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Solution Paper #41, posted December 22, 2010
Originally published in November 2002
in The Minneapolis Story, Through My Eyes,
by Ron Edwards
The neighborhood revitalization program misses those most in need:
When the Minnesota Legislature created the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) for the City of Minneapolis in 1990, the goal was to provide an economic-development tool that would democratize decision-making at the grassroots level and concentrate on the needs of lower-income residents. But evidence compiled by the Tenant Issues Working Group, a coalition of eight tenants'-rights groups within the city, demonstrates that resources for the $20 million program were disproportionately spent on white homeowners.
Using data collected by independent evaluators commissioned by the NRP, the tenants' group found that from 1993 to 2000, 88 percent of those receiving grants and loans from the program were white, even as the white population in the city was declining from 78% percent to 65%.
Britt Robson, “The White Flight,” www.Citypages.com, August 14, 2002
This history of Minneapolis is a history of immigrants moving in and moving up, with the first wave Germans and Norwegians coming in the late 19th century of, then followed by a second wave, this time by Swedes, Finns, Serbs, eastern European Jews, and Blacks, and finally, the last wave, the recent arrival of southeast Asians and those from Central and South America (known to most Whites as Hispanics or Latinos, terms that only a few of them actually use). Most move in and then move on. I find it interesting, then, that the recently proposed heritage walk for the new Heritage Park replaces four housing projects. From my perspective, what we have here is a nostalgic reminder of a past all shared but a reminder to me of the present and future: providing far more tax money for housing for Whites even though they are a declining percentage of the population. Whatever the intent, and White Minnesota-Nice Minneapolis always has good intent on paper, the reality is that Whites are returning to the city at the expense of Blacks.
Housing is one of the Big Three of education, housing, and jobs/economic development. I seek equal access and equal opportunity for all. To repeat: To be self-reliant, people need an asset base. Without human, financial or physical capital, they cannot prosper. It starts with education (Chapter 7). It is manifested in housing (this chapter). It is enabled by jobs (Chapter 9). Minneapolis has and continues to systematically deny these to its inner city poor, especially the Black inner city poor.
The Minneapolis story is also about the lack of universal fairness in the form of equal access and equal opportunity in housing. Is Minneapolis housing open to all or only to specialized groups? How has Minneapolis housing measured up for different groups, especially Black and White? How has it approached fairness and access? This chapter discusses the Minneapolis story in terms of housing, with its sordid stories of scandals and cover-ups.
When I say “through my eyes,” that is particularly apt for housing. To my knowledge, I am the only one, until recently, besides the coverage in the Spokesman-Recorder, who has continually hammered away on the fraud surrounding the Hollman Housing Project. I have done so from the perspective of my position on the Minneapolis NAACP executive committee and as the Chairman of the Minneapolis Branch NAACP Housing Committee.
In 1990, the NAACP was maneuvered by Legal Aid to get involved in confronting the issue of concentrated poverty in Minneapolis. Legal Aid and the NAACP got 14 to 17 citizens together from a cross section of mostly Blacks and Hmongs. One of those was Lucy Hollman, who became the lead plaintiff. That’s why it became The Hollman Lawsuit.” Initially they sued Jack Kemp, Reagan’s Secretary of HUD. They were suing about the living conditions and the toxic gasses (as the project, as so many in this country, was built on old brown fields, whether known by all involved or not; a brown field is land contaminated with toxins), seeking the dual goal of getting the toxic land cleaned up and getting new housing.
As the Hollman project was about HUD housing, every time there was a new HUD Secretary, the details on what to do would change. By the time they got to the negotiation stage in the mid-1990s, Henry Cisneros was HUD Secretary, under President Clinton. So it became Hollman vs. Cisneros. But the original lawsuit was Hollman vs. Kemp. On April 20, 1995, Federal Judge James Rosenbaum brought the parties (NAACP, HUD) together. They signed the consent decree known as Hollman vs. Cisneros. All kinds of wonderful things were in it. It started out with the judge ordering $117 million to be set aside for new housing and relocating 770 families. But then nothing actually happened. It is a great scandal this town doesn’t want to admit, as it was all part of the national agenda of keeping Blacks in their place.
The Hollman project is not unlike what many minority areas became: a podium for grandstanding by political candidates, be these candidates presidential or gubernatorial, mayoral or city council. The North Side remains just that: a podium for political promises and payola. And the half-baked projects have been failures frozen in time, like Potemkin villages or Hollywood back lots of façades with no substance behind them for minorities.
