On Sept. 14, the Minneapolis Interview Project and Hennepin History Museum (2303 3rd Ave. S.) will present an evening of real-life stories about social justice at the Capri Theater (2207 West Broadway) in North Minneapolis. The event marks the culmination of seven years of work by historian, teacher and Southside resident Anne Winkler-Morey, who set out to interview 100 people to reveal “hidden histories of inequality and the struggle for social justice in Minneapolis.”
Among interviewees are artists, human rights advocates, poets, organizers, educators and more – many of whom were born here, others who moved here from different cities and countries – whose experiences and perspectives provide a richly varied look at what it’s like to live in this city at this time. Nearly 30 of the project participants will be at the event. Excerpts from their interviews will be shared, followed by a panel and conversation. Housing, schools, environmental justice, racial justice, gender and sexuality are just some of the topics touched on.
“There are all these individual stories, but I hear [the interviewees] talking to each other, echoing different themes or disagreeing with each other, in ways that are really interesting, so I wanted to give people just a tiny flavor of that,” said Winkler-Morey.
Having read Malcolm X and Stud Terkel’s “Working” as a teen, Winkler-Morey, now 65, knew from a young age the value of true stories and how important they are in telling the people’s history. She had already been gathering testimonials while on a bike tour around the U.S. perimeter and was in the process of compiling them for a book about her journey (“Allegiance to Winds and Waters: Bicycling the Political Divides of the United States,” 2022). Fascinated by how geography and history both shape and are shaped by the people, she found herself wondering whether she had a right to say anything about places she’d been in for only 24 or 36 hours.
For that matter, how well did she even know the place where she lived? Minneapolis.
She wanted to explore it with fresher eyes.
In 2016, while teaching at Metro State University, she had planned to meet with a former student of hers, Kirk Washington Jr., to hear some of his life stories as a prominent community member in North Minneapolis. The day before they were to meet, he was tragically killed in a car accident. A tremendous loss for the community, his death instilled in her the importance of not waiting for the “right” time to make these connections.
“If I have these questions and I really want to have these conversations that are not like the kinds of conversations you have on social media,” she reasoned, “Then I should just start.”
And so she did.
And she began to see that people living in the same place can have very different experiences – and know little about other people’s experiences.
16 before she saw a lake in ‘city of lakes’
One interviewee, Tammy Ortegon, Minneapolis artist and hair stylist at ColorWheel Gallery (46th & Grand), said even though Minneapolis is known as the “City of Lakes,” Ortegon was 16 years old before she even saw one. “When you live in Northeast Minneapolis and you don’t drive, you have to go pretty far to get to a lake,” she told the Minneapolis Interview Project.
This made Winkler-Morey think about public access – who is invited, who is not, and in what ways is public policy created that keeps people excluded. Examples include which ball games are allowed or not allowed (baseball, soccer and football, for example, are racially and class coded), whether there is bus access to parks and if they have picnic facilities. Recreation shapes and is shaped by the people who live there.
The murder of George Floyd in 2020 personally impacted Winkler-Morey, who lives 10 blocks from 38th and Chicago and as an activist has been involved in protests before, during and after that year. And it certainly impacted the project. By then Winkler-Morey had interviewed about 70 people, with whom she then reconnected to see if they wanted to add any reflections. Many did, and anyone interviewed after that time were asked what 2020 was like for them.
But she wants to remind people that things don’t happen in a vacuum, something she was aware of as a historian and from doing those earlier interviews.
“While  was a watershed moment, the people have been struggling in Minneapolis for centuries,” she said. “So it’s not the only thing that’s fueling our need to focus on this place.”
The murder of Jamar Clark and the two and a half-week occupation of the Fourth Precinct police station in 2015 was on a lot of people’s minds when she began the project. She had spent a 12-hour day at the Justice for Jamar Clark protest, and one of the things she saw then, and again in 2020, was the way in which people found ways to be involved – to feed and clothe each other, for example.
“I heard from people, the same kind of thing that I heard from 2020, there was this moment where if I was hungry, I knew where to go,” she said. Although it was on a much larger scale in 2020, Winkler-Morey believes the protest for Jamar Clark laid the groundwork for it. And the Occupy movement before that.
2020 was also a pivotal moment for the Hennepin History Museum, who is co-hosting the living history event and in whose library the stories will be permanently housed.
“2020 and all the events that followed have been humbling for museum people if they’re paying attention,” said the museum’s executive director John Crippen. “In 2020 in particular, people were creating art, they were expressing themselves and creating this huge activist movement, and they didn’t want it relegated or coopted by traditional institutions. So we’ve had to be very careful not to get in people’s way and not to do things just ‘cause this is the way we’ve always done it.”
Crippen spoke of the impetus and urgency in some people’s minds to collect the history as it’s happening, but rather than quickly store it away, he wanted to come up with other ways to collaborate and document current events. They’ve worked with Memorialize the Movement, who has saved the plywood art created around town during the Uprising, and with artist seangarrison on live paintings in public spaces.
It’s a balance to enable stories to be out and talked about when they’re most relevant while properly preserving them so they can be reused or even rediscovered decades later.
“We play the current and the future game all the time,” said Crippen. “We’re excited that there’s a chance for people 20 30 years from now to come and rediscover these anew and say, ‘Oh, wow. I’m glad somebody was talking to these folks and grabbing their stories, because now I can get a perspective on that time that I didn’t live through or that I wanted some fresh perspective on.”
For Winkler-Morey, it’s especially important for people’s history to be taken up by public sites like the Hennepin History Museum.
“It’s our responsibility to tell those stories, because they will be erased otherwise,” she said. “It’s all about access, right? Access is everything.”
An Evening of Real-Life Stories about Social Justice in Minneapolis will take place Sept. 14, 6-8 p.m., at the Capri Theater (2207 West Broadway). The event is free, but reservations (at hennepinhistory.org) are required.
The Minneapolis Interview Project interviews, with photos by Eric Mueller, are available at turtleroad.org and @MinneapolisProject on Facebook.