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Anti-semitism in Minneapolis history

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Jewish school, 1938
Adath Jeshurun Nursery School in Minneapolis, 1938.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

In the 1930s and 1940s, Minneapolis had the dubious distinction of being one of the most anti-Semitic cities in America.

In fact, after visiting the city in 1946, prominent journalist and lecturer Carey McWilliams wrote that "One might even say, with a measure of justification, that Minneapolis is the capitol of anti-Semitism in the United States."

McWilliams pointed to an Iron Curtain separating the Jewish population from almost every part of gentile life — including finding jobs, buying houses and even shopping at certain stores. It's a separation that seemed to have been there since the city's beginnings.

Historians say Minneapolis had more anti-Semitic preachers than most cities, and its chapter of the fascist hate group, the Silver Shirts, was believed to be one of the nation's largest.

All this hate was directed at a community of only 16,000 — about 3 percent of the city's population.

That hate seeped into the 1938 gubernatorial race when Republican Harold Stassen, along with his supporters, waged a campaign of anti-Semitic innuendo. Silver Shirts leaders also campaigned against DFL incumbent Elmer Benson, warning the public: "If it can't be done with ballots now, there must be bullets later."

The Minnesota Jewish Council was formed to investigate complaints of discrimination in this contentious, dangerous atmosphere.

And discrimination was rampant — Jews were routinely denied work, housing and community. While this was commonplace in other cities across the nation, Minneapolis was unique in that it also denied Jewish citizens membership in service clubs.

Minnesota Public Radio producers John Biewen and Beth Friend explored that unsavory part of Minnesota's past in a documentary titled, "No Jews Allowed." It was originally broadcast in 1992. 

To listen to the documentary, click the audio player above.


Also featured — another unrelated, chapter in American history:  

Navy Lt. John Kerry, testified on April 22, 1971, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, representing Vietnam Veterans Against the War. 

During his speech, Kerry cited an investigation that resulted in over 150 honorably discharged veterans testifying to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia.

"Not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day to day basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command," he said.

The fighting in Vietnam would continue for nearly two more years. 

Kerry went on to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and to serve as a U.S. senator and secretary of state.

To listen to Kerry's speech, click the audio player above.