As a result of the Hollman settlement, the four housing projects were demolished. They were supposed to be replaced with what are called replacement units for public-housing residents, to be built in Minneapolis and the suburbs. Nine hundred mixed-income housing units were to be built on the Hollman site, 300 for public-housing residents and 100 for the elderly poor.
Housing is important, especially for homeless children. Yet the NAACP and the Urban League colluded with the City (Chapter 14) in not following through on Hollman, including the impact of redistricting on it (Chapter 12). And because I protested, in my role as Chair of the Minneapolis NAACP Housing Committee, the Minneapolis NAACP relieved me of my position.
But now we have the big headline at the end of June 2002 about the McKinsey report that finally talks about public housing, but not in terms of fraud, but in terms of “oh by the way,” meaning, pure and simple: cover up. Until recently, you would never know there had been any fraud. And the McKinsey Report disguises that fraud. So I am here to report to you that it is fraud.
The report issued by the giant consulting firm, McKinsey, is about Downtown and Minneapolis citywide. It reports that the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA), the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), and the Planning Department, spent just under $1 billion on housing. From this, the city has gained a net of only 52 housing units. That is the equivalent of $19,230,767 per unit. Let me repeat that: the equivalent of spending over $19 million per unit. The report also says that Minneapolis is 8,300 units short of its immediate affordable housing needs. Did the McKinsey report comment on either the costs or the fraud issue? No. And although the McKinsey reports notes that the money has already been spent, it does not address how those missing housing units should be funded?
Nor does the McKinsey Report discuss the missing files of Jackie Cherryhomes’ office. The development files for all of this were kept in the office of Jackie Cherryhomes. When Natalie Johnson-Lee defeated her, Cherryhomes took the files and all of the evidence, except for a handful of files. The report also missed the fact that in all probability even these few homes would not have been built except for the fact that it became necessary to make it look like something was happening before the November 2001 elections. The McKinsey report also did not address communities of color or tackle poverty, which was part of the reason for these housing projects in the first place.
The McKinsey Report essentially said that the $1 billion for 52 units was costly because of the overlap of agencies, so it recommended the creation of a super agency to handle all of the tasks of five separate agencies, creating an office of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED), which would have 400-600 city workers. Again, Minneapolis would continue its system of payola. It certainly doesn’t take 400-600 people to plan for 52 housing units. This super agency would accompany the super downtown district. Astonishingly, no one is asking how five agencies could spend $1 billion and come up with just 52 units. Why just me?
To call this “organizational inefficiency” plus simple “cost overruns” is a cover-up of astonishing proportions, all based on a technicality (and people think only the Enrons and WorldComs engage in creative accounting and spending). And they would, of course, technically be correct. In this context fairness and justice are words that some don’t want to hear, due to this kind of purposeful cost overruns which some would call fraud which, in a sense, it is. It is also what I call system of payoffs and payola to a wide range of developers and community people paid to keep everyone in line. Sadly, it is actually legal. So, if it is legal, then, technically, it is also not fraud. But any reader knows by now that legal and justice, legal and fair, do not have to go together, especially when it comes to making oneself rich, whether it be by cooking the corporate books or cooking the government books. And even if declared legal, can anyone honestly, in their heart of hearts, call it fair?
Some may think I’m being a crank, but wouldn’t you be cranky if it cost $1 billion of taxpayer dollars (some local, some federal) to provide 52 units? Someone might think that Minneapolis is leading the way in showing the nation to use tax dollars to keep Blacks in their place by spending money designated for them on Whites instead, including the administration (White jobs) of taking care of Blacks. But in reality Minneapolis is just doing what other cities do. The July 2000 issue of the Journal of The American Planning Association, reported a study of 258 different projects around the country that showed how such cost overruns have been the norm for the 20th century (1910-1998). The average overage is 28%, with transportation projects being a gigantic 45% over in costs. Now this happens for two reasons. Developers and city planners both want to get the projects approved and save their jobs and they want to have opportunities to make significant extra money by doing this with selected developers and community leaders who can keep the neighborhoods docile.
The planners behind the public projects know this but like it as more projects equals more power, safer jobs). Most people (voters, tax payers) are not aware of such cost overruns. And because it doesn’t make them look good, city officials and planners don’t want to discuss it. As many of these projects enhance the political standing of elected officials, they aren’t gong to blow the whistle either.
Now remember, planners always have the backup paymaster: the fleeced taxpayer. The planners and economists and transportation experts and promoters consistently underestimate costs to get projects started. But finishing has taken hundreds of billions more nationwide in taxpayer dollars for these projects. So a billion dollars for 52 units in Minneapolis is hardly seen as fraud. It is just doing business as usual. But, dear readers, if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. And this duck, clearly, from the way I see it, is a massive fraud.
