Arthur and Edith Lee House Project

Greg Donofrio, Laurel Fritz, and Stearline Rucker
Minneapolis, MN

The Arthur and Edith Lee House Project documents and interprets the history behind a series of menacing protests that enveloped 4600 Columbus Avenue in South Minneapolis following its purchase in August 1931 by Arthur and Edith Lee, a young African-American couple.

The project consists of two thematically-related components: a National Register of Historic Places nomination of the Arthur and Edith Lee House, and an exhibition titled A Right to Establish a Home, which was displayed at the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture. The exhibition tells the story of the Lees buying a house in what many then considered a “white neighborhood” in South Minneapolis. One night shortly after moving in, as many as 4,000 protestors tried to intimidate the Lees into selling their property and leaving the neighborhood. Confident in their right to establish a home, the Lees stayed in the house for more than two years. The exhibition interprets the protests and responses in the broader context of race and housing in Minneapolis, racism in Minnesota, and the individuals and organizations that defended the Lees, including the NAACP, Arthur Lee’s fellow World War I veterans and U.S. Postal Service coworkers, and the distinguished attorney Lena Olive Smith.

The Lee House Project examined a sensitive subject, the intersection of race and place, and addressed it frankly and with dignity. Part of the exhibition featured portraits of current white, black, and Latino residents who shared their own stories about racism as well as of enduring friendships growing up and living in South Minneapolis.

The Lee House Project successfully merged university research and teaching with community engagement to create a public exhibition and utilize the National Register of Historic Places to document and commemorate African-American history. Moreover, the project cultivated shared authority by directly engaging neighborhood residents to bring their own experiences into conversation with sites and events in the past by sharing their stories about the racial discrimination they experienced from the 1960s to the present when purchasing homes, interacting in public, and operating businesses in South Minneapolis.