But how did we get here?
First of a series
Like the Grinch who attempts to ruin the Whos’ Christmas every year, right before the holidays, yet another report is released showing that Black Twin Citians are not doing well in a land purportedly “flowing with milk and honey.”
The stubborn recurrence of these headlines has appeared like clockwork over the last decade. Yet so little is done to address the problems that it almost appears as if it is an acceptable part of living in the area.
“You have a legacy of asset accumulation in Minnesota [by] White people
can’t be explained by education, by training, by family structure, by native ability or intelligence,” explained Prof. Samuel L. Myers Jr., director of the Roy Wilkins Center of Human Relations and Social Justice at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. He is also co-author of the book, “The Minnesota Paradox.”
Earlier this month, the website 24/7 Wall St. released a report that rated the nation’s metro areas based on racial disparities in income, education, health, incarceration, employment and White-Black achievement gaps using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In every measurable area, Blacks fared worse than Whites in the Twin Cities metro area.
According to the study, “While White residents of the Twin Cities metro area are better off than White Americans nationwide in a number of measures, the area’s Black population is worse off by several metrics compared to the Black population nationwide.”
While 95.9% of White adults in the metro area have a high school diploma (the largest share of any city in the country according to the study), just 82.2% of Black adults in the metro area do. That’s below the national Black high school attainment rate of 84.9%.
“It is uncomfortable to talk about race when one group’s success may be coming at the expense of another’s, but it is crucial in any discussion of the wealth and status of American cities,” Myers pointed out. “Those disparities have historical roots that go back decades,” he argued.
Another notable statistic is that 10.3% of Black Americans are unemployed in the Twin Cities, compared to 3.6% of White Americans.
These glaring inequalities are a far cry from the experiences of many Black Twin Citians who arrived here in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. They found good schools, access to jobs, decent healthcare, affordable housing, and if not an inviting environment, one that was not hostile.
The hostility had been played out earlier in the form of restrictive racial housing covenants and de facto Jim Crow, which faded with the advent of the Civil Rights Movement. Economic and social disparities, as a result of a kind of hostility resentment from lack of opportunity and equality, led to the riots on Plymouth Avenue in 1968.
The MSR found an old news story from 1999 about the fight against the gentrification that took place in the near North Side of Minneapolis when the then-Sumner Glendale projects were torn down to make room for what is now Heritage Park.
Peggy Watkins, of the Twin Cities Welfare Rights Committee, said in a speech to those protesting the demolitions that, “Back in the day, Minneapolis would give you good square meals, a decent place to live, great medical care and vouchers for clothing and furniture. This was a good thing. A helping hand until you could get on your feet. We were prosperous. Now Minneapolis wants to tear everything down. Your dreams, your ambitions, your homes.”
The statistics beg the question, what happened?
There was a great migration of Blacks moving to the Twin Cities from other areas, especially the Midwest, with Chicagoans searching for better employment and living conditions leading the pack.
The newcomers became a concern because locals began to complain that they were over-burdening the social welfare system. This was also a national concern. The Washington Post addressed it in an article titled, “States worry generosity may be magnet for welfare migrants.”
“There is a growing political recognition that an import policy is not acceptable,” said then-Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson (R). “We know it’s showing up in crime, welfare, prisons. We do not want to be in the importing business. We will devise a range of policies to make sure we take care of Minnesotans, but we’re not in the business of subsidizing Gary, Indiana,” said Carlson. Gary, Indiana was and is a euphemism for “Black” since the city has been and still is about 85% Black.
The Washington Post article quotes then-Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat who said he is approached often and everywhere by constituents angry about their tax dollars going to pay for social programs to help outsiders. “It’s like we’re being hung with our own noose. We created a very responsible and kind system to help people out,” he said. “It’s being abused.”
The TPT documentary “Jim Crow of the North” holds clues as well. For example, the film captures a local news station’s investigation into poor people, primarily poor Black people taking taxis to hospital visits on the County’s dime. Why would anyone begrudge people needing to obtain hospital transportation, even if they had to get there with the County’s help? But stories like that helped to prejudice some residents against the Black newcomers.
Up next: We’ll talk to the experts.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.