And so the cover-up continues. No outrage at the loss of funds. After all, it’s only taxpayer dollars. To give the reader a sense of the amount, consider this: that same billion dollars, added to what the teams and their leagues would have contributed towards new stadiums, would have picked up the remaining tab for a new stadium each for the Twins, the Vikings, and the Gophers. Instead, it has bought 52 low-income houses at over $19 million each.
Second, it is my belief that the files purposely taken by Cherryhomes could answer a lot of these questions. I believe they were either shredded like Enron did or squirreled away for later use to keep track of who was promised what and who owes whom what political favor. We won’t know until we see the files. And so far, neither the mayor, city attorney, or local media seem to care, as since November 2001, it has been only the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, newly elected Council Member Natalie Johnson-Lee, and I who have called for their return and for an investigation into their taking and their content.
Look at it another way: the McKinsey report says that there have been four attempts made in 20 years to reform Minneapolis city government. All four have failed. What can we conclude from that? In my view, we can conclude that the powers don’t want it to happen, and have just gone through the motions to make people think something was happening, whenever they got restless, knowing the bureaucracy would kill whatever they wanted killed. And left out, again, are the minorities, especially the Blacks, in any reorganization efforts except to be squeezed.
I’m still having a hard time wrapping my mind around that number. Let’s try again: a billion dollars for 52 housing units. Think about what has to be going on, and how, finally, we are back to the real goal of public housing: providing it for Whites.
Remember that it wasn until 1935 that programs for good, nice, clean, livable housing began, for Whites only, when the Roosevelt Administration started talking about getting rid of dilapidated housing and bringing in new housing called Projects. In Minnesota, the discussion for such housing began with a group of Negroes (what we were called and what we called ourselves then) with Nellie Stone Johnson at the center, working with young students at the University of Minnesota. They raised the question of whether Negroes would be included in public housing, and they lobbied for their inclusion. During two years of meetings, they raised some very interesting questions and offered some very interesting opinions about what should happen, how it should happen, and who should live there. Sure enough, after construction started in 1939, and after the first units were opened, they were segregated, like everything else. And again: at first: Whites only.
Negroes were not allowed in until 1941, and that only happened because Nellie Stone Johnson and the League of Negro Women solicited the support of Mary McCloud Bethune, a great African-American activist of her day, who was a good and close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Nellie also involved the Negro League with the Negro League of Women. These are some of the many organizations that have existed that have been lost to history. So they got Mary McCloud Bethune to facilitate a meeting sometime around late 1940 with Eleanor Roosevelt and told her what was happening. There were a lot of these WPA projects going up around the country. Cecil Newman (activist and founder of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder) was asked to be involved. Eleanor Roosevelt saw immediately what was going on. She applied pressure on Federal officials, resulting, in 1941, the first Negro family being invited into public housing. These were the housing development we always referred to as The Projects.
For their time, they were more than adequate and provided people with a sense of good housing and dignity. There were gas stoves, refrigerators, laundry rooms, etc. However, people did not realize that these houses were built on the tops of brown fields, environmentally toxic areas, ecological volcanos with radon gas.
In Minneapolis, by 1946 or 1947, buildings in Projects at the north end of Summerfield were beginning to develop massive cracks. I remember visiting friends who would take me down to the basement and show me all these faults and cracks in the walls, from the mist and the gases. This is why we believe so many people came out of public housing projects with cancer. Young men whom I knew who lived in The Projects died of cancer.
With all of that, you can imagine how that $1 billion could have been used to clean up. And yet the facts remain: nothing much has been done other than to spend $1 billion to bring 52 housing units on line, the latter done hastily before the last election, with most of the money going as payola to bureaucrats, developers, and so-called community leaders.
There is not enough safe affordable housing in Minneapolis, especially for lower income people. The high real-estate tax is unfair. Minneapolis needs to engage with the state to set meaningful, measurable goals for developing housing policy with fair housing goals including the kind of tax breaks other developments get, so that developers and others can provide decent, safe, affordable housing at a profit.
