October 19, 2020
This is part of a series on the Black community in southwest Minneapolis at the beginning of the twentieth century. For a visual treatment of Black and indigenous displacement from this part of Minneapolis see this interactive story map.
In the southwestern corner of Minneapolis sits a subdivision called “Evelyn’s Addition.” Platted in 1927, this small development on the Edina border was an effort to secure a small Black enclave in a rapidly developing part of the city.
Located one block south of the commercial hub at 50th and France Avenue South, Evelyn’s Addition was the penultimate effort by John Scott to ensure that Black people would have a place in an increasingly hostile landscape. Its approval by the Minneapolis city council marked a short-term victory for the entrepreneur, who had worked to expand the boundaries of Black-owned land in Minneapolis over the previous twenty years.
The story behind Evelyn’s Addition belies the popular perception that Black Minnesotans never had the drive to acquire and develop property. John Scott and his family provide an alternative history; they show how Black families made land ownership a priority. In the aftermath of the Civil War, land was the ticket to freedom and independence for newly-freed slaves. In the period of intensifying white supremacy that followed Reconstruction, Black people across the United States focused on land as a way to ensure community safety and prosperity.
The history of the Scott homestead illuminates how Black owned land fostered community. It also underscores how difficult it has been for Black people to maintain control of land. Black land tenure has been decreasing since 1910 in the United States. Researchers point to this trend to explain the growth of the racial wealth gap over the last century.
Scott had imagined a future when the shopping area at 50th and France served a racially-mixed clientele of homeowners who lived in the surrounding blocks. Instead, the toney commercial district became known for its white exclusivity.
Map by Marguerite Mills. In 1904, John W. Scott purchased four acres in Bull’s Subdivision, which was adjacent to the commercial district that would take shape at 50th and France. By the 1920s, his land was surrounded by racial covenants. He responded by platting Evelyn's Addition, which he named for his daughter. In the context of intensifying white supremacy, this new subdivision was an act of Black resistance.
Scott’s quest began in 1904, when he purchased four acres of land on the southwestern edge of Minneapolis. It was on this modest plot that he would build his home, which he made with a college graduate named Belle from Tennessee. This is the place where the couple welcomed their daughter Evelyn.
This land provided more than a place to live. It provided the privileges that come with property ownership in the United States. “Equality in the enjoyment of property rights,” the United States Supreme Court declared in a landmark 1948 decision, is “an essential precondition to the realization of other basic civil rights and liberties.”
John made a point of exercising these liberties. He had been born in Chatham, Ontario, a Canadian town that was an endpoint on the Underground Railroad. In the nineteenth century this was a Black Mecca, attracting American expatriates like John’s parents, who had left the United States to safeguard the freedom of their family. In the 1890s, John came south to Minneapolis, where he secured some of the best jobs open to Black men at the time. He was a waiter at the West Hotel, generally considered to be the most exclusive establishment of its time. When the hotel lost its luster after a devastating fire, John found work as a porter on the Soo Line Railroad, where he remained employed until his death.
After making his way to Minneapolis in the 1890s, John Scott worked as a waiter at the West Hotel, which was considered to be the fanciest establishment in the region. Image credit: Hennepin County Library.
Scott funneled his wages into land and invested his time in politics. He served on the arrangements committee of the Afro-American Progressive Meeting and as Vice President of the Negro Voter’s League. His home became a social hub for the Black community. He and his wife Belle hosted elegant receptions, dinner parties, receptions and club meetings. He rented one lot to another Black family. He also assisted other Black families who were property owners in south Minneapolis, providing capital to people like Mary and Moses Burke in Linden Hills.
Through the 1910s and 1920s, John and Belle owned their land free and clear of any debt. This gave them a bulwark against growing racism and violence. Land provided income; the Scotts rented and sold parts of their land to generate funds as they needed them. Owning land also provided physical and social space for the Scotts, insulating them from the daily indignities and dangers of white supremacy. This kind of buffer was essential in Minneapolis during the early years of the twentieth century, as white people mobilized to eliminate those liberatory spaces. It was in this period that a white mob threatened two Black families in Prospect Park. At the same time, white neighbors were pressuring Mary Myrick to sell her land near Lake Harriet. Black residents made up only one percent of the population. But they came under siege all over the city, as their white neighbors cast them as impediments to prosperity and development. The Minneapolis Journal condemned mixed-race neighborhoods as “dangerous” and called on the Real Estate Board to contain what it described as a "considerable negro colony."
