A long, starched white barkeep’s apron falls previous the knee. White button-down collared shirt, gold wedding band well known on the remaining ring finger. Two barmen in motion, every in white shirts and black neckties. The bar is hopping.
A few handsome Black adult males in overcoats, ties, fedoras, and patterned scarves encompass Anthony Brutus Cassius. They’re searching fly, and they know it. They’re searching like they’re smelling superior. The bottoms of the cocktail glasses they clutch are practically mirrored in their Florsheims.
Cassius’s correct brow, arched marginally, says, “I’ve received this.” Solve. The 50 %-smile exhibits self-confident arrival. But there’s anything else, much too.
In this historic photo from the John F. Glanton Selection at the Hennepin County Library, Cassius appears poised for motion. There is a spring-loaded strength to his physique. Although his very back appears to prop up the bar—and even though you by now know he’s the guy who owns this place—there’s disquiet in his encounter, much too. In his stance. It is ready to go to any size to maintain his ft firmly planted on that porcelain mosaic ground, together with the ft of all those all around him.
Welcome to Cassius Bar and Playroom. Downtown Minneapolis. nineteen forties.
It didn’t occur effortless.
Minister Samuel Robert Cassius handed his two teenage sons, Anthony Brutus and Benjamin, significantly less than $15. Possibly it was $seven every, it’s possible it was $seven concerning them. Accounts differ. He ought to have said anything like, “This is all I can do for you.” Or, “This is the best I can do for you.” In any situation, the as soon as enslaved father—the products of an enslaved lady and the white guy who owned them both—sent his two sons north, away from the 380-acre Meridian, Oklahoma, farm exactly where they were being elevated.
In addition to the handful of bucks, Anthony Brutus Cassius carried a sheepskin diploma—proof of his graduation from junior higher. It was an really unusual accomplishment for Black children in the South, who were being discouraged and normally barred from going to university then. Anthony Brutus and Benjamin’s father was also educated and was recognised 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 ahead of, 1 of the wealthiest Black communities in the state, Tulsa (household to the Greenwood community, AKA Black Wall Street), just ninety miles east of Meridian, was attacked by white mobs who killed as several as 300, wounded hundreds additional, and decimated the town. It is believed that 191 corporations and 1,256 houses—1,447 flourishing Black spaces—were extinguished.
Cassius commenced to organize, which was a challenging job in the Black group, whose users were being rightly worried, as pre-1950 Minneapolis was fervently anti-union.
Anthony Brutus and Benjamin emerged from the educate at Union Depot at the foot of the Kellogg Boulevard hill, abutting the Mississippi at downtown St. Paul’s riverbank—though they believed they had arrived in Minneapolis. They trudged up the hill, possibly hungry, without doubt fatigued, probably worried.
At the top rated stood the Retailers Resort, with a “Porter Wanted” sign hung up. Anthony Brutus walked in and questioned for the work, with Benjamin waiting around in the wings. Because Anthony Brutus had nowhere else to go, the resort proprietor available a mattress in the basement. Anthony Brutus Cassius took the gig and the mattress.
By the time Cassius graduated higher school—a soccer star at the top rated of his class—he’d lived and worked for three many years at the Retailers. He ought to have been university-bound.
“But the opportunity of a Black guy obtaining a scholarship to a university was nil. There just wasn’t something,” he said in his 1981 oral background interview done for “Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota,” a job now in the Minnesota Historic Culture oral background collections.
One particular of the handful of job tracks for Black adult males was the ministry, which would have had him pursuing in the footsteps of his father. So, with the aid of his soccer mentor, Cassius enrolled at Macalester’s divinity university on a decreased tuition. But right after a yr, Cassius—now married with two kids—decided to go away university and search for perform, ultimately putting him on the route to turning out to be a minister of a diverse sort.
“Here’s the sites you worked at [if you were being Black],” Cassius remembers in that oral background. “The Athletic Club, the Elks Club, The Curtis Resort. Most of the persons were being either working there or on the railroad as Pullman porters. […] Younger-Quinlan’s Corporation and Dayton’s—they employed no Blacks. So, you either worked in the resort and cafe business or you worked on the railroad.”
Cassius chose the former, The Curtis Resort, at the time viewed as an excellent work for Black adult males. While the all-Black crew of waiters at The Curtis was welcome to perform for $seventeen for every month (as opposed to the group’s white counterparts’ $75 at equivalent lodges), they surely were being not authorized to continue to be or dine at the resort, which had the tagline “Where the Visitor is King.”