But you see, dear reader, that was not the real goal. The real goal was to clear out poor Black housing in order to allow for White gentrification. The handmaiden of gentrification has been corruption. You can read more about this phenomenon as this web site: http://www.sinica.edu.tw/as/survey/srda/english/subject/e87003.htm:
The change of an urban structure depends mainly on its social-economic conditions. The development of cities, in the past, can be divided roughly into four phases, that is urbanization, suburbanization [that was the White flight of the 60s], counterurbanization, and gentrification– a new tendency that began in the 70s of urban development, which is defined briefly as the widespread emergence of middle-and upper middle-class enclaves in formerly deteriorated inner city neighborhoods [i.e., Whites replacing Blacks].
The bottom line: To achieve this development for inner city neighborhoods, you have to get rid of the minority residents in order to make way for middle and upper middle-class Whites.
Gentrification has really become just another word for neighborhood racial cleansing. Now I know, dear reader, you are going to say I am being harsh. But what else is there to call a practice that destroys the homes of Blacks, and then builds few replacement units until the Whites can gather up what is there? To add insult to injury, when the move-back process started, the Blacks who lived there before, who were promised they could come back, received notice that they were not qualified and thus could not move back.
Gentrification is clear-cut; it is also a way to make lots of money (and if $1 billion to build 52 units doesn’t underscore that, I don’t know what does). The Hollman scam was simple: Move out the Blacks, move in the Whites, and make a ton of money in the process. And hide the files that prove it is a scam. So what is the Hollman project? It is really a White developer’s and White bureaucrat’s redistribution of what was for Blacks to Whites, using taxpayer dollars?
Yes it is, which is why the Hollman project and housing are tied into the redistricting that creates a Downtown Ward separate from the neighborhoods of the Wards that once shared it (Chapters 12 and 13). The redistricting gambit takes away what was Black and makes it White. And the reason it will be all White and not integrated is because Minneapolis isn’t integrated. So if it is going to go to the middle and upper class, it will go to the White middle and upper class, because that is the way Minneapolis works. And that is the plan.
One of the reasons there has been such opposition to Natalie Johnson-Lee is her interfering with the Hollman fraud. She ran her campaign on honesty and a call to have the Hollman project dealt with honestly. The biggest problem for her opponents is their worry that their days of not being watched may now be over. That is why they tried to gerrymander Natalie Johnson-Lee out of her district and have another election so she would be off the Council entirely. The powers are worried about her and any community group that supports her. It has been some time since Minneapolis has had a person like Johnson-Lee win who didn’t first ask permission to run, and then apologize for doing so, let alone not apologizing for winning. She stands in their way.
The Hollman project bottom line is simple:
You may wonder how I know. As Housing Chairman of the NAACP, I sat in on the meetings and followed it more closely than anyone else. This is why the NAACP wants me out as they are part of it as well (Chapter 14). You see, there were two maps laying out the details of the development for the Hollman project. The City’s intent was for the public to see one map and then submit their real plans to the Federal government. Then one set of bureaucrats would fleece another set. You see, the Minneapolis folks relied on the fact that as the HUD folks are not a part of Minneapolis, they wouldn’t know the difference when they made the map switch.
This came to a head in May 2000. The city went after Project Hope money for rehabbing in the city, assuming that this money would create jobs. The Hope 6 package was for $30 million. Council President Jackie Cherryhomes represented the city and had St. Louis contractor McCormack Barron start the project. But McCormick Barron didn’t spend any money on housing. The purpose of Hope 6 was to help people of color and the poor. A key was to be job training. Talking about construction and jobs and training allowed Cherryhomes to counter my statements that it was a farce and a dead project. She talked about progress. I talked about what they were actually doing, but I was dismissed. As the game is played in Minneapolis, the public face is always about the ideal, not the real fraud going on behind the scenes. The ideal serves as a Hollywood street façade, hiding the fact that no real housing is going on behind the façade.
In my opinion, Minneapolis used an out-of-town firm, St. Louis-based McCormick Barnes, to better enable kick-backs. McCormick Barnes is notorious for being part of this scam. The map showed the public had everything in place, but the map in the book sent to HUD for Hope 6 showed the real shape, which was far less than what was shown in Minneapolis. The bureaucrats got $6-7 million of the referenced $30 million just to do their jobs. What a deal. And, as we have seen, all kinds of others have obviously gotten big chunks of that $1 billion reported by McKinsey.
On May 16, 2000, formal presentations on the Hollman project were made at a meeting at the North Side community facility of Pilot City. The map showed a purging of the buildings that were to be used by African-American organizations. Chuck Lutz, who is White, was replaced by Darrel Washington, who is Black, in order to give cover. Whites like to substitute to save White agent provocateurs. To get rid of Black housing, they put in charge those who are incompetent or dishonest. I exposed Hollman for what it was: to remove Blacks and replace them with Whites. In June 2000, Chuck Lutz handed out the book. I switched books with him, with his notes, and had the book with the real maps, so I could study it further.
