Like so many others, my connection to the 38th Street and Chicago Avenue Cultural District of Minneapolis began May 25, 2020 when the news of the murder of George Floyd started circulating. I was sitting in my apartment across town watching the death of yet another Black man at the hands of police, and feeling like I, and my fellow Black Americans, had no control over our bodies, our autonomy, or our right to live freely in this country. I was angry, scared, but more than anything, I was so deeply saddened for a man I had never met, for his family, his friends, and for my community that was once again at the beginning of a cycle of grief and outrage.
These days, the 38th and Chicago intersection, the site of George Floyd’s killing now known as George Floyd Square, is the most recognizable landmark in the district. But the corridor runs along 38th Street for nearly 20 city blocks and is a neighborhood with rich African American history dating back to the 1930s when it became the third Black neighborhood in Minneapolis, known as Southside.
Due to restrictive housing covenants, this pocket of Minneapolis was one of the few at the time where Black people could own property. Black residents flocked to the area. From 1930 to 1970, the area became home to the Black Business District with more than 20 businesses. From 1980 to 2000, the district underwent drastic changes including the closing of Central High School in 1982, forcing families to seek education in other neighborhoods, rising Hispanic populations, and the closing of almost all the businesses in the area. But over the last 20 years, the area has transformed into a thriving hub of minority-owned businesses bringing bold flavors and unique experiences to the area.
Phelps Field Park and Calvary Lutheran Church | Credit: Annie Wang
Visiting George Floyd Square
A visit to George Floyd Square (GFS) is crucial to understand this district. The story of GFS is not one of a particularly coordinated effort, but rather an organic evolution of community coming together to demand justice, challenge the norm of institution, and create community healing.
When going to GFS, I always keep these words in mind from a conversation with Jeanelle Austin, a lead caretaker of the space, explaining that the space is not a tourist destination: “What’s important is that when you’re coming, remember that this is a neighborhood where people live, it’s a sacred space, it’s a place of pilgrimage.” But what’s most important is what we take home after visiting the space: “It’s important that [we] learn from the imagination of how [we] can take the principles of community building back to [our] neighborhoods and practice justice in [our] communities.”
As time has gone on, the moments I spend at GFS have become opportunities for me to pay respects and reflect. Walking through the space, looking at the offerings and art, making my way to the Say Their Names Cemetery, seeing neighbors cooking for each other, creating art projects, playing games in the streets, sitting around campfires at the People’s Way, singing, dancing — it's all something that keeps me very grounded and reminds me of what the community has sacrificed to get where we are. George Floyd Square has always remained a place of peace and healing where the well-being of people is valued over property, a true testament to what community looks like.
The 38th and Chicago neighborhood is one that has undergone unprecedented changes over the last year, but it’s a space where community has come together to build something beautiful and unique. The goals and mission of George Floyd Square are not exclusive to the space. It’s something that has trickled out all around the area. That sense of community, love, and compassion for one another can be felt throughout the area.
As it continues to evolve, many individuals have different ideas of what GFS, and the surrounding area should become. The City of Minneapolis plans to turn the autonomous zone into a permanent memorial with a commitment to preserve the legacy of the Black community. Some agree with this sentiment, while others feel this permanent memorial and reopening of the streets should not take place until 24 demands are met.
Differences aside, the consensus of what should be done with the space is best summed up by Brandon Williams, a close nephew of George Floyd: “I hope it remains a place where people can come and reflect on how we got here and how we’re going to move forward. I hope people can find something positive and healing in this space, despite this tragic situation. There needs to be a permanent memorial for this story to be preserved and passed down to generations to come.”
Should you choose to visit George Floyd Square, consider volunteering your time or money. From caretaking to joining a work group for the 24 demands, there are many opportunities. One of the most important ways to support GFS is to be a part of your own community. Austin says it’s important to spread the spirit to other areas.
Phelps Field Park | Credit: Annie Wang
Be Sure to Stop at Tiny Diner and Just Turkey
Just Turkey is a minority-owned restaurant located in GFS with a mission of providing jobs and opportunities to underserved communities, falling right in line with the mission of the Square and the history of the district. When I’m in the area, I can’t leave without stopping in for an Italian Sandwich or maybe some Jerk Turkey Tips. Everything I’ve ever had from Just Turkey is delicious, perfectly seasoned, and full of flavor.
The district is also home to Tiny Diner, one of my favorite breakfast spots in the city. The food is incredible (don’t skip the huevos rancheros), but what’s so unique about Tiny Diner is that their backyard hosts an urban farm where they grow their own produce. I often spend sunny Saturday mornings with a friend on their patio, drinking coffee, eating, and laughing surrounded by the garden. The atmosphere is refreshing and energizing and reminiscent of summer mornings in my backyard growing up. After breakfast, I usually take a walk around the neighborhood and stop at Phelps Field Park to watch a pick-up basketball game and chat with the players and others at the park.
Just Turkey | Credit: Annie Wang
Intimate Theater at Pillsbury House and Date Night on Nicollet Avenue
If I’m looking for an evening activity in the neighborhood, the Pillsbury House & Theatre is my go-to. There’s always something new and unique on the lineup to check out, and many of the shows highlight local thespians, making it a uniquely Minneapolis experience. The cozy, intimate atmosphere coupled with live theater makes for the perfect chill night out with a friend.
On the other end of the district is Nicollet Avenue, where I enjoy a variety of locally owned shops and restaurants, perfect for a foodie’s day out. Young Man, an Asian fusion restaurant highlighting Hawaiian and Balinese cuisine, is a local favorite for their distinctive flavors and dishes like Takoyaki (octopus dumplings) or Té Saté (chicken and homemade peanut sauce).
When it’s time for an afternoon pick-me-up, my first choice is always Five Watt Coffee. Their seasonally rotating drink menu means you get to try something new and exciting every time, and I’ve never been disappointed.
Five Watt Coffee | Credit: Annie Wang
38th & Nicollet is also home to date night favorite Petite León. The fusion restaurant incorporates bold Latin flavors like mole and ajonjoli into French classics like duck confit and steak bavette. Make sure to save room for dessert because the arroz con leche is dreamy.
The neighborhood hosts two of my go-to specialty grocery stores, Finer Meat Co. and Cinco De Mayo Mercado. Finer Meat is the store I head to if I’m looking for a high-end cut of meat, but also if I’m looking for some kitchen inspiration. They have a massive variety of sauces and spice rubs to spark some kitchen creativity. If I’m looking for fun treats and bold flavors, I’ll make a stop at Cinco De Mayo Mercado and pick up some conchas from the bakery and scan the snack and candy aisles for new flavors to try out.
Butter Bakery Cafe - Serving "extraordinarily ordinary" made from scratch food for breakfast and lunch since 2006 . Don't skip the biscuits!
Kyatchi - Inspired by Japanese cuisine, Kyatchi plates up sustainable ingredients in both traditional Japanese and new American ways. They also have an extensive Japanese whiskey selection.
Nighthawks Diner & Bar - Slinging pancakes and breakfast, tasty cocktails, craft beer and an approachable, eclectic menu of Diner-inspired food.
Tacos El Kevin - Beyond delicious tacos and more for take-out or sit down within Portland Market.
Sabathani Community Center - founded in 1966 with a vision to be a vibrant leader with strong partnerships in a community where people of all ages and cultures are able to live, learn, work and play in a healthy and safe environment. Since 1979 it has settled in the former Bryant Junior High School.