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Mpls Community Honors 80-Year Anniversary Of Violent Protest

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Eighty years ago this weekend, giant crowds gathered outside a Minnesota family's home in a violent protest.

It was July of 1931 when Arthur and Edith Lee had the courage to buy a house in south Minneapolis and move into the neighborhood. The problem was the Lee's were black, and the neighborhood was predominantly white. Their move to the community sparked both controversy and change.

It appears just a quaint bungalow on a peaceful Minneapolis street with a nice yard and the flag flying.

"And they said it was going to be a historical spot, right there," said Pearl Ratzlaff, the current homeowner at 46th and Columbus.

But years before Ratzlaff lived there, the simple home was a lightning rod of racism.

"I think it was terrible, because I lived in Minneapolis since 1942," said Pearl.

In the summer of 1931, Arthur Lee was a postal worker and a veteran of World War I. He just happened to be black.

"He was just a fellow who wanted to make a better life for himself and thought living at 46th and Columbus would be a good fit," said Commemorative Event Chair Jim Bush.

As word spread of their move, white people in the area grew outraged. They offered to buy the home back for more than the Lee's paid just to keep the neighborhood segregated.

"He refused, said no, I fought for this country and I ought to live, where I want to live," said Bush.

When a meeting at the nearby Field School failed to bring resolution, they turned to intimidation.

For three days that July, the crowds gathered outside the home. Many of them were hurling threats and stones at the Lee's, who were locked inside.

"It was a mob scene, throwing things at his house, some of the protesters had guns," Bush said.

That mayhem was captured in the Tribune's black and white photos and bold headlines, including "Home Stoned in Race Row." Inside the house was Robert Foreman's mother, then a 6-year-old child. She later told him of his grandfather's words.

"They didn't ask me to move when I was in World War I fighting in the water and the mud. Why are they asking me to move now?" said Robert Foreman, Lee's grandson.

But the headlines faded and the story was nearly lost. Joe Senkyr Minjares operates Pepitos and the Parkway Theatre and said the low point in the neighborhood and city's history needs to be recognized and remembered.

"I started asking around and no one knew anything about it," Senkyr said. "There's a lot of people who say can't we just forget? Well, no we can't."

Soon nobody will forget. The occasion will be commemorated on its 80th anniversary this weekend with an event simply called, "A Time to Remember."

"This event is about remembering the struggle," Senkyr said. "Our legacy is what we pass on to our children. It's our responsibility to remember this and to pass that on."

A stone and steel marker will leave little doubt as it's placed at the very corner where hatred once stood. To Robert Foreman it's a fitting symbol of gratitude and courage, of those who took a stand.

"That's what it is about to me. It's about thanking the people who stood up and came forward to help. Not about bashing the people who didn't want him to live here," said Foreman.

Neighbors and Minneapolis community leaders will get together on Saturday to commemorate the event.

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