And when I exposed this scam, what did the local NAACP and other Black leaders on the take say? Did they stand up for the displaced poor? Of course not. They called me the Black Rasputin. Isn’t it ironic that it is I who believes in the system and not they? No one was raising questions. Cherryhomes did a beautiful job. She used her wiles and position to control the City Council and to control the male-dominated Black leadership.
This is but one example of how the powers that have destroyed so much of what was Black in terms of development economics, enterprise, and community. Today there are few Black businesses. There were more Black businesses between the 1920s and the early 40s than there are today. One of the top enterprise zones was displaced, relocated, putting two Black businesses out of business. The secret is that the Black areas and people are not relocated, like Indians on reservations, but just removed to fend for themselves. By not allowing Black construction (Chapter 9), everything is left to Whites, reducing Black businesses and housing.
This was the control scenario of Jackie Cherryhomes and her agent provocateurs who, until she was defeated in November 2001, carried the day. From 1995-2000, Jackie and the City captured the housing issue while working hard to appear as an enlightened center. They were comfortable with their level of corruption, because the whole city was. They were not concerned, for after all, weren’t they getting rid of the Blacks? What is so telling is that not only were few amazed, but that most just sat back, smiled, and watched. Only recently has anyone tried to do something about it besides Natalie Johnson-Lee, the Spokesman-Recorder, and I.
Because too many self-appointed African-American leaders are corrupted, it is dangerous to Blacks and frightening for the future. Drugs and corruption are used as opiates. In the 1960s and 1970s, drugs were allowed to enter the city in greater number. There have been many stories regarding how it happened. Was it just criminals from other cities expanding their territory? Was it with the help of the CIA selling drugs to finance its operations in South America, as numerous sources have contended, or was it just a coincidence that it was a control mechanism to keep the Blacks in their place? Regardless, the bottom line is the same: Drugs flourish and the powers either can’t stop them or are not interested and won’t. Either way, Minneapolis minorities lose.
Minneapolis has the method down pat for compromising a community. The Whites were able to rule in South Africa because of Black informants and snitches. The same is true in Minneapolis. In return, they get to be in on the take, which can be as minimal as a guaranteed job to the more lucrative of being in on payoffs. In the meantime, poor Blacks have their housing taken from them, are dispersed from their neighborhoods, and their neighborhoods get taken over by Whites in the gentrification process. It is too bad that the Black community houses so many turncoats in the Urban League, NAACP, and church pulpits.
And now, there is another special interest group taking over in housing, and that is the mostly White GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered) group, who so far are taking advantage of city housing dollars to regentrify the South Side and buy, refurbish, and set up numerous housing properties for themselves. Or as one woman wrote in a September 2002 issue of the Northside Information Exchange, “the DFL endorsement” and “help for officeholders and office honchos” is from a DFL “political machine” that is “drawing on the trinity of feminists, gays and lesbians, and neighborhood/nonprofit types.” She quotes an analyst who says “It's the old labor side versus what I'd call the feminist and gay/lesbian/transgender side. And right now, the feminists dominate." My point remains: these are issues that should be secondary to completing what Frederic Douglass called “the unfinished business” of obtaining freedom for everyone.
The DFL is caught in a time warp. In the November 2001 elections, they supported all five openly gay candidates for the City Council but ran only one African-American candidate, despite the fact that the city is one-third Black. The new group for the DFL agenda is White and gay. The DFL is caught in their ongoing and obvious racism.
This distorted view of the DFL has led to more access and opportunity for the GLBT group and less for Blacks, as it continually promotes special interest and self-described White victim groups. Each such group takes more away from equal opportunity and equal access for Blacks. That tradition continues to this day with three openly gay council members, and two of the most influential members of the state, the chief of staff for the governor and the newly created position of Minneapolis deputy mayor being gay as is the City Council President. Together, they are quietly taking over housing with City funds.
And how has this new special interest group used their newfound power? By voting nearly as a block for the DFL. They get the favored treatment the Blacks expect but don’t get from the DFL even though they also vote DFL. These gay City Council Members obtain city monies to buy homes, fix them up, and then rent them to fellow gays, particularly on the South side. Thus, we now have another group whose leaders get city money to continue steering their members to the DFL. This is not meant to say anything disparaging about gays. It is merely to point out a DFL pattern of making sure the victim groups get their monies so the DFL can get their votes. The gay group, mostly White, are now doing better in terms of housing than are Blacks, as Blacks are taken for granted in terms of their voting for the DFL.
