Prof. Juergens works to ‘remember and honor past resistance to inequality’

Professor Ann Juergens has a long history of engagement with social justice issues. She’s a  sought-after authority on housing law and has written an important article on Minnesota’s early civil rights history.  That article focuses on Lena Smith ’21, Minnesota’s first African American woman lawyer who fought segregation and discrimination.


Lena Smith ’21 (left) and Professor Ann Juergens

It was only natural, then, for University of Minnesota School of Architecture Professor Gregory Donofrio to ask for Juergens’ help when he enlisted his class and several graduate students to research and frame the nomination of the Arthur and Edith Lee home for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

The house on the 4600 block of Columbus Ave. in south Minneapolis was purchased by the Lees, who were black, in 1931. The Lees’ new neighbors, most of whom were white, threatened the family, tried to force them to leave the neighborhood, and organized several weeks of nightly protests in the street that grew to include 3,000 people.

Smith, who at the time was president of the Minneapolis NAACP, represented the Lees and eventually persuaded the city’s mayor and police chief to take action to protect the family’s right to live in the home. The end of the protests marked a turning point for the effort to end segregation in Minneapolis, and was part of a national struggle against housing segregation, led by the NAACP.  Its significance as a site of resistance to injustice  is why Juergens, Donofrio, and the design and architecture students assert that it should be protected as a historic site.

“Recent studies based on U.S. Census data  establish that Minnesota has the widest gap in the nation between whites and minorities in home ownership,” Juergens says.  “Remembering and honoring past resistance to inequality is important if we are to overcome Minnesota’s history of basing opportunity for homeownership on race.”

Read more about the effort to protect the home in the Star Tribune