A People's History of the Homewood Neighborhood

Recently, the City Minneapolis’ conducted a study of the history of the Homewood neighborhood in North Minneapolis focused primarily on the architecture of the homes and the structures within the designated area. The study, however, lacked detailed information about the community members who stabilized and maintained this neighborhood. This is a community of people who have made significant contributions, not only to Minneapolis culture but to the world, and deserve to be included in any analysis of the neighborhood. These are people who chose to settle a community in flux in the late 1960’s after the riots on Plymouth Ave. These are the people who acted as the stewards of the neighborhood and housing stock for decades--the very housing stock that merited inquiry by the City of Minneapolis.

This oral history project, conducted in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), contains interviews of longtime residents of Homewood concerning the 50-year history of the neighborhood and the work to sustain and build the thriving community that exists there today.

Interviews were completed by:

  • Malaika Hankins
  • Amina Smaller
  • Savanna Thomas
  • Jacoby Andrews
  • Yisela Ortega

For more information about the history of Homewood, check out Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis created by Twin Cities PBS, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Minnesota's Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center. 

In their neighborhood revitalization efforts, many residents worked with the Willard-Homewood organization. Interested in more history of that organization?




Vivian Jenkins-Nelsen: A Strain of Hope

Mrs. Jenkins-Nelsen opened up her home on Thomas Avenue for a breakfast interview. Her home, the second farm house on the land that would later become the Homewood development, was filled with warmth and beauty. We talked about moving into Homewood as a part of the first wave of new residents after the disturbances, as she would call them, on Plymouth Avenue over cereal and clementines. The Nelsen's were very important in the organization of Homewood, with George helping to start the Willard-Homewood Organization and Vivian working as a social worker at Phyllis Wheatley Community Center and various universities in the area. We discussed the community’s response to changes over the last 40 years including the civil rights work of the 80s, recovery from the tornado in 2011, and her hopes for future police/community relations and economic development in Homewood.


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Bob and Laura Kadwell: "A Greater Good than Simply Having a Nice House"

Bob and Laura welcomed us into their home on Sheridan Avenue North, which they have been living in for 45 or 46 years (they can't agree how long!) without regret. They moved their young family into Homewood for its racial diversity and affordability, sharing stories and perspectives on the work of preserving the neighborhood's housing stock while building community. The Kadwells are quite the pair, both working with the Willard-Homewood Organization (WHO) in years past and finishing each others sentences today. WHO helped new homeowners purchase houses in Homewood through innovative programs including the Vacant Housing Taskforce and the Urban Homestead or the "dollar house" Program. Contrasting these initiatives to current affordable housing options paints a bleak picture for keeping diversity alive within Homewood. Bob and Laura hope that for all the changes to come, Homewood remains a community rather than a collection of families and homes. 


Lynnea Atlas-Ingebreston: "It's a collective responsibility to one another"

Lynnea Atlas-Ingebreston, a child of the neighborhood and former organizer in the community, shared her perspective of growing up and later working in Homewood. From Lynnea’s perspective, after the flight of the Jewish homeowners to St. Louis Park, the community in Homewood was intentionally built, with a practice of cooperation and a spirit of equity and creativity. These attributes, which make Homewood so desirable today, weren’t rooted in the values of a particular economic class but rather in the deeply held beliefs of the residents, neutral of income. With the housing crisis of 2008 and the tornado of 2011, the neighborhood has experienced major changes including rapid gentrification. Lynnea believes that crucial pieces for Homewood's continued success are empathy, intersectionality, intentionality, and diversity.

P.S. - Lynnea is incredibly knowledgeable about the original design of the Homewood neighborhood – check out the interview and transcript below for more.