Here I add the proposition that with the rising cost of homes, there may well be a place for using the concept of manufactured homes in order to provide affordable housing that could be used in both the city and the suburbs. Certainly, given all of the different circumstances, it is only fair to offset market rate housing for the poor. The so-called affordable housing crisis has obviously had a sharper impact on minorities and helps to perpetuate segregation. Either way, Blacks lose. Of course the Feds have tried to get compliance and have tied $75 million in federal transportation funding into how cities and counties perform on affordable-housing issues. But who will stop them when they don’t comply, if so many, at all levels, are in on the various scams to divert those funds? There is nothing wrong with the wealthy suburbs. But there is something wrong when policy and money only seem to support the wealthy suburbs.
To put this in financial perspective, let’s return to our discussion of minimum (living) wage and relate it to housing and our concept of fairness. There is a wonderful web site of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (www.nlihc.org), which shows the statistics of the money needed to afford housing in different communities across the country. The average minimum wage is $5.15/hour, but this is not enough to afford fair market rent. Here is the clincher: The average American, to afford a two-bedroom house or apartment, needs to earn $13.87/hour. At minimum wage, that means a worker would have to work 84 hours a week to be able to afford affordable housing. Thus, in a very real sense, government housing does not just subsidize low-income workers, it subsidizes employers who won’t pay a living wage.
And let’s not forget the report last year by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs discussing how affordable housing has been abandoned for the more profitable market-rate housing, despite the availability of Federal funds through the 1976 Land Use Planning Act, which is not being used. The result is de facto discrimination against the poor in general and the Black poor in particular. In a study of 25 cities, the report found that only six of every 100 acres designated by cities for affordable, high-density housing actually got affordable units. Sure sounds like legal fraud to me. The Feds put up the money and the cities and developers use it for themselves, not for the low and moderate-income residents as designated.
For now, it is clear that the entitlement system is running amok, and now it benefits Whites more than Blacks. And those Whites are using city monies to displace Black project housing for gentrification of Whites, particularly on the South Side of Minneapolis. Why does the DFL run roughshod over the Blacks in favor of these White groups? Three reasons. First, Blacks will vote DFL anyway, so why bother with them except on Election Day? Secondly, these other interest groups are White. And thirdly, in terms of gays, they provide yet another group of volunteers to work the door-to-door campaigns set up to get out the vote for the DFL.
Finally, all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. The law suit recently brought against the regional Metropolitan Council chaired by Ted Mondale and against the City of Eagan by three housing groups may finally break the log jam of feet dragging preventing the following of the 1976 Land Use Planning Act that calls for providing affordable housing for people with limited income as part of any community’s goals. The lawsuit is being filed as a human rights complaint. I think you would agree, dear reader, that 26 years is long enough. More than enough. Now, combine this action with the Hollman lawsuit, and tremendous movement becomes possible, as it will deal with thousands, not just the hundreds of Hollman.
And although the Metropolitan Council says it prefers its methods, it can’t get away from the fact that its own figures show that they are only providing 10% of what they acknowledge is needed. But, if they can do the delay thing a little while longer, then the land still available for development will be used up and there will be no room left, a traditional stall tactic for the purpose of making sure the intent of the law does not happen. Indeed, even a study covering the last 25 years by the University of Minnesota calls the council’s action “a missed opportunity of huge proportions.”
It is time to get real. It is time to step up and use legal tools like this lawsuit to force compliance. If the Jim Crow laws were used to legally take away our freedoms, it is
time we once again used the law to take them back.
“Torn From The Land”
A Newspaper Series on How Blacks Lost (legally stolen) Their Land and Wealth Since Reconstruction
Making the Case for Reparations For Stolen Land/Wealth, Not for Slavery:
The Rediscovery of Black Capability and Black Capitalism
This land is my land, this land is your land.
Some will rob you with a six-gun
And some with a fountain pen.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capitol to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. ... America has defaulted on this promissory note. ... America has given the Negro people a bad check.... But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the 1940s and in the 1950s, the African-American community in Minneapolis had a stronger economic base than they do now. It is important for the young to know how well Minneapolis did. It was harder and tougher then, and we were stronger. Too many have since bought into the notion we can’t do it on our own. Before the turn of the 20th century, there developed, around 55th/56th and Humboldt Streets in now North Minneapolis, the important community of Humboldt Heights. The residents were doing well and wanted to incorporate as a town. The White Liberals blocked their doing so. The Jews had tried unsuccessfully to do the same along what is now Olson Highway, Hwy 55.
