Researchers dig up history on 35W could use your help

Minnesota Historical Society Interstate 35W cuts a path through South Minneapolis in this photograph from the early 1960s.

“I looked up one morning and they were cutting down trees, which is not something Minneapolis does.” That’s how Walter Foster, who lived on the 4300 block of Second Ave. South, learned that Interstate 35 West was being built in the early 1960s.

 Like many others, he learned about the interstate when he saw bulldozers moving into the neighborhood. Why didn’t people know about this before it happened?

A group of community members and researchers from the University of Minnesota are working on A Public History of 35W. They are looking for people who remember these events. How did neighborhoods along its path change after the freeway was built?

The construction of 35W in South Minneapolis destroyed close to 900 properties over 50 square blocks. Thousands of people lost homes and businesses to eminent domain beginning in 1958.

It took almost 10 years to complete the South Minneapolis leg of the freeway. Communities split apart as people suffered through its long, messy construction. How was such an enormous project planned without those who lived along its path knowing about it? Did Minneapolitans have a say about the building of the freeway and its path through the city? We remember the effect 94 East had in Rondo in Saint Paul. What about the Southside in Minneapolis?

A Public History of 35W is trying to answer these questions. Research suggests that the freeway permanently changed South Minneapolis and became a racial dividing line.

George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police at the intersection of 38th Street East and Chicago Avenue South, less than 10 blocks from 35W. In between, at 38th Street East and 4th Avenue South, was the heart of an African American community beginning in the 1930s.

Cecil E. Newman began the Minneapolis Spokesman [now the MN Spokesman-Recorder] there in 1934. Anthony B. Cassius opened the Dreamland Café at 3755 4th Avenue South in 1937.

 Local lawmakers Pamela Alexander and LaJune Johnson-Lange were products of Bryant Junior High and Central High School. Both schools closed in the decades following the construction of the freeway, partly casualties to progressive policies that failed to fully consider the impact on the communities they served.

We know little about what it was like to live through the freeway’s construction or about how the arrival of the freeway has affected descendant communities in the area today. How does living alongside a freeway influence people’s health, wealth, and wellbeing? What happened to the people uprooted by 35W?

 In tracing the violence of systemic racism through A Public History of 35W, we hope to contribute to the conversation that accounts for the brutal gap left by the freeway, and that promotes health, equity, and justice. To do so, we need your help.

How has 35W affected you and your family? Do you have questions you’d like to ask about the  freeways, or a perspective to share?

If you would like to learn more or share your story, please visit our website at 35w.heritage.dash.umn.edu/about or call ‪612-524-8089.

—Information provided by A Public History of 35W.

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