On the night of July 19, 1967, racial tension in North Minneapolis erupted along Plymouth Avenue in a series of acts of arson, assaults, and vandalism. The violence, which lasted for three nights, is often linked with other race-related demonstrations in cities across the nation during 1967’s “long hot summer.” *
For those in the hippie or peace movements, 1967 represented the “Summer of Love”. Simultaneously, black Americans living in the centrums of the great cities of the United States had much different experiences alleging: chronic unemployment, unlawful detainments by their local police, and poor housing demonstrated uneven enforcement and application of the law. The hope created in the Civil Rights movement met the reality of deferred and disrupted implementation. These unmet expectations spilled over in 159 racial riots across our nation during the months of June and July of this year in: Atlanta, Buffalo, Cambridge, Cincinnati, Portland, Riviera Beach, Saginaw, Tampa, Detroit, Birmingham, Chicago, New York City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Britain, Rochester, Plainfield, Toledo, and Newark. **
But what were the local effects of the “Long, Hot Summer” of 1967? Susan Marks, in her article for the online MNopedia of the Minnesota Historical Society provides us an outline to put this event in proper context. ***
Unequal housing and job opportunities strain previously friendly relationships between the Northside’s black and Jewish communities. Though many Jewish people move out of the neighborhood, several Jewish-owned businesses remain open on Plymouth Avenue.
African Americans make up 4 percent of Minnesota’s population. A large number of newly arrived immigrants settle on the “Near North Side.”
After incidents of looting and arson in North Minneapolis, Mayor Arthur Naftalin meets with representatives of the black community and promises to help improve local conditions.
The Way Opportunities Unlimited, Inc. (The Way) opens in North Minneapolis. It attempts to empower the black community and provide economic opportunities.
Opportunities for black citizens in North Minneapolis remain poor.
July 19, 1967
Violence erupts on Plymouth Avenue just before 11:30 p.m. Knox Food Market, a Jewish-owned business, is set on fire.
Molotov cocktails are thrown at the home of Minneapolis Fifth Ward Alderman Joe Greenstein.
Riot police arrive in North Minneapolis to restore order.
July 20, 1967
At 12:15 a.m., a crowd moves toward the Homewood Theater, a Jewish-owned venue. Police make several arrests.
Alderman Greenstein’s garage is set on fire, but saved.
July 21, 1967
Samuel Simmons, an African American man, is shot at Wayne’s Bar at 12:30 AM.
Silver’s Food Market and Country House Market—two Jewish-owned businesses— are set on fire.
Police arrive and form a skirmish line.
National Guardsmen arrive.
July 22, 1967
The unrest ends. National Guardsmen continue to occupy North Minneapolis for one week.”
We find another outstanding primary source of information on these nights of unrest in North Minneapolis from the archives of ABC News, as cited by Hezakya Newz. This original newscast, about 25 minutes long, is a plethora of interviews of locals and their take on what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. The most compelling interview, in the opinion of the author, is found at 11:52 – 13:58 of local Civil Rights leader; Mr. Harry S. Davis. Please read the transcript below.
“Q: Mr. Davis, how do you size up what happened here last night?
A: It started, because, for about three weeks now rumors have been flying around through the power structure, for one, that there was going to be a riot.
…For instance, the police had a riot control training program just Tuesday of this week…
Now, understanding the emotions of men, especially policemen, who are on the police force for a number of reasons, and the slightest little thing that would happen would force them into doing something, and this is what happened last night.
Two girls got into an argument; a fight. The police, one of the fellas was trying to separate them, the police saw this thing, they were ready and armed, and they started knocking, pushing, hitting people, and they (the people) began to retaliate.”
Q: Do you blame this on the police then? Is that it?
A: I blame this on the temperament of the power structure for alarming the community to the point that this thing had to happen.
Q: What do you mean by power structure? I mean from the governor on down to the lowest man within the system that makes decisions.
Q: They were predicting riots?
