Updated: Jul 3, 2021
Written by Hawona Sullivan Janzen, Portrait by Mike Hoyt
Louis and Elizabeth Moore are just the sort of people you would want to live next door to you: smart, well-tempered, and great conversationalists. House proud; their lawn is manicured, deck charmingly outfitted, shaded. They greet everyone on the block as they walk past, and for those fortunate enough to be invited inside their home on a hot day, cold drinks are offered before you need to ask. Still, when they went house shopping in 1964, this well-mannered, charming couple had a “heck of a time” finding a home. Louis and Elizabeth are also Black and as they recounted to me during our recent visits, race was the real issue here. Real estate agents weren’t showing Black people homes beyond 38th in Minneapolis.
Elizabeth (EM): We did have a realtor and he was very cautious as to the places he showed us. Louis would ride his bike and see places that were unfortunately or fortunately for us farther than 38th and ask him to show us the homes, which he (the realtor) had a problem with. The neighbors had a problem with him showing us the house. Or should I say they didn’t have a problem with us looking at the place as long as we didn’t buy it?
Louis Moore (LM): I remember the first house we looked was on 46th and Park. He really discouraged that by saying, “I’ve got a nice place on 37th or 35th that you really would like.”
EM: He never tried to interest us in anything beyond 37th. If it was back there he was excited about showing it to us, but if it was on this side he was very uncomfortable with showing it to us.
Dissatisfied with the homes their realtor had shown them they drove around the Central Neighborhood on their own and were smitten by an adorable bungalow with a fireplace just off 43rd Avenue.
LM We knew five or six Black families who had crossed the line past 38th and after seeing a home we both loved, we were willing to do it too. The house belonged to two little old (white) Lutheran sisters.” (Elizabeth cuts him an eye when he says this.) “Well, they were 4’ 11”, maybe 5 ft tall and they were Lutheran.” he counters. “They were older twins who wanted to move to Florida. We had our daughter with us. She was 15 months at the time. The sisters held her and played with her as they showed us the house. They could see how much we liked the place and really wanted us to have it.”
Even still, getting a purchase was a small battle. The real estate agent was clearly resistant to close the sale.
LM He was probably worried about what he would have to tell his boss. Eventually the sisters told him ‘You either make this sale happen, or we’ll find someone else who can.’ Then and only then, did the deal finally happen.
When asked whether they knew there were racial covenants in the community, the Moores said they did not give the issue much thought. Elizabeth, who was raised in Indiana, and Louis, who grew up in initially in Rondo, then later in a South Minneapolis neighborhood with only one other Black family, both had parents and grandparents who had owned their own homes. They were much more concerned with how they would manage the mortgage payment on their $12,500 home, which was $98 a month. While the home the Moore’s purchased did not have a restriction on the title, houses right across the street from them did. This likely explains the cold reception the family felt after moving in. They endured years where only one neighbor greeted them on a regular basis. For the first 18 months Louis was routinely pulled over by police—sometimes in his own driveway, and asked why he was there. There was even an incident where a neighbor asked Elizabeth “Are you the maid?” to which she replied, “Yes. I’m the maid. I don’t know whether he believed me or not. He asked me a stupid question, I gave him a stupid answer.” Elizabeth says matter of factly.
Eventually, the neighborhood began to feel like home. As other young Black and White families moved in, the culture of the neighborhood changed. The police stops and race-based and racist inquiries from neighbors ended and the Moores made their house into a home, raising three children there.
When I ask Elizabeth what she wants others to take from their story and all they endured, she tells me, “We have enjoyed being in this neighborhood. It is calm, quiet, and feels safe. All you have to do is get to know people. People are all the same. They figure you’re not going to cause them problems and you’re not going to be a problem then you’re okay with them. Be pleasant.”
But “Free the Deeds” isn’t necessarily about pleasantries. It’s about encouraging people to look up the title on their home and potentially host a sign that says “This property used to have a racial covenant on the deed.” How do you make that work when people have decided that you’re “safe?”
EM: I think if I had a sign that said that, people would be curious enough to ask, ‘What was going on then, and how are things now?’ The way around it (discord) is to communicate with whomever is curious about why it even says that.
LM: And I think with our younger generations today, these kinds of things are very important, just as the George Floyd issue is. I think younger folks would be very curious and probably would be very comfortable with finding out the history.
Talk about it:
What lines have you crossed that others didn't think you should? Who helped you cross them? How have you helped others cross discriminatory lines?
Elizabeth says that the way around discord is to talk about it. Do you agree? Why or why not?
What makes you ask,"What was going on then, and how are things now?’ about racial disparities? What stops you from asking this question around issues like race-based housing disparities in Minneapolis? How can you move through whatever prevents you from asking questions like these?
Hawona Sullivan Janzen, storyteller, is a Twin-Cities based multidisciplinary artist who believes that art is the only thing that can save us from ourselves. She is a writer, composer, improvisational jazz singer and visual artist. Co-founder of Witness Writing, a free North Minneapolis based creative writing program, and the chair of Literary Witnesses, a 20 year old poetry reading series of Plymouth Congregational Church. Her writing has been featured on National Public Radio, as well as publications by Sister Black Press and Coffee House Press that developed into a jazz opera at the Soap Factory Gallery in Minneapolis. Hawona has received grants from the McKnight Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. She is currently at work on two public art projects: “The Rondo Family Reunion: a Public Art Lawn Sign project featuring photographs and poetry featuring the people of Saint Paul’s Rondo Community, and "Love Letters for the Midway" a project featuring stories of love and admiration for her Hamline-Midway community.
Mike Hoyt is a professional artist in Minneapolis, MN. His creative practice includes drawing, painting, graphic storytelling, network technology, public participation, and community land stewardship. He has participated in projects and exhibitions locally, nationally and abroad. He has received awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board, a Northern Lights.mn Art(ists) on the Verge Fellowship, a Jerome Visual Artist Fellowship, and a McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship. He is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leader.