The debate about Edmund Blvd. continued on Dec. 14, 2023 when over 40 people met to discuss how to respond to the racist history associated with the street name.
The lots on this 14-block-long city street running east of West River Parkway between 32nd and 42nd streets were sold as part of the Walton Mississippi Heights development project in 1909 by Edmund Walton.
Attention turned to Edmund in 2019, when the University of Minnesota-led Mapping Prejudice Project found that Edmund Walton used racially discriminatory – and now illegal – restrictive covenants in deeds to many of the properties he sold.
Walton was identified as the author of what is likely the first racial covenant entered into a property deed in the city. The Mapping Prejudice Project found, “Walton was almost certainly the author of this text from 1910 which became the first racial covenant in Minneapolis: ‘The premises hereby conveyed shall not at any time be conveyed, mortgaged or leased to any person or persons of Chinese, Japanese, Moorish, Turkish, Negro, Mongolian or African blood or descent. Said restrictions and covenants shall run with the land and any breach of any or either thereof shall work a forfeiture of title, which may be enforced by re-entry.’”
The December meeting was held at Longfellow Community Center and organized, with the help of Longfellow Community Council staff, by Joe Larson and Mark Brandt. The duo have been advocating a name change for the street since 2020. Kristen Eddy, who lives on Edmund, helped facilitate the discussion.
Brandt lives in Cooper, and said that “between biking and hiking, I see the name Edmund every single day.”
“After holding a meeting about Edmund Walton and his legacy specifically for Edmund residents in October, we decided the next step was to have a meeting for the broader community,” said Larson.
From those previous efforts, it was estimated that 18 residents living on Edmund wanted to change the name, 8 didn’t, 2 want to rededicate it, 2 were neutral, and 77 households did not weigh in. For a street name change to be applied for by residents, two-thirds of the property owners on the street would need to sign a petition supporting the change.
The discussion focused on the options of leaving it as it is and doing nothing, changing the name, or keeping the name but dedicating the street to another person named Edmund.
“We are hyper-aware that Edmund residents are the ones who shoulder the greatest ‘burden’ of a name change,” said Larson. “We made extra effort to ensure Edmund residents were aware of the Dec. 14 meeting, and that likely led to an out-sized representation from the residents that are opposed to the change. There were impassioned comments, and it was great to hear new ideas and perspectives. It was not, in my opinion, representative of how most people who are aware of the issue feel about it.”
AGAINST A NAME CHANGE
Among the nearly all White and generally older appearing crowd, many spoke against a name change.
Reasons for not supporting the name change included the fact that Edmund is not a last name. ““It’s only a first name,” said one participant. “If it was a last name, I’d feel very differently. There are more than 56,000 Edmunds in the U.S. Should we penalize every Edmund?”
Others said that not many people know or care about the issue. Some said that a name change is not a substantive change, and that there are better ways to help and address past harms and discrimination.
Several people commented on how it would be an unfair inconvenience and expense for the people who live on Edmund who would have to formally change addresses to continue getting mail, and update drivers licenses, passports, and other legal documents.
Some made the argument that removing the name would be burying history. David, who identified himself as an historian, favored keeping the name and said, “I want to unbury and learn from the past.”
One Edmund resident, John Lauber, proposed resolving some of those concerns by keeping the name, but formally dedicating the street to a different person named Edmund. He identified Edmund Phelps, a city park board member from 1905-1923, as such a person. With a ceremony, plaque, and other efforts he felt a re-dedication could acknowledge a more honorable figure in the area’s history and eliminate the need for any change of addresses.
Lauber also wanted more residents engaged. “I feel very strongly that the 77 people who haven’t yet been heard need to be recognized,” he said. “There needs to be a very conscious effort to survey the people on the street to make sure that there is support from the neighborhood.”
FOR A NAME CHANGE
Several people spoke in favor of an actual name change.
“Yes, it’s just a name, but it represents a huge harm that has been created and still affects people today,” said Maria Hartwell. “I don’t live on Edmund but saying that it’s an inconvenience to you is nothing compared to the people of color who are inconvenienced every day, and who don’t have the same opportunities that we have.”
“I’m 18, I just got back from college in San Francisco, but my home and my heart is my house on Edmund Boulevard,” said Mel Case. “I don’t want to live on a street named after a White supremacist.”
“He had the power to name one of the most beautiful streets in the city after himself. He had the power to shut people out,” said Laura Triplett, who has lived on Edmund for nine years. “I want more of the community to have a voice as well because we who are in this room are a product of what happened and what he did. I think we need to ask the young people and make sure other voices are heard.”
ONE BLACK FAMILY ON STREET
After some discussion, a straw poll was taken. Ten people voted to change the name, 4 said to do nothing, and 20 voted to rededicate it to someone else named Edmund.
Perhaps the most striking comments came towards the end of the meeting.
It was then that Steven Belton, who had been sitting quietly in the far corner of the room all this time, stood up and spoke.
“This discussion deeply offends me,” said Belton, who has lived on Edmund since 1995 and is, as far as he knows, the only Black family living on the street. An attorney, Belton is a minister at Park Ave. United Methodist Church, and led the Urban League from 2015-2022. His wife is former mayor Sharon Belton, and his niece, Lisa Sayles Belton, has just been hired as the new Minneapolis Public School Superintendent.
“Not once has someone thought about the perspective of a Black man listening to this,” he pointed out. He told the group that they needed to “get out of their own shoes for a moment. ... You should know that you need to change that name.”
Belton added, “I am living as an African American in 2023 on a street named after a White man who propagated racism. I am ashamed to bring my relatives to that street.
“Re-dedication offends me most of all. All you are doing is dressing up a pig and putting lipstick on him,” he added. “The only hope I have here is that you get out of yourself and think about how it impacts others.”
In January, Eddy said, “From the meeting, I learned that there’s more work to do. I’m really happy that so many community members are engaged, even if we don’t all agree on the final outcome. It means we’re talking about the legacy of racial covenants and racism in our city.” She also invited people to visit the website www.reclaimingedmund.com
to learn more.
“The meeting went well in that there were passionate opinions expressed on both sides of the issue, and we were able to make contact with people who are now fired up to join us,” said Brandt.
“While a name change is the tangible action in this work, our hope is that more people in the neighborhood will talk about the legacy of racial covenants in this neighborhood.” said Larson. “Racist practices are a part of this neighborhood’s origin story, and the reality is that they inform the make-up of our neighborhood today.”
“It is clear that we have work to do in developing awareness and continuing to build relationships with our neighbors,” said Larson.
Eleanor Wirtz contributed to this article