The Lee Family

Eugene Field

In the spring of 1931, Arthur and Edith Lee purchased a home in the Eugene Field Neighborhood neighborhood at 4600 Columbus Avenue South, where they intended to live with their daughter Mary. A postal worker and a World War I veteran, Arthur Lee felt he had a right to establish a home in Minneapolis.

In 1927, members of the neighborhood association where the Lees’ house was located had signed an agreement to sell homes only to “Caucasians.” Peer pressure helped keep the neighborhood white.

Area homeowners thought they lived in a “white neighborhood.” Many wanted the Lees to move. Neighbors offered to buy the property at an inflated price. When the family refused, vandals threw garbage and human waste at the property. Black paint was splattered across the house and garage. Signs were posted on the lawn proclaiming “No niggers allowed in the neighborhood. This means you.” Racists walked by the Lee house in the evenings yelling taunts and slurs. Someone killed Mary’s dog.

A White Mob

Conflict quickly escalated. On July 11th, around 150 people gathered on the lawn to protest. Days later, the crowd grew to 4,000. Some came from as far away as Hibbing to participate in what newspapers described as a “mob” and a “Minneapolis Riot.”

Friends, veterans and fellow postal workers came to the Lee’s defense.  So did pioneering civil rights lawyer Lena Olive Smith, the first black woman to be admitted to the Minnesota Bar Association.

Arthur and Edith, both NAACP members, endured the harassment and violence because they saw the purchase of their home as a political act. White terrorism led them to leave their Columbus Avenue home in 1932, at which time they felt they had made their point. They relocated to the Old Southside of Minneapolis, a historically African-American neighborhood, where they lived next door to their lawyer, Lena Olive Smith.

 

Sources:

Delegard, Kirsten. “Hemmed In: Three Families confront American Apartheid in Minneapolis.” Mapping Prejudice, February 2018.

Exhibit text, “The Right to Establish a Home,” Goldstein Museum of Design, Minneapolis, MN.

The National Register of Historic Places, Arthur and Edith Lee House, Minneapolis, Hennepin County, MN, 14000391.

Juergens, Ann. “Lena Olive Smith: A Minnesota Civil Rights Pioneer” (2001). Faculty Scholarship. Paper 61. http://open.mitchellhamline.edu/facsch/61

Note: The three families highlighted in Owning Up are not the only families to face structural discrimination and white violence in Minneapolis. However, they are some of the only families whose stories were documented in various archives – likely because there stories were some of the most egregious examples of hatred and bigotry. While these families stories are uniquely their own, they are not unique in the larger history of racial housing policy in Minneapolis or the United States. As public historians and curators, we felt it was important to note that the archive prioritizes some histories over others and we as the public must work to read between the lines of the archive to understand our history.