Anthony Brutus Cassius and the First Black-Owned Bar in Downtown Minneapolis

Lynn Imbier

A extended, starched white barkeep’s apron falls previous the knee. White button-down collared shirt, gold marriage band popular on the still left ring finger. Two barmen in motion, just about every in white shirts and black neckties. The bar is hopping. 3 handsome Black men in overcoats, ties, fedoras, and […]

A extended, starched white barkeep’s apron falls previous the knee. White button-down collared shirt, gold marriage band popular on the still left ring finger. Two barmen in motion, just about every in white shirts and black neckties. The bar is hopping.

3 handsome Black men in overcoats, ties, fedoras, and patterned scarves surround Anthony Brutus Cassius. They are looking fly, and they know it. They are looking like they are smelling excellent. The bottoms of the cocktail glasses they clutch are nearly mirrored in their Florsheims.

Cassius’s right brow, arched a little bit, suggests, “I’ve acquired this.” Take care of. The half-smile displays confident arrival. But there’s a little something else, much too. 

In this historic picture from the John F. Glanton Selection at the Hennepin County Library, Cassius seems to be poised for motion. There’s a spring-loaded electricity to his physique. However his extremely again appears to be to prop up the bar—and even though you currently know he’s the male who owns this place—there’s disquiet in his face, much too. In his stance. It is all set to go to any length to maintain his ft firmly planted on that porcelain mosaic floor, along with the ft of individuals all around him. 

Welcome to Cassius Bar and Playroom. Downtown Minneapolis. forties. 

It didn’t arrive easy.

••••• 

Minister Samuel Robert Cassius handed his two teenage sons, Anthony Brutus and Benjamin, significantly less than $fifteen. It’s possible it was $seven just about every, it’s possible it was $seven involving them. Accounts range. He need to have claimed a little something like, “This is all I can do for you.” Or, “This is the finest I can do for you.” In any situation, the as soon as enslaved father—the product of an enslaved lady and the white male who owned them both—sent his two sons north, away from the 380-acre Meridian, Oklahoma, farm where by they had been raised. 

In addition to the couple of dollars, Anthony Brutus Cassius carried a sheepskin diploma—proof of his graduation from junior large. It was an particularly scarce accomplishment for Black children in the South, who had been discouraged and normally barred from likely to college then. Anthony Brutus and Benjamin’s father was also educated and was regarded not just as a preacher but as an educator, farmer, entrepreneur, postmaster, and politician. 

The yr Benjamin and Anthony Brutus headed north was 1922. The yr just before, one particular of the wealthiest Black communities in the state, Tulsa (home to the Greenwood community, AKA Black Wall Road), just 90 miles east of Meridian, was attacked by white mobs who killed as quite a few as 300, injured hundreds extra, and decimated the metropolis. It is estimated that 191 firms and one,256 houses—1,447 thriving Black spaces—were extinguished. 

Cassius started to arrange, which was a tough undertaking in the Black group, whose associates had been rightly scared, as pre-1950 Minneapolis was fervently anti-union. 

Anthony Brutus and Benjamin emerged from the prepare at Union Depot at the foot of the Kellogg Boulevard hill, abutting the Mississippi at downtown St. Paul’s riverbank—though they thought they experienced arrived in Minneapolis. They trudged up the hill, most likely hungry, unquestionably exhausted, probable scared. 

At the major stood the Retailers Resort, with a “Porter Wanted” indicator hung up. Anthony Brutus walked in and asked for the job, with Benjamin waiting around in the wings. Given that Anthony Brutus experienced nowhere else to go, the resort owner available a mattress in the basement. Anthony Brutus Cassius took the gig and the mattress. 

By the time Cassius graduated large school—a soccer star at the major of his class—he’d lived and worked for 3 decades at the Retailers. He ought to have been school-sure. 

“But the opportunity of a Black male acquiring a scholarship to a school was nil. There just wasn’t anything at all,” he claimed in his 1981 oral historical past job interview done for “Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota,” a task now in the Minnesota Historic Culture oral historical past collections.

One of the couple of career tracks for Black men was the ministry, which would have experienced him next in the footsteps of his father. So, with the help of his soccer mentor, Cassius enrolled at Macalester’s divinity college on a lowered tuition. But following a yr, Cassius—now married with two kids—decided to leave college and search for function, sooner or later placing him on the path to turning out to be a minister of a distinctive type. 

“Here’s the places you worked at [if you had been Black],” Cassius remembers in that oral historical past. “The Athletic Club, the Elks Club, The Curtis Resort. Most of the persons had been either doing work there or on the railroad as Pullman porters. […] Younger-Quinlan’s Company and Dayton’s—they employed no Blacks. So, you either worked in the resort and cafe sector or you worked on the railroad.” 

