, which opened in 2018.

Starting on the left side of the museum is an exhibit called “History Harvest,” which tells the history of the African American community in North Minneapolis. In the back left corner of the museum is an exhibit called “Unbreakable,” its chronological panels spanning most of the room,
that details early Black settlers in Minnesota from the 1800s to present-day.

Tucked away on the left side of the room in between the “History Harvest” and “Unbreakable” displays lies another North Minneapolis display — this one, though, has the direct voices of the Black people who have lived in North Minneapolis. The “Northside Oral History Project” was put together by ReCAST Minneapolis, a City initiative, which stands for Resilience in
Communities After Stress & Trauma, aimed at promoting equity through community youth engagement programs and behavioral health services.

The “Northside Oral History Project” exhibit is a series of interviews with Blacks who lived on the Northside of Minneapolis over the past 50 years, telling their stories of how the community has changed throughout the years. “So our project was really conceived as a way of community members being empowered to tell their own stories,” said ReCAST Minneapolis program manager Ebony Adedayo.

Sitting down in the chair, putting on the headphones and listening to various community members talk about how their community has changed is a visceral approach to engaging with history. The participants and their stories paint memories of community warmth. “People choose to live here for a reason,” Adedayo said, It’s not a dangerous place, it is all of these other things at the same time.”

PPhoto courtesy of MAAHMG The Minnesota African American Heritage Museum

Right from the community’s mouth

Community members touch on various topics ranging from gentrification to discrimination and hope for the future. Adedayo stressed that ReCAST did not come up with the topics for the community members.

“We didn’t want to be leading in the way that people told these stories,” Adedayo said. “So, naturally, there were things that came up; mass incarceration, the war on drugs, redlining, business development, you know, all those sort of things. Those are things that the community said are important to them.”

A common theme was that the Black community has been slowly pushed out over the years. Belinda B, a resident who has lived on the Northside for more than 50 years said, “Plymouth Avenue is not Plymouth Avenue anymore.” She pointed out how the Urban league used to be a Black-owned bank and Plymouth Avenue used to have lots of Black-owned businesses and community centers. She blames crime and natural disasters for a lot of the reasons why the community has been gentrified.

Janet B said that there has been a shift in the sense of community — in the ’70s, the Black community felt like a small town. “There was a lot of Black homeownership, for years,” she said. “People moved out because they couldn’t keep up their house, the housing crisis had a huge impact … The community has been rehabbed by White people.”

Not all community members had a negative outlook. Some gave ideas on how things can change for the better. “There needs to be more Black radio and TV programs on North Minneapolis,” shared longtime community member Abdul-Karim Bilal.

“We need more resources to help people,” Demetra P. said, “There is nothing to do after school.” Adedayo, who works in the Northside, also had a positive outlook on the community and how things can keep improving. “I think there is value in continuing to host community events and bring the community together. Adedayo said, “It also creates a safe place when that
happens. When things continue to happen like festivals, pop-ups, family barbecues

The exhibit runs at the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery through October 1st. There will be a second exhibit in the fall for another opportunity to learn about the North Side directly from the mouths of those who live and have lived there.

The “Northside Oral History Project” exhibit is on display through Oct. 1 at the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery, located at 1256 Penn Ave. N. in Minneapolis. The museum is open 1 to 5 pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 1 to 7 pm Thursdays, and 9 am to noon Saturdays.

Sam Jones welcomes reader responses to sjones@spokesman-recorder.com.

About Sam Jones

Sam Jones is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at sjones@spokesman-recorder.com.

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