There is only so much that White liberals in a mostly White state will allow the non-White.
This Interlude will demonstrate three things:
Today Whites don’t have to use torches, guns and ropes to defeat us. They have their laws do it for them as they have writ the South large by creating in every city a Liberal Plantation of Black workers. They do it in every state with the law, with the stroke of a pen signed by the President or Governor or Mayor, either on a legislatively voted bill or a singular executive order. Blacks, especially young Black men, need to know that Blacks have been just as entrepreneurial and just as wealth producing as Whites, sometimes more so, and that we need to get back into that mind set.
Much of this Interlude is taken from the three part newspaper series of December 2001, by the Associated Press, Torn From the Land. The subheading for the first piece was “Black Americans' Farmland Taken Through Cheating, Intimidation, Even Murder.” Reparations should be paid to them. The three-part series was accompanied by numerous sidebars, graphics, and photographs, a multimedia presentation appearing on the AP Web site, The Wire. APTN, the AP's television service, produced a video report.
I’m glad this series exists so that (1) I can refer you to it, dear reader, because although the taking of Black land and wealth was first brought to my attention in an early 1970s series that reported the theft of 13 million acres, I have been unable to find the reference. Torn From the Land is an admirable replacement; (2) Without it many would not believe it, (3) it provides a tangible, historical, defendable case for reparations, a case far easier to make than the one regarding reparations for slavery.
A related incident appears in the movie Rosewood about Rosewood, Florida, a town that was more prosperous than the White communities surrounding it. The mostly Black population owned most of the land and businesses. The Blacks enjoyed more prosperity than their White neighbors in the shantytown of Sumner, who just couldn’t stand that. So, in the first week of 1923, a mob of Whites massacred Rosewood's inhabitants and burned the town to the ground. The ever-growing white mob acted like mass murder was no different from baseball, to be enjoyed by children and grown-ups alike. In one scene shown in the film, recreating actual events, families are seen not only enjoying a picnic, the men gathering together in front of a burned Black man's body to take a picture meant to commemorate the day. Brutalized bodies hang from tree branches in the background. Their descendents should receive reparations.
The same thing happened in the same decade in the prosperous Black town of Greenwood, Oklahoma, outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the Blacks prospered more than the Whites, and the Whites couldn’t stand their success either. Whites burned Greenwood to the ground as well (Interlude 13). Their descendents should receive reparations.
After the Democrats traded the Presidency to the Republicans in 1876 in exchange for the pull-out of all Federal troops, allowing for Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan, the Southern Democrats stripped Blacks of their offices, land, and wealth. Blacks were office holders in the states and counties and cities and towns. They were stripped of these offices. They had owned land and begun businesses. These were taken away, especially across the South.
After Reconstruction was repealed, whole generations of Blacks had their land, education, housing, and jobs stolen from them. Here again is where I see the case for reparations. And if the Democrats really want to prove that today they are as pro-Black as they claim, then they should offer an apology for their ancestors and lead the movement for such reparations, wherever they should be paid anywhere in America, whether by private or governments sources, depending upon each claim.
The key to wealth is land. For most in America, that means home ownership. This has been denied Blacks during most of their history in America, just as it is denied now to inner city Blacks in Minneapolis (Chapter 8). Rosewood and Greenwood, discussed above, are merely the more spectacular examples.
Slavery was legal worldwide until the second half of the 19th century, and is still legal in some parts of the world today. Not much room for the reparations argument there, but the theft of land and property was not legal.
Here is the case for reparations. In many cases, government officials approved the land-takings; in others, they took part in them and in yet others took the land for themselves. In others, the land was confiscated by the Federal Government itself, without payment, for its own projects. Some was taken for homeland defense needs during World War II but not returned afterwards. These, again, are examples that help make the case for reparations.
And by the way, we’ll know our American leaders are truly against slavery when they stand up against slavery in other parts of the world, no matter what resources those countries happen to export (for example, oil from the North African Arab countries or West African Black countries). We’ll know that key corporations, especially the giants of Minnesota, are also against slavery here when we see them stand up against slavery in the countries in which they do business. What better way to show the United Nations they mean business? The political Left’s insistence on diversity and multiculturalism allows for slavery (today they would have had to condemn the North for attacking the South in our Civil War). The political Right is perfectly willing to allow the political Left to carry that spear so there is no interruption in their business in those countries. Both parties walk hand in hand.