A: Right! They were predicting riots.” ****
In sum, we arrive at these general truths: there existed a nation-wide expression of dissent, locally, we find a historical trail that led us to the Plymouth Avenue riots, and a prominent witness of the anticipation of city and state governments of riotous conditions.
Since the advent of televised reporting in this era, we see some evidence of the democratization of outrage; local events sparking nation-wide acts of empathetical protest. We see in local history that when representative government “kicks the can down the road”, (fails to respond to the present), the result is often multiplied and intensified towards uninvolved third parties “getting their can kicked”! Maybe Plymouth Avenue is an example of predictive programming? What happens when locals no longer trust the law and the good faith of authorities, but find only policies to punish disagreement? Or did this event expose the hair-trigger of our local government’s misbeliefs; when they look for riots they surely find them?
With our hands lifted up, we kneel before the Just One; we can’t figure out the night of July 19, 1967 and we surrender! We remember that You are the continual Seat of Authority over this universe. We recall that the Council of Heaven longs for the expression of justice on earth “as it is in Heaven”! Enlighten us to intercede for this event 53 years ago. According to Your system of justice, let us: acknowledge individual and collective judgments and offenses against You, our neighbors, and ourselves within these nights in Minneapolis and the “Long, Hot Summer” of 1967. Come, heal our system of government in the Twin Cities and Minnesota! Come, free us from repeating the same cycles of fear, prejudice, racism, and bitter-root judgments that lock us into eternal conflict with You and our fellow man. Like the Pilgrim’s, make Plymouth the last port before sailing on to the Promised Land.
Let’s begin our confession of a giant source of pain; the democratization of outrage. Lord, by this I mean that at times we respond, bodily and emotionally, to local stories on a national, or even world-wide scale. We now, through media of all kinds, can witness the events of history closer and closer to the actual time of their occurrence. (This, of itself, is neither good nor bad, and I don’t condemn the technology or news gathering sources.)
Yet, Your spirit shows me this in our acts of democratized outrage; they split our souls in two. Can a man simultaneously walk forward while critically viewing himself from the outside taking a walk? Can we both live and analyze our acts of living at the same time? Isn’t this practice a form of DID (Dissociative identity disorder)? Will we be present-tense participants in our own lives, or passive and past-tense analysts of life? Does not our media intake create the possibility of a condition in which “two or more distinct identities or personality states” alternate in controlling the patient’s consciousness and behavior?
Let us learn and practice to be one as You are One! You are Eternally Present to all. Will You forgive us our split consciousness of July 19, 1967, and re-integrate us where we have allowed and practiced the democratization of outrage? Will You forgive us our mountains of judgments against You and our unknown neighbors whom we observe passively and from a distance through the minuscule peephole of a camera lens? There are so many perspectives outside the frame of a photo. A well-researched newspaper article is a two-dimensional facsimile of real life run through the filter and biases of: the owners of the news corporation, it’s advertisers, the publisher, editor, and the history, beliefs, and misbeliefs of the mind of its author! We have deeply offended our Maker in this. We have thoroughly engaged in the practice of snap-judgments of Your Mind, Your Justice, and Your Peoples both near and far! Will You take these root-misbeliefs, that we can be both the observers and participants of our lives, that we can make both passive and actively-minded just choices at the same time, up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ? Will You give us Your solidity of heart and mind? We need to do justly, and we need to learn how and when to control emotional responses while gratefully acknowledging that feelings are gifts from You for the betterment of our lives!
As for the next point of discussion and prayer, Father, we want to acknowledge some specific judgments and counter-judgments of this event.
We start with geography. We acknowledge that the Near North Side to be a place of generational racial judgments and redlining of the heart if not in the law and business practices of Minneapolis! We see a history, too long, of those deemed by the city or county as undesirable ethnically gathered into its neighborhoods; Slavic peoples, Jewish peoples, and African-American peoples. Forgive our city these judgments of Slavs, Jews, and Black Americans as well as the counter-judgments of these groups towards Minneapolis.
