The opening of the Seward food co-op on 38th and 4th Avenue is probably the biggest non-governmental development to hit 38th Street in at least 50 years. But it has brought into sharp relief the under-utilized and under-appreciated business districts along the rest of 38th Street.
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden has been tirelessly organizing community meetings to encourage neighbors to remember the old neighborhood and imagine new possibilities for the street. The first three meetings had visits by former residents who have left the ‘hood and become famous, like Judge Lajune Lange and Gary Cunningham.
Besides being married to the mayor, Gary Cunningham is the executive director of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association and a member of the Metropolitan Council. A picture of the Bryant-Central co-op hangs on his office wall. He says it is one of his sources of inspiration. More than 40 years ago, his uncle Mo Burton, the founder of the local chapter of the Black Panther Party, organized the co-op and opened it on 35th Street and 4th Avenue. This was during the period of the Co-op Wars, when ideologically rigid and left-dogmatic radicals had taken over co-ops and the People’s Warehouse and were violently attacking hippies who resisted their authority. Theophilus Smith was the charismatic black leader who had turned Maoist study groups into a personality cult. But he had met his match in Mo. When Smith’s group, the Co-op Organization, started a vilification campaign against Mo, Mo answered with an amusing leaflet accusing them of “Sneakeyism,” a new contribution to Marxist criticism. When they started bullying tactics, Mo and some friends went to some of their homes and physically retaliated. The CO ran out of gas, and public outrage at their tactics left them isolated and rejected. And the Bryant-Central co-op lost its energy and collapsed at about the same time.
Another black revolutionary who lived in the Bryant-Central neighborhood prior to World War II was Nelson Peery. His book, “Black Fire: The Making of an American Revolutionary,” talks about what it was like to grow up black in South Minneapolis in the late ’30s and early ’40s. He talks about fights with white gangs that were harassing black kids for playing in Phelps Park and Brown Bag Parties where young blacks would have parties and pin a brown bag by the front door, which meant if you were darker than the bag you were not invited to the party.
The first three community meetings have identified some of the problems on 38th Street. From Council Member Elizabeth Glidden’s notes:
• The vacant storefront at the former Mattress Liquidator space, 3725-29 Chicago.
• The empty storefront at 3759 Chicago. This could have retail and/or arts-related uses and mix housing and commercial.
• Sabathani Community Center, at 310 E. 38th St. should do more to promote itself as a community gathering space, a place to gather and share ideas. It should maybe have a coffee shop with community meeting spaces and include a health clinic for seniors.
• 3741 Chicago. This property is for sale, the former home of 4 Points Body Gallery. This could be an opportunity for evening activity, exciting retail or a service center.
Elizabeth Glidden says, “On May 6, we are taking some of the top ideas from past meetings and will work to start the beginnings of action plans for those items. The hope would be that some individuals or organizations (including the city, neighborhood organizations, community organizations and property owners) would also participate in moving some of the ideas forward.”