As their once remote section of the city developed, the Scotts sold parts of their holdings. In 1925, they transferred ownership of one parcel to the Minneapolis School Board, which built the John Whitcomb Riley Elementary School to serve the growing population of children in this neighborhood. Another buyer was Mary Hummel, who bought a piece of the Scotts land in 1914. Eleven years later, she sold the land she acquired from the Scotts to Otto S. Lofgren. During this transaction she transformed the property in a way that would have enraged the Scotts. She inserted this clause into the deed:
"...said land shall not be sold, conveyed, leased, or rented to any person other than of the White or Caucasian race, nor shall said land be used or occupied by any person other than of the White or Caucasian race, except such as may be serving as domestics for the owner or tenant..."
Image credit: Hennepin County Deeds Book, 1068, page 55, Document No. 1284821, recorded June 11, 1925
Hummel likely took her inspiration from another real estate developer in Edina. In 1923, the Thorpe Brothers had purchased 300 acres of land and divided it into 585 “restricted” homesteads. This new development was just a couple of blocks from 50th and France. Its curving streets were paved and landscaped; each lot was supplied with sewer, water and electricity. The developers were also careful to stipulate who could live in the new neighborhood. “When we came to naming the restrictions, we were still a little apprehensive,” Samuel Thorpe declared in 1925. But this development taught him that a “householder is coming to be just about as willing to fight Indians and tackle grizzly bears as to make his home in an unrestricted district.” Hummel seems to have copied her restriction almost verbatim from the restricted deeds that brought Thorpe national acclaim.
Hummel extended the racial boundary drawn by Thorpe to the block occupied by the Scotts. With one stroke of her pen, she transformed land once held by Blacks into a white-only space.
The Scotts responded with “Evelyn’s Addition.” They named this new subdivision for their daughter; this proclaimed their affection while also staking her claim to the remaining section of their original four acres. At a moment when every institution in American life was conspiring to make property ownership impossible for Black people, Evelyn’s Addition was a profound act of resistance. It was also a speculative bet that was meant to ensure their financial future.
The family faced intense headwinds in their pursuit of security. The larger economic context was grim. The agricultural hinterland surrounding the city had been suffering through a depression since the end of World War I. The global economy collapsed in 1929. During those years, the Scotts were forced to re-mortgage their land. They borrowed against two of the lots in Evelyn’s Addition. Disaster struck when John died in 1931 from prostate cancer. When he left this world, he must have hoped that the land he had safeguarded would provide for his family.
John died in 1931 from prostate cancer. When he left this world, he must have hoped that the land he had safeguarded would provide for his family. His gravestone marks his final Minneapolis resting place in Lakewood Cemetery. Image credit: James Eli Shiffer.
His death left the family without a steady income. Evelyn was in high school. Despite her college education, Belle would have struggled to find any employment at a moment when one-third of the city was out of work. The surviving Scotts could not hold on to the land that had sustained the family for three decades. By 1935, Belle and Evelyn had lost the six lots they owned in Evelyn’s Addition to real estate taxes and foreclosure.
Evelyn Scott’s 1933 West High yearbook photo. This portrait was published two years after her father’s death and two years before her family lost their land in Southwest Minneapolis. She chose this quote to accompany her image: “A girl with a smile is a girl worthwhile.” Image courtesy the Hennepin County Yearbook Collection, Hennepin County Library.
The Scotts were just one of millions of American families that experienced foreclosure during those years. The federal government recognized this crisis and responded by creating the Home Ownership Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration to shore up homeownership. But these new programs were created to help white homeowners; 98 percent of FHA loans issued between 1934 and 1962 went to white people. They excluded people like the Scotts, who were Black.
After they lost their land, Belle and Evelyn moved into the racially-mixed neighborhood near Hiawatha Avenue. Evelyn graduated from West High School and then left Minneapolis. It is impossible to know whether she ever returned to visit her namesake development. Seeing Evelyn’s Addition with no Black residents would have been a bitter betrayal of her family’s dream.