Cassius chose the previous, The Curtis Resort, at the time regarded an fantastic job for Black men. While the all-Black staff of waiters at The Curtis was welcome to function for $17 for every month (as opposed to the group’s white counterparts’ $seventy five at comparable motels), they certainly had been not permitted to remain or dine at the resort, which experienced the tagline “Where the Guest is King.” 

“I claimed, ‘This is no way of everyday living.’ I found out that the white waiters downtown at the Radisson, the Nicollet, the Minneapolis Club, and the Athletic Club had been all paid out $seventy five a month. I thought, ‘This simply cannot be right, we doing work right here ’cause our faces are Black for $17 a month!’” 

With each other, the unions had been a formidable bargaining drive. With the backing of the Teamsters, the city’s strongest and finest-regarded labor union (popular for the Minneapolis Truckers’ Strike of 1934), Cassius’s corporation gained again wages to the tune of $500 for some of the members—enough to obtain a household at the time. He remained energetic in the labor movement in the course of the Melancholy and outside of, switching the balance of electricity in Minneapolis. 

But exterior of home and function, there had been still few—if any—places for Black persons to socialize apart from picnics or socials at north Minneapolis’s storied group center, the Phyllis Wheatley House.

••••• 

Before that tough-attained picture of Cassius doing work his namesake bar, a pivotal moment: 

“I went to the Midland Bank,” Cassius remembers in the oral historical past. 

“We ain’t hardly ever loaned but one particular coloured male no money given that I have been right here. . . .What do you want?” Cassius remembers the vice president expressing. 

“Ten thousand dollars,” Cassius claimed.

As Cassius remembers it, the VP laughed in his face, to which Cassius responded by inquiring to converse with the president, which encouraged even extra laughter. But he persisted and sooner or later finished up in the president’s office environment. As Cassius tells it, fifteen minutes later on, he and the president, Mr. Ueland, emerged—Ueland with his arm all around Cassius’s shoulder. 

“Take Mr. Cassius around there and attract him up a take note,” Mr. Ueland told the fellows who’d just times before mocked Cassius. “We’re likely to go along with him for $10,000.”

“They appreciated to die!” Cassius laughs of the moment in the oral historical past.

Cassius still left Midland Bank that working day in the late forties with the personal loan that intended victory following a two-and-a-half-yr battle—Cassius was formally the initial Black male to secure a full liquor license from the Metropolis of Minneapolis.

Welcome to Cassius Bar. 

••••• 

“I think it’s truly considerable that Cassius came to Minnesota fleeing racial violence in Oklahoma,” suggests Kirsten Delegard, historian and co-founder of the Mapping Prejudice Venture, a physique of investigate exhibiting the structural limitations that prohibited persons who had been not white from buying property and developing wealth in America for most of the final century. “He came right at the commencing of the nineteen twenties, right following Tulsa erupted. You know, one particular of the most notorious episodes of racial violence in American historical past.” 

“Cassius arrived in St. Paul at a moment where by race relations in the Twin Cities had been truly not race relations, but white resistance to the presence of Black persons truly escalating and acquiring extra organized.”

-Historian Kirsten Delegard

As a porter at the Retailers Resort, Cassius executed duties like polishing spittoons and bogs for his space and board. Between function and rest, he sooner or later manufactured his way to Pilgrim Baptist Church, one particular of the couple of apparent protected places to locate group and a third room if you had been Black in a pre–civil legal rights America. 

“This was a prejudiced city, St. Paul/Minneapolis. About the only things you could do was go to college,” claimed Cassius in the oral historical past. 

The yr of Cassius’s arrival in 1922, Black persons manufactured up significantly less than one per cent of the Minnesota population (a figure that ongoing into the fifties). However the state’s institutions had been currently proscribing where by Black persons could are living, function, and eat. By 1910, the initial racial covenants experienced currently been drawn in Minnesota—language in just deeds that reserved land for the unique use of white persons. 

“Cassius arrived in St. Paul at a moment where by race relations in the Twin Cities had been truly not race relations, but white resistance to the presence of Black persons truly escalating and acquiring extra organized,” suggests Delegard. 

And but, by 1937, Cassius experienced managed to obtain the developing at 38th Road and 4th Avenue South. He named it the Dreamland Café and turned it into a modest storefront promoting very simple food and three.two beer. At that time, if you had been Black in Minneapolis, your everyday living was limited to the Aged Southside, where by the Dreamland stood the Near North Facet an area all around Hiawatha Avenue and the area we now connect with Cedar Riverside. According to Delegard, individuals had been the only places you had been legally permitted to are living. And, she suggests, the covenants, in conjunction with redlining, “did the work” of Jim Crow in the North. 

In segregated Minneapolis, no Black persons had been welcome in downtown dining places or motels, which includes touring musicians or other celebs who came to entertain white audiences. So they went to the Dreamland, and then personal homes in the area, to rest, eat, consume, and play. Lena Horne and Frankie Lymon famously visited the café. 

