If you were on the Northside of Minneapolis this past Saturday afternoon, August 20, you may have seen a sea of green clad bikers wheeling past. You would have been witnessing the Rotary Club of North Minneapolis’ (RCNM) second annual Northside Ramble, a bike/brewery/history/art tour of our city’s storied Northside.
The RCNM is a small but mighty branch of the international service organization. Our club has 14 members, split evenly between African Americans and whites. I have been a member since 2018, the same year I moved to the Northside. My husband and I picked up stakes from southwest Minneapolis after having the seed planted by reading a Streets.mn post by Bill Lindeke in November 2017 called ”Map Monday: Two Maps Showing Minneapolis Racial Segregation.” It led us to leave a city block with 10 to 20 percent nonwhite population for one with a 50 to 75 percent non-white population and a neighborhood with the “least diverse” diversity designation for one with the “more diverse” designation.
We found ourselves in a neighborhood with a mix of African Americans, whites, Asians, Hispanics, immigrants, renters, owners, youngsters, old folks, rich and poor, but also with beautiful homes and tree-lined streets. The folks who live here are a tight-knit group who have each other’s backs yet are warm and welcoming to newcomers. I immediately wanted to become an ambassador — especially as a white woman — to show others that the Northside was more than the one-dimensional portrait seen on the news.
The Northside Ramble accomplished this very well on Saturday. Our Rotary Club founded the Ramble last year, the brainchild of a member who had observed the winning combination of biking and brewery tours. North Minneapolis is home to two popular breweries, La Doña Cervecería and Pryes Brewing Company. A brewery/bike ride event would introduce folks to the Northside, while also raising money for a good cause. This year we chose to raise money for Gotcha Glasses, a project of longtime Northside health center NorthPoint Clinic. Gotcha Glasses leader Lesley Tuomi introduced the program to our club earlier this year, sharing that when NorthPoint conducted screenings of kids in two Northside schools, 44 percent had some sort of visual impairment but few were getting any correction. As a club we were galvanized by this opportunity to provide a simple but effective aid to Northside children’s education and quality of life.
The Ramble was once again led by Anthony Taylor, the head of Slow Roll Twin Cities and the co-founder of Major Taylor Bicycle Club, the sport riding club comprised mainly of African American cyclists. Anthony plotted our route, including stops at historical sights. He encouraged us to be biking ambassadors, waving at people and thanking them for yielding to us. It was fun to see people yell greetings to him from car windows and wave him over to say hi.
We started at La Doña Cervecería, a Latino-owned brewery. PowerBikes.com, from St. Louis Park, provided six e-bikes, one of which I took. Normally, I use Nice Rides to get around town, as Near North is well-supplied by this bike-sharing system. But for this lengthy four-hour ride I wanted some electrical assistance.
Learning Some History
Anthony gave opening remarks on the relationship between Jews and African Americans, which on the whole was a strong one. Banks and lenders redlined the Northside of Minneapolis, which made it difficult for African Americans to purchase homes. Yet racial covenants excluded African Americans from many other parts of the city. Many Jews, who were also shunned in other parts of the city, purchased homes on the Northside. They were the first group willing to rent to African Americans, who thought of Jews not as white but as a racial “other.” As the Jews of the Northside eventually moved to the suburbs, particularly St. Louis Park, many of their amenities on the Northside were passed on to African American people, including community centers, temples, homes and schools.
After Anthony’s introduction, the 68 riders (up from 50 last year) all got ready to Ramble! Anthony brought a crew of teenagers to help with traffic control. As Anthony said, that many people makes a parade, so we rolled through intersections with the help of the teens holding back traffic for us.
The first stop was the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center. Anthony spoke about the historic Phyllis Wheatley Settlement House, a resource for social service needs for African Americans. It was originally located in the old Talmud Torah Hebrew school, an example of one of those hand-offs from Jews to African Americans.
Drinking Some Beer
From there we took a ride up to Pryes Brewing Company, which happened to be inundated with people attending their Boardwalk Party, a family-friendly event that included baby goats. After we got refreshed at Pryes, we dipped into North Loop, down West River Parkway and back on Washington Avenue, before a history stop back on the Northside, at the corner of Plymouth and Penn.
Here, Anthony shared the history of Plymouth Avenue, once a major commercial thoroughfare lined with shops, many owned by Jews, including Desnick Drugstore, Silvers Food Market and Knox Market. Riots in 1966 and 1967 damaged businesses and burned some down. This sparked the major exodus of Jews from the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the transfer of ownership of the shops to African Americans never happened in this case, and the shops were torn down.
Plymouth Avenue today is primarily apartment buildings, parking lots and open spaces, with hardly any retail to be seen. One significant African American-associated institution, the Way Community Center, founded by Spike Moss in 1966, was demolished to make way for the Fourth Precinct Police Station. Where Plymouth was once a more walkable business district than Broadway, the street has never rebounded.
The buildings now at the corner of Plymouth and Penn — the Thor Building, Estes Funeral Chapel, the Urban League’s Glover Sudduth Center and the NorthPoint Clinic currently under construction — are all designed by African American architects, Anthony pointed out.
If you care to see the area for yourself, visit the Urban League’s Family Day on Saturday, August 27 from noon to 7 p.m.
Art and Music
For the folks from North, it was an opportunity to showcase our community to riders from other parts of the city and suburbs. As rider Constance Vork said, “I felt proud for riders to see our community up close, and hopeful that their experiences will help spread the message that North Minneapolis is so much more than what people might read in the news.” Lori Pietrowksi of Eden Prairie said she enjoyed seeing a part of the city she may not otherwise have visited. And Bruce Treichler, a Rotarian from Maple Grove, called the Northside Ramble “one of my favorite summertime events.”
The whole day had an atmosphere of fun, easy connections with new people and appreciation of biking through the urban environment.
- Kristopher Johnson liked “the camaraderie of riding as a pack and the solidarity.”
- Lori Pietrowski noted that the Ramble promoted “cross-cultural and ethnic interaction, with the hopeful outcome of greater tolerance and understanding.”
- Ana Placencia, a Northsider, just enjoyed “looking at the crowd with the green T-shirts, showing their love for biking and their commitment to support north Minneapolis.”
“The collaboration of organizations, groups, artists, curators and businesses was my favorite part,” said Northsider Kristel Porter. In that spirit, thanks to our sponsors including US Bank, West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, Vork Real Estate Group, the Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON), NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center and Shiloh Temple. Also to our collaborators, La Doña Cervecería, Pryes Brewing Company, Anthony Taylor and crew, seangarrison, Hopewell Flute Choir, Sammy’s on the Avenue, Cycle Sisters and PowerBikes.com.
All photos without attribution were taken by the author. Photo at top by Jim Tincher.