Thursday, August 17, 2006

Humboldt Heights

The bad neighborhood, when I was ten years old, was in a section of town four blocks away- a place where the houses were old, rundown and different from the standard post-war Cape cods that were the homes to the baby-boomers and their parents. We weren't told exactly why that area was a threat, but we were told to stay away. But the creek did wind through it, and fishing in it was a ritual of boyhood. Suckers, shiners, bullheads and crayfish were the standard fare, hooking an occassional snapping turtle would provide a real thrill (they could actually bite off a careless finger!) I didn't go among the houses, staying on the banks and southward, toward the industrial park.

The next year saw big changes. Bulldozers and graders dug up the shoreline. The old houses were, for the most part, torn down. Construction started on what was to be a new school, my junior high, slated to open the year I was to enter seventh grade. My dad was on the planning committee, he had a black leather briefcase which had slides of architect's renderings, a list of all the area's prospective students, and floor plans. This school would sit right in the middle of the formerly blighted area and was named after a Minnesota governor. Progress.

Years later I found out a bit about the now long gone area. The people who lived there called it "Humboldt Heights", after the street that ran by it, or possibly also the areas in St. Louis or Chicago with the same name. The Northside railyards were a few blocks away, and in the last half of the eighteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, the "colored" railway workers had made themselves a community, a haven where they could live in relative tranquility, have a garden, and raise a family. There were always children of color in my schools, not a common occurrence at that time. They all lived in that one area, later they spread out to nearby housing. The demographics of Minneapols have change dramatically since the early 60's, the defacto segregation has, in all but the most exclusive neighborhoods, been eliminated. But that little corner of town is still undergoing changes, the name is almost the same; the goal, a livable community, is exactly the same.

By Professor Batty


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