Hennepin Deeds Book 602, page 120, Document No. 400498, recorded December 19, 1904; Mortgages Book 571, page 106, Document No. 400457, recorded December 19, 1904; Mortgages Book 617, page 209, Document 467332 (mortgage satisfaction) recorded June 27, 1907; Minneapolis City Directory 1904, page 1516; Minneapolis City Directory, 1905, page 351; Minneapolis Permit Index Card for 5109 France Avenue, Minneapolis Building Permit B 69045, September 25, 1906; “Society––Marriage Announcement,” Minneapolis Journal, September 14, 1910; “Wedding Bells, The Twin City Star, September 16, 1910; Quoted in Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership (University of North Carolina Press, 2019), 2; Benjamin Drew, A North-Side View of Slavery, The Refugee: Or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada Related By Themselves With An Account of the History and Condition of the Colored Population of Upper Canada, (Repr. 1968, Boston: John P. Jewett and Company, 1856); Loring M. Staples, The West Hotel Story 1884-1940: Memories of Past Splendor (Minneapolis: Carlson Printing Company, 1979), 93; “Afro-American Progressive Mass Meeting,” The Twin City Star, October 28, 1910; “Minneapolis,” The Appeal, April 8, 1911, (http://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016810/1911-04-08/ed- 1/seq-3); “Big Republican Rally, The Twin City Star, October 28, 1916, Volume 40, page 67; Minneapolis Building Permit No. B108389, March 24, 1914; “Minneapolis–Construction News,” Finance and Commerce of the Twin Cities, March 25, 1914; Hennepin County Deeds Book 771, page 568, Document No. 775125, recorded October 21, 1915; Minneapolis Building Permit No. B123598, August 10, 1916; Minneapolis Plumbing Permit No. D187202, January 16, 1926; Minneapolis City Directory 1920, page 1799; “Mrs. Scott Entertains Friends at Her Country Home,” The Twin City Star, June 24, 1911;“Minneapolis,” The Appeal, April 20, 1912; “Minneapolis, The Twin City Star, May 11, 1912; “Minneapolis,” The Twin City Star, February 8, 1913; “Minneapolis,” The Appeal, September 3, 1921; “Farewell to Knoxville Teacher,” Minneapolis Messenger, September 10, 1921; Minneapolis City Directory 1921, page 1893; “An Ambitious Young Musician,” Minnesota Messenger, June 24, 1922, (https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn90060139/1922-06-24/ed-1/seq-1 ); Hennepin County Mortgages Book 561, page 204, Document No. 384270, recorded April 7, 1904; and Hennepin County Mortgages Book 574, page 460, Document 414907, (mortgage satisfaction) recorded July 24, 1905; “Race War Started in Prospect Park.” Minneapolis Tribune, October 22, 1909; “The Negro in Minneapolis.” Minneapolis Journal, January 10, 1910; “Negro Minister is Under Exclusion Ban,” Minneapolis Tribune, December 28th, 1909; “Harriet Negro Trouble Is Taken to the Police,” Minneapolis Tribune, December 29, 1909; “Harriet Residents to Investigate Sale,” Minneapolis Tribune, December 31, 1909; “Race War at Harriet Involves More Blacks,” Minneapolis Tribune, January 2, 1910; “‘Spite House,’ Imbroglio Nears Peaceful Ending,” Minneapolis Tribune, January 21, 1910; “Malone Does Not Appear,” Minneapolis Tribune, January 3, 1910; “Malone May Get His Price,” Minneapolis Tribune, January 5, 1910; “Negro’s Offer Accepted in Spite of Opposition,” Minneapolis Tribune, January 6, 1910; “End of Both Race Wars is Believed Near at Hand,” Minneapolis Tribune, January 7, 1910; Hennepin County Deeds Book 1025, page 412, Document No. 1289605, recorded July 6, 1925; Hennepin County Deeds Book, 1068, page 55, Document No. 1284821, recorded June 11, 1925; Samuel S. Thorpe, “The More Restrictions, the More Buyers,” The National Real Estate Journal, July 27, 1925; Hennepin County Mortgages Book 1718, page 529, Document No. 161536, recorded November 19, 1930; Minnesota Death Certificate No. 20271, July 12, 1931; Lakewood Cemetery, Section PG2, Row, 107, Grave 73; “John W. Scott, Minneapolis Star, July 14, 1931; Minneapolis City Directory 1932, page 1114; Hennepin County Deeds Book 1321, page 197, Document No. 1740192, recorded December 19, 1933; Minneapolis City Directory 1934, page 1160; Hennepin County Deeds Book 1414, page 509, Document No. 1861386, recorded November 30, 1936; and Deeds Book 1432, page 27, Document No. 187057, recorded May 6, 1937); Minneapolis City Directory 1936, page 1249; Minneapolis City Directory 1937, page 1339; Hennepin County Deeds Book 1470, pages 622, 623, Document Nos. 1939841-1939843, recorded July 28, 1938; Minneapolis City Directory 1935, page 1206; Nikole Hannah-Jones, “What is Owed,” The New York Times Magazine, June 28, 2020; Minneapolis City Directory 1958, 1304; George Grim, “I like It Here,” Minneapolis Tribune, March 15, 1959; “Mrs. Belle K. Scott Funeral Services Held Wednesday, Sept. 10,” Minneapolis Spokesman, September 11, 1969.