Carl Eller: "A Phenomenon of American Environment"

Carl Eller, a Hall of Fame former Minnesota Viking, is one of the many stars of Homewood. In our conversation, he shared the awe he has of his home and the Homewood neighborhood, with its prime location bordering Theodore Wirth Park. A resident of Homewood since 1969, location and diversity originally drew him to the community. Today, it's his long standing relationships with his neighbors keeping him there. In his opinion, common values of family and home conservation helped to tie residents together, and strong political representation has allowed the community to thrive, even as North Minneapolis is misunderstood and often undervalued. The luxurious part of living in a community like Homewood, according to Mr. Eller, is having responsible neighbors who care. 

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Bud Brophey: Building with a Purpose

Mr. Brophey moved to Homewood in 1975 with the intentional desire to "try and be part of changes that needed to be made in Minneapolis". He, like many others, moved to Homewood because of the housing opportunity and a desire to live in a diverse community. An active member of the Willard-Homewood organization, Mr. Brophey was a part of the vacant housing taskforce which partnered with the Housing Authority to rehabilitate many of the houses left after the flight of Jewish families from Homewood. We talked about the various government and community programs that homeowners were able to tap into to purchase and repair their homes in previous years, and how politics got in the way of that. Many of the beautiful homes still standing in the community likely wouldn't be there today were it not for the neighborly efforts of residents like Mr. Brophey.

Jenny Downy: "What's built this community are the people"

Ms. Jenny Downy is a beloved elder of the Homewood community, moving into the neighborhood in 1968. When she first moved in, much of the housing stock was in disrepair as a result of the city not enforcing its housing codes or providing services for those who were powerless - Jewish residents and then Black residents. As a means of creating their own power, Ms. Downy and a few neighbors working with the Willard-Homewood Organization created a Vacant Housing Task Force, which met out of her home. Volunteering, this group of residents worked to get the city to hold failing landlords accountable, to support job creation, and to make sure residents took advantage of the grant opportunities available, all with the goal of avoiding houses in Homewood being torn down. Ms. Downy is fiercely proud of her community saying "When people are negative about this place, it's your responsibility to teach them."

Check out this interview conducted by our youth to hear more about the pillars on Plymouth Avenue, her friendship with Nellie Stone Johnson, and her thoughts on historic preservation.

Connie Rance: "It's the Best Kept Secret in Minneapolis"

Connie Rance became a Homewood homeowner shortly after starting a new life in Minnesota with her husband. Knowing very little about the neighborhood, she very quickly fell in love. There was a spirit of service and taking care of one another: neighborhood childcare centers and block clubs, community gardens and shared garage sales. Especially after her husband died, Ms. Rance relied heavily on her neighborly bonds and felt supported by other mothers in the community. Homewood stands out because of its deep relationships nurtured by longterm residents, though the resident turnover rate is now starting to accelerate. Connie hopes that even with new neighbors moving in, Homewood can retain its core character, and the diversity that has made it such a desirable place to live.

Kenny Rance: "We Just Had a Great Spirit About It"

Kenny Rance shared his stories of growing up in Homewood over breakfast with his son. Different from his mother Connie's perspective of keeping a short leash on her children (check out our interview with her here), Kenny's childhood was filled with exploration and adventure in community. Whether it was hanging out in Farwell or Wirth Park, or messing with other Homewood kids, children of the community had a lot of autonomy and joy. A father now, Kenny spoke about the differences he sees today, highlighting a number of radicalized disparities that  impact the community despite Homewood's history of political leadership. Looking into the future, the success of North Minneapolis, according to Kenny, depends on both the institutions that have their hands in the community and community members themselves, because "the stakes are high." 

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Lorraine Smaller: "It was about community, it was about love."

We interviewed Mrs. Smaller in her lovely home on Vincent Avenue North in Homewood. We enjoyed fresh oranges and talked about her experiences living in Homewood for 46 years. Mrs. Smaller, a retired educator, spoke of the neighbors who left because they didn't want to live next door to black folks, raising two sons in Homewood in its prime, the work required to keep the neighborhood safe when gangs moved into North Minneapolis, and her real fears about there not being any black people in Homewood in five years. When asked about the challenges of living in Homewood and why she continues to this day, she said, "Because I love my neighborhood. I wasn't gonna let nobody run me out."