We acknowledge the sins and separations of place to You. Will You heal the pain of: Plymouth Avenue, of Broadway and West Broadway, The Way, Knox Food Market, Homewood Theatre, Wayne’s Bar, Silver’s Food Market, Country House Market, Alderman Joe Greenstein’s home and garage, and any other square foot of ground embroiled in this conflict? We invite Your Presence into these specific locations, businesses, and any other unnamed places of conflict in the Plymouth Riots of 1967. Will You restore and create balance where injustices in all directions have occurred?
We declare that the Near North of Minneapolis is Your neighborhood where all men and women of peace are invited!
We move next to general historic realities of the Northside, and again, it’s A-B judgments.
We remember a reality of unequal opportunities and apportionment of the laws of Minnesota and Minneapolis towards various ethnicities, including but not limited to: Slavs, Jewish, and Black communities. We ask forgiveness of this daisy-chain of judgment: of historic leaders of Minneapolis towards Slavs, who judged the Jews, who judged the African American. We ask for the release of the history of counter-judgments of all these parties towards each other, our city, and our state. We have failed You first in this, Father.
Will You forgive the judgments of this neighborhood towards each successive wave of immigration or migration of large groups of “new” ethnicities? Will You forgive Your African-American people their envy, jealousy, and judgments of the established Jewish businesses and culture of the Near North? Will You forgive Your Jewish-American people their judgments and failures to see the Image of G-d in their new African-American neighbors of the 1950-60’s?
We see and acknowledge the evil of looting and arson in this event. We remember the physical destruction of primarily Jewish-owned businesses at the hands of primarily African-American rioters and arsonists. We acknowledge these crimes of judgment and counter-judgment. We condemn crime against Your peoples of any ethnicity, or the assumption of criminality based on one’s ethnicity. We recognize that the majority of all residents of the Near North did not participate in violence against property or persons. We recognize that much of these offense were committed by the young and inexperienced in life. Will You forgive the foolishness of these youths? Will You hear the defiance of those fully aware of these acts, and separate out those with a heart for justice from those simply intent on destruction and looting? Will You take this pain, up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ? As we have judged our neighbor, we have falsely judged You and greatly offended the Only Just One of the universe; have mercy!
Finally, we remember the individuals most offended on these nights of July 1967.
We remember the specific targeting of Alderman Joe Greenstein.
We remember the shooting of Samuel Simmons.
We remember the leadership of Harry S. Davis.
We remember the leadership of Mayor Arthur Naftalin.
We remember the injured and unnamed: of the African-American community, of the Minneapolis Police, of the Minnesota National Guard.
Each of the offenses, crimes, and judgments against these is an affront to You personally and Your Justice. Will You take this brokenness; up, out, and onto the Cross? Will You forgive us where we have made Your neighborhood, the Northside, into an unforgiving and unyielding place? We speak against the fires of the past and ask that You make this a place of construction and growth. We speak against the looting of 1967, and invite Your Spirit of giving. Will You make this the most generous African-American neighborhood in Minnesota? Will You erase our democratization of outrage in Minnesota, and replace it with the democratization of those engaged? We love You. We need You to survive. Amen!
P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
** McLaughlin, Malcolm (2014). “The Long, Hot Summer of 1967: Urban Rebellion in America”. Palgrave Macmillan.
*** Marks, Susan (2015). “Civil Unrest on Plymouth Avenue, Minneapolis, 1967”, Minnesota Historical Society. Internet. https://www.mnopedia.org/event/civil-unrest-plymouth-avenue-minneapolis-1967
**** Hezakya New & Films. “1967 SPECIAL REPORT: “MINNEAPOLIS RACE RIOTS”. ABC News. Video Source. YouTube. June 29,2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5swH1_r9OI
5 thoughts on “The Unrestful Night on Plymouth Avenue”
There’s some pretty compelling evidence that the best we can say for the Civil Rights Movement is that it had symbolic power. For example, you might like to look at this:
Click to access SocSci_v5_182to205.pdf
I love history. Thanks for the articles that you post. Please keep up your good work.
Thanks for the encouraging word!
You are very welcome.