“I said, ‘This is no way of daily life.’ I learned that the white waiters downtown at the Radisson, the Nicollet, the Minneapolis Club, and the Athletic Club were being all paid out $75 a month. I believed, ‘This can not be correct, we working below ’cause our faces are Black for $seventeen a month!’”
Jointly, the unions were being a formidable bargaining drive. With the backing of the Teamsters, the city’s strongest and best-recognised labor union (famous for the Minneapolis Truckers’ Strike of 1934), Cassius’s group gained back wages to the tune of $500 for some of the members—enough to obtain a household at the time. He remained active in the labor motion throughout the Depression and outside of, switching the balance of electrical power in Minneapolis.
But outdoors of household and perform, there were being continue to few—if any—places for Black persons to socialize apart from picnics or socials at north Minneapolis’s storied group heart, the Phyllis Wheatley Home.
Before that really hard-attained photo of Cassius working his namesake bar, a pivotal moment:
“I went to the Midland Financial institution,” Cassius recalls in the oral background.
“We ain’t hardly ever loaned but 1 coloured guy no money considering that I have been below. . . .What do you want?” Cassius remembers the vice president expressing.
“Ten thousand bucks,” Cassius said.
As Cassius remembers it, the VP laughed in his encounter, to which Cassius responded by inquiring to discuss with the president, which impressed even additional laughter. But he persisted and ultimately ended up in the president’s business. As Cassius tells it, 15 minutes later, 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 note,” Mr. Ueland explained to the fellows who’d just moments before mocked Cassius. “We’re going to go together with him for $ten,000.”
“They appreciated to die!” Cassius laughs of the moment in the oral background.
Cassius remaining Midland Financial institution that working day in the late nineteen forties with the financial loan that meant victory right after a two-and-a-50 %-yr battle—Cassius was officially the first Black guy to secure a total liquor license from the Town of Minneapolis.
Welcome to Cassius Bar.
“I believe it’s truly sizeable that Cassius arrived to Minnesota fleeing racial violence in Oklahoma,” says Kirsten Delegard, historian and co-founder of the Mapping Prejudice Project, a physique of exploration demonstrating the structural obstacles that prohibited persons who were being not white from shopping for assets and setting up prosperity in America for most of the final century. “He arrived correct at the beginning of the 1920s, correct right after Tulsa erupted. You know, 1 of the most notorious episodes of racial violence in American background.”
“Cassius arrived in St. Paul at a moment exactly where race relations in the Twin Towns were being truly not race relations, but white resistance to the existence of Black persons truly increasing and obtaining additional organized.”
-Historian Kirsten Delegard
As a porter at the Retailers Resort, Cassius executed responsibilities like sharpening spittoons and bogs for his home and board. Involving perform and rest, he ultimately made his way to Pilgrim Baptist Church, 1 of the handful of evident safe sites to find group and a third area if you were being Black in a pre–civil rights America.
“This was a prejudiced town, St. Paul/Minneapolis. About the only matters you could do was go to university,” said Cassius in the oral background.
The yr of Cassius’s arrival in 1922, Black persons made up significantly less than 1 p.c of the Minnesota inhabitants (a figure that ongoing into the 1950s). Still the state’s establishments were being by now proscribing exactly where Black persons could reside, perform, and take in. By 1910, the first racial covenants had by now been drawn in Minnesota—language within just deeds that reserved land for the distinctive use of white persons.
“Cassius arrived in St. Paul at a moment exactly where race relations in the Twin Towns were being truly not race relations, but white resistance to the existence of Black persons truly increasing and obtaining additional organized,” says Delegard.
And nevertheless, by 1937, Cassius had managed to obtain the setting up at thirty eighth Street and 4th Avenue South. He named it the Dreamland Café and turned it into a modest storefront marketing easy food and 3.two beer. At that time, if you were being Black in Minneapolis, your daily life was restricted to the Previous Southside, exactly where the Dreamland stood the Near North Aspect an place all around Hiawatha Avenue and the place we now call Cedar Riverside. According to Delegard, all those were being the only sites you were being lawfully authorized to reside. And, she says, the covenants, in conjunction with redlining, “did the work” of Jim Crow in the North.
In segregated Minneapolis, no Black persons were being welcome in downtown restaurants or lodges, which includes touring musicians or other superstars who arrived to entertain white audiences. So they went to the Dreamland, and then non-public houses in the place, to rest, take in, drink, and play. Lena Horne and Frankie Lymon famously visited the café.