Lorraine Smaller

Jackie Cherryhomes: "It's Everything You Should Want"

When Jackie Cherryhomes first moved to North Minneapolis, there was no one else living on her block. As she learned more and more about her neighborhood, she began to see a need for intentional community building and rose to the challenge saying, "If I was going to live there, I wasn't going to live in my house. I was going to live in my community." This sparked her to start block clubs and eventually serve on the city council. We met up with Jackie at a coffeeshop to talk about the importance of leaning into new spaces and being open to different perspectives - that, she identified, is the key to the success of Homewood, diverse people seeking to have honest and difficult dialogues. 


Gayle Smaller: A Second Generation Viewpoint

Gayle Smaller provided a second-generation perspective on Homewood, having been raised in the neighborhood (see our interview with his mother, Lorraine Smaller) and then later purchasing a home and raising a family there himself. In this abridged interview, Gayle shared fond memories of being a child of Homewood and some of the incredible experiences that for him, were just home. We talked about how kickball games in the yard and the examples of black excellence of his parents and neighbors made him come back to Homewood as an adult with a purpose.

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Stanley Stone: 90 Years of Northside History

Mr. Stanley Stone is one of the few born and raised Northsiders that we interviewed. He was born in Ripley Memorial Hospital in 1929 and grew up in the Sumner Field Housing Project. Mr. Stone remembers horse-drawn wagons delivering milk, and hunting and fishing in the farmland that is now Brooklyn Park and Golden Valley. Serving in the military, Mr. Stone helped raise awareness about the conditions for Black soldiers in segregated units. Having lived in Homewood for almost 40 years, Mr. Stone's home is a true monument to his contributions to the community. He showed us pictures and prototypes of the model airplanes he taught children in the community how to fly after retiring from Honeywell in 1990. He played music with Bobby Lyles and hunted with a group of Black hunters. We talked about the stone pedestals used to mark that Blacks weren't allowed in the neighborhood and about the impact of the tornado on the community. Mr. Stone is truly a jewel of Homewood. Listen to his interview below. 

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Al McFarlane: "A Moment of Great Opportunity"

The youth members of this project interviewed Mr. McFarlane and learned about the history and current context of North Minneapolis. Al McFarlane, a 45-year resident of the Homewood neighborhood, actively sought to learn get to know his community by sitting down and talking with his neighbors. Turning the tables on the journalist and owner of Insight News, in this interview Mr. McFarlane talks passionately about black consciousness and the work of his organization, developed in partnership with neighborhood associations, to challenge white supremacist thinking and culture. Community engagement is active work for him, including investing in local businesses and challenging young people to drive the work of finding the solution to their community's biggest problems.


Beverly Propes: Fighting for the Health of the Community

We got to sit down with Beverly Propes at UROC (the University of Minnesota's Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center). Mrs. Propes, a public health nurse and fixture of the Homewood neighborhood, was able to shed light on Homewood from the perspective of a former St. Paul resident. A public servant, Mrs. Propes has "always taken on projects that have helped me to have a voice in what needs to be done in this community." We talked about the strong spirit of civic engagement in Homewood, from voting together to organizing the Juneteenth celebration dating back 25 years. All of this political power is crucial in the face of the persistent disparities, especially health disparities, that keep Mrs. Propes involved and continuing to build a community where all children and families can thrive.

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Barbara McAdams: That Home Feeling

Barbara McAdams has lived in two different homes in the Homewood neighborhood. From her office as a college guidance counselor, we talked about true meaning of community - people coming together for the fun times (parades and block parties) and the hard times (during break-ins or after the tornado). In her experience, Homewood has always been a relatively self-sufficient neighborhood filled with professional people; we discussed the ways that this self-sufficiency was a direct result of the leadership, courage, and morals of its residents. Viewing the current changes in Homewood, Ms. McAdams is concerned about how intentional actions are creating the gentrification she is seeing today, yet is determined to fight for her home.

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