This theft of land and wealth took place over a 200-year period. Pouring over records throughout the South, the AP reporters who wrote Torn from the Land were able to trace the land as it exchanged hands. Some of their findings were more onerous than others: one plot of land taken from a Black family and is now a racially exclusive country club in Virginia; other formerly Black land includes a profitable oil field in Mississippi and a major league baseball training facility in Florida. One of the formulas for success in America is one generation making something, even if just the homes they live in or the land they work, and passing it on to their children and grandchildren. Whites did this routinely, at the expense of Blacks and their kids and grandkids. Intergenerational wealth development has been systematically denied in ways ranging from the spectacular, as in Rosewood and Greenwood, to the simple, a sheriff with a fake tax notice, or somewhere in between, at gunpoint or using other intimidation techniques.
When you steal a family’s property, you steal their future. The findings of the Torn from the Land series suggests that their examples are just the tip of the iceberg in one of the biggest, on-going crimes in this country's history. After reviewing tens of thousands of public records, the reporters documented land-takings in 13 Southern and border states, covering black landowners who lost tens of thousands of acres of farm and timberland plus smaller properties, including stores and city lots. And this is only what they can prove. Valued at tens of millions of dollars, virtually all of this property is now owned by Whites, both individuals and corporations. This too is part of a case for reparations. A national commission hearing from Black family records as well as going through more court houses, could develop what could be called a list for reparations reconciliation. Even more startling, as noted below, is that the takings of Black land has been far greater since the Civil Rights Movement heyday of the 1950s than before.
An interesting and very ugly side bar, according to the NAACP, is that most of the 3,000 documented lynchings (Interlude 15), were property owners. Fisk University’s Race Relations Institute says if you are looking for stolen property: “just follow the lynching trail.” Again: a case for reparations is here.
Progress? Hardly. The title of the 3rd part of the series says it all: In recent years, Black families have continued to lose land as the takings continue, resulting in a 91-year decline in black landownership in America. This really helps the case for reparations. For example, in 1910, Black Americans owned at least 15 million acres of farmland, nearly all of it in the South, according to the U.S. Agricultural Census. Today, Blacks own only 1.1 million acres of farmland and are only part owners of another 1.07 million acres. This too helps the case for reparations.
Obviously, one big problem was that Blacks were powerless to prevent the takings in the decades between Reconstruction and the Civil-Rights struggle and even today. One example of the types of cover-up rendered was the torching of courthouses and their records.
The series quotes a person whose ancestors lost their land: “how Virginia's courts acted goes against everything America stands for.” I make the same claim about North Minneapolis: how the Whites are treating the inner city Blacks of North Minneapolis goes against everything America stands for. It is time for the Whites of Minnesota, especially the young generations of the great families of wealth of Minneapolis and Minnesota, to show that they are true Americans and thus stand up for America by standing up for the Blacks of the inner city of Minneapolis.
As the Torn from the Land series notes, lawyers and real estate traders are still stripping Black Americans of their ancestral land today, simply by following the law, which favors Whites over Blacks.
Since 1969, the decline has been particularly steep. Black Americans have lost 80 percent of the 5.5 million acres of farmland they owned in the South 32 years ago, according to the U.S. Agricultural Census. The law is what the states want it to be. As one put it: “All of the legal procedures of Louisiana law were followed.” This too helps the case for reparations.
To me, this is a clear cut case for the need for reparations to help level the playing field made uneven by all of these events over these many decades, including those cases recounted in the Interludes.
There are two reparations arguments in America today, one centering on reparations for all Blacks because of slavery, and mine, articulated here, to provide reparations for the takings of land and wealth. Slavery was legal until the middle of the second half of the 19th century, world wide, and only a tiny minority of Whites in the South actually owned slaves (most Whites in the South were poor dirt farmers). Many White Americans worked against slavery and many, many Whites died in the war to end it.
As we Blacks in America have a per capita income 20-50 times those of Blacks living in African nations, reparations for slavery means we would benefit from the servitude of our ancestors. With that attitude we would be as morally corrupt as the White plunderers.
However, given the actions noted in the Interludes, a very real case can be made for reparations for the wealth and land stolen from Blacks in this country, that continues today when inner city Blacks are shut out of a good education, jobs, and housing. Many Blacks have made it. We need reparations for those who have been prevented from making it by these takings of land and wealth. A National Commission of Reconciliation and Reparations should be established to investigate and work out the payments that would be involved.
Ron hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm. Formerly head of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and the Urban League, he continues his “watchdog” role for Minneapolis. Order his book, hear his voice, read his solution papers, and read his between columns “web log” at www.TheMinneapolisStory.com.
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