The Dreamland definitely was just that—a location exactly where persons could don a smooth fedora, clutch a beer glass, be safe, and chill out long ample to aspiration. Possibly of a better place—a location exactly where the insidious tentacles of “Jim Crow of the North” could not slither in to stifle and choke.
“People often talk to me as a historian, if I could go back in background, exactly where would I go, what would I see? And I believe I would go to the Dreamland Café in the 1930s,” says Delegard.
In an significantly racially constricted Minneapolis, the Dreamland Café was the rhythmic nucleus of the Previous Southside. The setting up continue to stands, and even currently is buttressed by barbershops and sites of worship. The headquarters for the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder, the state’s oldest Black-owned newspaper, is correct across the avenue. Delegard calls the place “incredibly central” to Black cultural, business, and political life—the “commercial backbone” of the Black group.
Dreamland was a location with old heads posted up outdoors actively playing chess or chilling in a folding chair with an ass pocket of whiskey, chopping it up and watching the planet go by. It was the location with just the correct lineup of blues on the juke, exactly where the ceiling lover reduce by means of a brew of humidity, fryer grease, and the sweet anticipation of superior situations, mixing it all into the heady alchemy that helps make a superior place the place. And powering the bar, Cassius—the mayor of the Previous Southside, the Godfather of Black social area 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 occur to [Don Vito Corleone] and they questioned him all sorts of concerns and stuff like that? You have business leaders, group leaders coming to him and inquiring for information? That reminded me of Grandpa!”
Dreamland was humming at the peak of Earth War II, which means that even though Cassius was jogging his business, filling an very important void for his group, the govt had other concepts. The Dreamland was deemed nonessential to the war hard work, even though equivalent white-owned corporations were being authorized to operate as essential. Cassius had to simultaneously set in total-time perform at a St. Paul protection plant, offering him just a handful of hrs of rest every night time.
And continue to, he was much from completed. As he had often done, Cassius appeared electrical power in the eye, brow arched, and held on punching. When I first imagined him, he was Richard Roundtree in Shaft. I pictured him in a restricted Afro and leather jacket, kicking down doorways and taking no mess from white people—a badass.
But Cassius was a diverse sort of badass—one that kicked down doorways to accomplish a hell of a lot additional than any Blaxploitation stereotype.
It was the location with just the correct lineup of blues on the juke, exactly where the ceiling lover reduce by means of a brew of humidity, fryer grease, and the sweet anticipation of superior situations, mixing it all into the heady alchemy that helps make a superior place the place.
Bear in mind how no Black man or woman had at any time been granted a total liquor license in Minneapolis? When he first applied, Cassius was explained to that Black persons were being only authorized to function barbecues, shoeshine parlors, and barbershops. No Black man or woman had at any time lawfully owned and operated a bar in downtown Minneapolis. And, Delegard explained to me, when Black persons applied for any license in Minneapolis, they had to verify that they were being not going to use their business for “immoral needs.”
“Several situations I had the FBI seeking to know if I was a communist, and when I’d joined,” Cassius noted in the oral background. “And when I applied for this liquor license in 1942 they introduced up that I had been to Russia below the Five-Yr Approach.”
He had not.
“They introduced out all the things to maintain me from obtaining a license.”
Even gangster Kid Cann and his liquor syndicate explained to the Town Council Licenses Committee—in Cassius’s presence—that the liquor business was a white man’s.
When that photo was taken, Cassius Bar and Playroom, at 207 South third Street, was at its apex—a heart of group, recognised as a location exactly where persons of both equally races could mix and mingle safely and securely and peacefully. In 1958, many thanks to community redevelopment, the bar moved to 318 South third Street, exactly where it remained until 1980.
Cassius, at any time existing, at any time obvious-eyed, at any time vigilant, ensured that his bars were being safe and superior-vibing gathering places for all. Black persons, yes, but white persons much too, which includes, many thanks to its proximity to the law enforcement station, cops and many thanks to its proximity to the courthouse, judges and lawyers and many thanks to Cassius’s several connections, politicians, journalists, and touring superstars. There was no location like it in Minneapolis ahead of or right after.
Just three many years right after Cassius Bar shut endlessly, so did Cassius the guy.
He held his ft firmly planted on that porcelain mosaic ground for 40 many years. As did so several numerous others—feet shod in Florsheims and stilettos, Nikes and flats, nicely-heeled and not so significantly.
With his barkeep’s apron endlessly ready for motion, occur what may perhaps, he ministered to thousands. His way.
Initially revealed in the July 2021 situation.