The Dreamland genuinely was just that—a area where by persons could don a smooth fedora, clutch a beer glass, be protected, and rest extended plenty of to dream. It’s possible of a much better place—a area where by the insidious tentacles of “Jim Crow of the North” could not slither in to stifle and choke. 

“People usually question me as a historian, if I could go again in historical past, where by would I go, what would I see? And I think I would go to the Dreamland Café in the thirties,” suggests Delegard. 

In an more and more racially constricted Minneapolis, the Dreamland Café was the rhythmic nucleus of the Aged Southside. The developing still stands, and even right now is buttressed by barbershops and places of worship. The headquarters for the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder, the state’s oldest Black-owned newspaper, is right throughout the street. Delegard phone calls the area “incredibly central” to Black cultural, business, and political life—the “commercial backbone” of the Black group. 

Dreamland was a area with previous heads posted up exterior taking part in chess or chilling in a folding chair with an ass pocket of whiskey, chopping it up and viewing the world go by. It was the area with just the right lineup of blues on the juke, where by the ceiling fan slice as a result of a brew of humidity, fryer grease, and the sweet anticipation of excellent situations, mixing it all into the heady alchemy that can make a excellent spot the spot. And behind the bar, Cassius—the mayor of the Aged Southside, the Godfather of Black social room in Minneapolis. 

“Did you at any time see the motion picture The Godfather?” inquires Cassius’s grandson Suluki Fardan. “You don’t forget how persons would arrive to [Don Vito Corleone] and they asked him all sorts of concerns and things like that? You have business leaders, group leaders coming to him and inquiring for advice? That reminded me of Grandpa!” 

Dreamland was humming at the top of Globe War II, which indicates that even though Cassius was operating his business, filling an crucial void for his group, the authorities experienced other concepts. The Dreamland was deemed nonessential to the war work, even nevertheless comparable white-owned firms had been permitted to run as important. Cassius experienced to at the same time place in full-time function at a St. Paul protection plant, giving him just a couple of hours of rest just about every night time. 

And still, he was much from concluded. As he experienced usually finished, Cassius appeared electricity in the eye, brow arched, and saved on punching. When I initial imagined him, he was Richard Roundtree in Shaft. I pictured him in a restricted Afro and leather jacket, kicking down doors and using no mess from white people—a badass. 

But Cassius was a distinctive type of badass—one that kicked down doors to achieve a hell of a whole lot extra than any Blaxploitation stereotype.

It was the area with just the right lineup of blues on the juke, where by the ceiling fan slice as a result of a brew of humidity, fryer grease, and the sweet anticipation of excellent situations, mixing it all into the heady alchemy that can make a excellent spot the spot.

Don’t forget how no Black individual experienced at any time been granted a full liquor license in Minneapolis? When he initial applied, Cassius was told that Black persons had been only permitted to work barbecues, shoeshine parlors, and barbershops. No Black individual experienced at any time legally owned and operated a bar in downtown Minneapolis. And, Delegard told me, when Black persons applied for any license in Minneapolis, they experienced to establish that they had been not likely to use their business for “immoral applications.” 

“Several situations I experienced the FBI seeking to know if I was a communist, and when I’d joined,” Cassius observed in the oral historical past. “And when I applied for this liquor license in 1942 they brought up that I experienced been to Russia beneath the Five-Yr Strategy.”

He experienced not. 

“They brought out almost everything to maintain me from acquiring a license.” 

Even gangster Child Cann and his liquor syndicate told the Metropolis Council Licenses Committee—in Cassius’s presence—that the liquor business was a white man’s.

••••• 

When that picture was taken, Cassius Bar and Playroom, at 207 South third Road, was at its apex—a center of group, regarded as a area where by persons of both equally races could combine and mingle safely and peacefully. In 1958, many thanks to community redevelopment, the bar moved to 318 South third Road, where by it remained till 1980. 

Cassius, at any time current, at any time distinct-eyed, at any time vigilant, ensured that his bars had been protected and excellent-vibing gathering spots for all. Black persons, yes, but white persons much too, which includes, many thanks to its proximity to the police station, cops and many thanks to its proximity to the courthouse, judges and attorneys and many thanks to Cassius’s quite a few connections, politicians, journalists, and touring celebs. There was no area like it in Minneapolis just before or following. 

Just 3 decades following Cassius Bar shut for good, so did Cassius the male. 

He saved his ft firmly planted on that porcelain mosaic floor for forty decades. As did so quite a few innumerable others—feet shod in Florsheims and stilettos, Nikes and flats, properly-heeled and not so considerably. 

With his barkeep’s apron endlessly all set for motion, arrive what may perhaps, he ministered to hundreds. His way. 


At first printed in the July 2021 difficulty. 

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