Sometimes I come across a piece of paper in the files that raises more questions than answers. Please take a moment to read the two-page document (above) written by Ken Joyce, then mayor of Morningside, in 1960.
I had to know more. Although Ken was no longer living, I talked to his children, who provided Ken's scrapbook that contained newspaper articles about the issue, as well as contact information for the family whose move to the village touched off a storm of controversy.
As a result, I wrote the following article in 2005 for the Edina Historical Society quarterly newsletter.
Moving to Morningside required courage and faith for one newcomer in 1960. “Our minister told us to buy a shotgun for protection,” said Mary Ethel Pyburn (formerly Taylor) when I interviewed her in 2005. “Everyone thought we were crazy to move there.”
She and her family were the first blacks to move to Morningside, a suburb of middle-class professionals. Friends feared that they would face hostility and even outright violence as many other blacks had who dared move into all-white areas.
Despite an initial effort by a small group to keep them out, most Morningside residents went out of their way to welcome the Taylors, Mary recalled.
“We became part of a very close-knit community,” she said.
Initially, the Taylors faced a subtle campaign to keep them out of the small village (then a separate entity from Edina.) A group formed “to keep the village ‘pure’,” recalled Gerry (Mrs. Peter) Hoag in a 1965 newspaper article. The group’s tactics were to try to get the Taylors’ lot condemned for drainage.
Mrs. Hoag’s response was to immediately draw up what she called a “fairness petition” in support of the Taylors that was later signed by 251 Morningside residents.
The controversy was waged for months in local newspapers.
Morningside Mayor Ken Joyce wrote eloquently of the need for the community to be “fair minded.”
The undated typewritten manuscript at the Edina Historical Society addresses fellow citizens. It may have been published as a letter to the editor or distributed as a flyer.
“A Negro family has purchased a lot in Morningside for the purpose of building a home,” Joyce writes.
“… We are now being watched. We now have an opportunity to live the Golden Rule. Above everything else, because we are a small village, the action of every single family in Morningside is going to reflect on the Village as a whole. We are now in a position to demonstrate the real spirit of an honest, God-fearing community…or to act impulsively, unthinkingly, and become known as a bigoted, prejudiced, hateful little area that is no better than a portion of the South that we have probably in the past presumed to judge. …
“There has been some talk of ‘I am going to sell my house before it is too late!’ and ‘If they move in – I move out!’ Just suppose a Negro family does move into our Village: wouldn’t it be a pretty sight to see For Sale signs sprout like panic-planted ragweed all over the Village!...
“This note is not an easy one to write. But as a citizen and Mayor, I refuse to let even a tiny evil whisper grow without a challenging retort.”
Although public opinion seemed in favor of the Taylors, the council still had the drainage issue to decide. The Taylors’ lot was at the bottom of the hill on the 4200 block of Scott Terrace where water drained.
Still, Joyce noted that Morningside has “had a drainage problem since its very beginning.” The area was built on a swampy area known as Mud Lake, after all.
In January 1960, the Village Council voted in favor of the Taylors. Afterward, the Hoags invited everyone over for coffee at their home at 4215 Morningside Road “because it seemed the natural thing to do,” Mrs. Hoag said in a 1965 newspaper article.
The neighboring Larry Keegan family also became good friends. “They (Mrs. Keegan and Mrs. Hoag) were two of the nicest ladies you would ever know,” Mary recalled.
Mrs. Hoag babysat the Taylors’ son Greg before and after school so that he could start the year at Morningside School, even before the Taylors’ home was completed.
The Morningside School principal personally welcomed the family, and Greg made friends easily even though he was the only black child in school, Mary said.
Greg was the first black to graduate from Edina schools in the modern era.
Several black families lived in Edina post Civil War, including the Yancey family who had leadership roles in school and government. But by 1924, the newly platted Edina Country Club included racist building restrictions that prevented home sales to non-whites. Although the practice was later found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, most blacks had moved out of Edina by the 1930s.
Newspaper articles note that the Taylors moved to Morningside from “the ghetto.” While their old neighborhood was all black, it was a nice area of south Minneapolis, Mary noted. She was a Minneapolis school teacher and her husband M. Greg was a biochemist. They were forced to move because Interstate 35-W took their home and many others in their neighborhood.
As for the minister’s advice to get a shotgun, the Taylors did buy one and kept it unloaded but they never had reason to use it. When vandals broke windows along 42nd Street, the Taylors’s house was unscathed.
“Most people were good,” Mary said. “The bad ones, you just ignore.”
Mary Esther Pyburn, then 83, was in the process of writing her memoirs. The Taylors now live in California, but they have stayed in touch with many Edina friends and former neighbors.
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