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Minneapolis: The Consequences of Inequality of Opportunity.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By David Hamilton
May 8, 2021

The decade of the 70s were a tumultuous time in the evolution of America, according to History.com, as an array of emerging, complex issues constrained the nation’s reach for the American Dream. Concern for the environment, the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, Watergate, stagflation, the oil embargo, racial equality, sexual choice and women’s rights combined to divert the nation’s attention from the path to upward mobility—the driving force of the expanding middle class. But as we struggled with these national issues, regions and cities continued to prosper, offering hope, jobs and a safe place to live. The Mary Tyler Moore Show, set in Minneapolis, embraced women’s rights within the broad context of the American Dream; the driving vision of the middle class. Even in these troubled times, here opportunity awaited where you could still, “Make it on your own.”

Although the show was fictitious, the reality it depicted was not. Minneapolis continued to draw thousands of residents in search of a new life. In 2014, the well-worn path of urban migration brought George Perry Floyd Jr. from Houston to Minneapolis to make it on his own. He was, “Raised in a predominantly Black neighborhood where White flight, underinvestment and mass incarceration fostered a crucible of inequality,” according to a recent Washington Post article entitled, Born with Two Strikes. George was an athlete that had once held hopes for a professional career in football. As his high-school friend recalled in another Washington Post article, Looking for his Ticket Out, “Floyd had a vision for greatness…He once proclaimed, ‘I’m gonna be big. I’m gonna touch the world.’ But after a series of disappointing college placements, he returned home to the third ward with limited options where he received his first conviction for delivery of a controlled substance that set him on a path leading to years in incarceration. Between times in jail, ‘He worked odd jobs and briefly enrolled in the historically Black college across the street…but none of those attempts were lasting. School was done, collegiate sports were over and Floyd was heading toward an uncertain future,’” as the article concludes.

His pastor suggested that he leave his troubled past in his neighborhood of Houston, known as “The Bricks” where incomes were about half of the city average and unemployment nearly four times higher, as noted in a recent article in the Chicago Tribune. He was raised by a single-mother, who played a predominate role in his life. As the article notes, “Larcenia Floyd invested her hopes in her son. She thought he would be the one who would bring them out of poverty and struggle.”  With his final breath, pinned down on a street in Minneapolis by an arresting police officer, he would call out to her with his final breath.

Long before his arrival, barriers and obstacles had been laid in place to ensure that some, but not all of the emerging middle class could follow the path to the American Dream. As Greta Kaul writes, “Economic prosperity in the 1920s brought a housing boom to the cities, and as a new middle class equipped with automobiles looking to buy homes, Minneapolis’ footprint spread south…Less outwardly visible, but also attractive to some of such perspective home buyers were restrictions written into deeds in some neighborhoods in this area who kept out anybody that wasn’t white.” The article below, published in the Minneapolis Star in 1923 stated that, “Premises shall not be sold , mortgaged or leased to or occupied by any persons other than members of the Caucasian race.” Nokomis, as the new area was called, followed a familiar pattern of exclusion found in almost all American cities at that time and in clear language, confirmed that it would be practiced in Minneapolis with long-reaching implications.  

Once established, the pervasive pattern of exclusion by race continued. In a probing article recently published in the New York Daily News, David Schultz cites his work with the Institute of Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota that found, “The Twin Cities was among the most segregated metropolitan regions in the country.” He also noted recent reports published in 2013 and 2015 concluding that in Minnesota, “The unemployment gap for blacks was three times that of whites….the second- worst in among states in the nation.” It is not surprising then that George Floyd and the dreams of his mother were met in Minneapolis by more odd jobs; all ending in unemployment due to the pandemic.

Why are these long-neglected issues of inequality of opportunity vitally important to public administration and to the public we serve? Because, as Richard Rothstein reminds us in The Color of Law, “As a nation, we have paid an enormous price for avoiding an obligation to remedy the unconstitutional segregation we have allowed to fester.” The costs to individuals like George Floyd were dispiriting, destructive and in the end, lethal. To the middle class, incalculable. To our cities, states and the nation, astronomical. These costs along with proposed remedial policies are the feature of next month’s article.  

Author: David Hamilton is a change leader that heads a consulting firm guiding local governments with visioning, planning and organizational alignment. As a public administrator, he led county and city governments to adapt and change. His doctoral studies at Hamline University were based on the impacts of rapid growth and development on Edge Counties. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a baccalaureate from Lakehead University. Hamilton is a member of the Suncoast Chapter of ASPA where he served as Treasure and President. Email: [email protected]

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