History Preservation

All Black Fire Station

all black fire station
Fire Station #24, located at 4501 Hiawatha Avenue, was built in 1907 and was in service from 1907 until approximately 1976. Some of the original firefighters include Captain John Cheatham, Lafayette Mason, Frank Harris, Oscar Clark, Archie Spence (Archie Van Spence), and James R. Cannon. At the time, the fire engine was pulled by horses and the men lived on the second floor. (Information from Joseph Waters, Firefighters Hall & Museum; Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery History page.)

black firefighters
In 1907, the staffing of the new Minneapolis Fire Station #24 Avenue became controversial because some white neighborhood residents did not want the station to be composed exclusively of black firemen. The Minneapolis fire chief issued a statement that the station was meant to be a “colored fire company.” Another argument was made by some City Council members, who objected that it was “an affront to the colored members of the force, who are credited with being first-rate men, to segregate them in one station.” They felt that the station should be a “berth for the older members of the force who would welcome a relief from the constant strain of downtown duty.” A petition signed by 60 women, all area residents, supported the assignment of the black firemen to the station. (Information from 2009 Snelling Avenue research)

Firefighters who served at Fire Station #24

  • Oscar Clark – 1912
  • Archie Spence (Archie Van Spence?) – 1912
  • James R. Cannon – 1912
  • John Cheatham – 1907
  • Frank Harris -1907
  • Lafayette Mason – 1907

August 13 – from Joseph Waters, Firefighters Hall & Museum

  • Fire Station 24 was located at 4501 Hiawatha Avenue, and was in service until approximately 1976 when it moved to 54th and 34th. Renamed Fire Station 12, possibly because named for location in the 12th Ward.
  • Firefighters – Oscar Clark, Archie Spence, James R. Cannon. Archie Van Spence started January1, 1908 and served until 1925. His assignments include Chemical Engine 7 and Engine 24. 

November 24 – Councilmember Andrew Johnson

  • The project next to Fire Station 24 is 81 units of deeply affordable housing, RS Eden’s Amber Apartments
  • Councilmember Johnson’s office worked with CPED on landmark designation of St. James AME with John Smoley
  • Working to rename Dight Ave to either Paul Brown Ave, after founder of St. James AME, or Harriet and Dred Scott Ave

December 1 – Judge Lange 

  • Built in 1907, fire engine pulled by horses, men lived on second floor with stairwell and fire pole
  • During WWII, last black firefighter was fired for wearing the wrong color shirt
  • 1970s, Luther Granquist filed lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and Fire Chief Hillstrom for discrimination. The class action suit allowed the department to integrate and significant numbers of African American firefighters were hired and moved up through the ranks.

December 6 – research by Sharie Cassioppi

The first fire captain was John Cheatham. He was born a slave in St. Louis, Missouri in 1855, freed on January 1, 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation* (according to Susan Hunter Weir research). His family moved to Minneapolis shortly after. He was appointed to the Minneapolis Fire Department in 1888. He was one of the first, if not the first, African American firefighters in Minneapolis. He was extremely distinguished and respected as a strong firefighter and leader, and had an excellent record. John Cheatham was stationed at Fire Station #24 along with Lafayette Mason and Frank Harris. It appears they were three of the original fire fighters at the station.

*Judge Lange notes: The Emancipation Proclamation did not free enslaved people in Missouri in 1863. However there is a record of a large group of enslaved people escaping Missouri and being towed behind a boat that was being used to “deport ” Native American people in the genocide and purge following the Dakotah Conflict. Missouri was also a pipeline for the fur trade, so called Indian Agents and treaty profiteers. Missouri passes a law in 1865 to free slaves.

In 1907, the staffing of the new Minneapolis Fire Station #24 at 4501 Hiawatha Avenue became controversial because some white neighborhood residents did not want the station to be composed exclusively of black firemen. The Minneapolis fire chief issued a statement that the station was meant to be a “colored fire company.” Another argument was made by some City Council members, who objected that it was “an affront to the   colored members of the force, who are credited with being first-rate men, to segregate them in one station.” They felt that the station should be a “berth for the older members of the force who would welcome a relief from the constant strain of downtown duty.” A petition signed by 60 women, all area residents, supported the assignment of the black firemen to the station.

Citations from the 2009 Hennepin County Community Works Research Report:

  • “Minnehaha Residents Object,” Minneapolis Journal 13 July 1907; 
  • “Fire Chief Explains Men,” Minneapolis Journal 23 July 1907. 
  • ‘Haha Objects to Colored Firemen,” Minneapolis Journal 13 July 1907, 7
  • “Women Back Firemen: Petition of Sixty Stands by Colored Employees,” Minneapolis Tribune 6 Aug 1906:6.  
  • Heath, Richard. Mill City Firefighters: The First Hundred Years, 1879-1979. Minneapolis: Extra Alarm Association of the Twin Cities, 1981.
  • David Taylor, “The Blacks,” in June D. Holmquist, ed., They Chose Minnesota (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1981)

Pgs. 45-47 of the PDF (labeled as pages 131-133) evaluate the building at 4501 Hiawatha Avenue and its potential for “significance” as follows:

Evaluation: Although this property requires further study of the significance of its relationship to the early 20th century growth of the Minneapolis Fire Department and the area’s African American community, it appears to be significant under Criterion A for its association with the city’s “colored fire companies” and its association with the development of fire protection in early 20th-century Minneapolis. Despite the infill of the apparatus door and the rooftop billboard, the building appears to retain a good level of exterior integrity. As indicated in NRHP Bulletin 15, the seven aspects of integrity to be considered when evaluating the ability of a property to convey its significance are location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. The quality of location is excellent and setting is good. The building retains a good level of materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.  

Citations:

  • Ira Keer, “Minneapolis Fire Station No. 21 Draft NRHP Nomination Form,” 1981, n.p. On file, Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office; Minneapolis Building Permit B32644, 5/17/94
  • Minneapolis Building Permit B70574, 2/28/07
  • “Colored Firemen Isolated by Chief,” Minneapolis Tribune 23 July 1907, 6

December 7 – Star Tribune Article

December 8 – Anura Si-Asar, African American Professional Firefighters Association

December 13 – Susan Hunter Weir

  • Looked into three other fire stations that have been designated as landmarks. Each designated based on significance to community development. Believes Fire Station 24 has even stronger case, based on history of Snelling Avenue Community, St. James AME, cemetery, all interconnected, and the station is at the heart of a stable and strong community
  • Missing part of story – what was the African American community’s reaction and response to the 1907 protests? 

December 13 – Anura Si-Asar

December 15 – Joseph Hoover. Minnesota Historical Society, Heritage Preservation Department

December 16 – Erin Que, Sr. Architectural Historian, 106 Group

December 23 – Erin Que

December 29 – Chief Bryan D. Tyner, Minneapolis Fire Department

August 9, 2021