Sierra Phillips | Tougaloo College
Research Obligations Affirmed Through the 2020 Minneapolis Uprisings
A new year, a new decade, numerous opportunities— those are the thoughts that ran through my head as 2020 approached. I was excited to study abroad in January. I would be starting the new decade in Cape Town, South Africa and would be learning about apartheid and colonization. I was also excited for my spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in March. While these are both great excursions, I was most excited to continue my undergraduate research journey. Upon acceptance into the UNCF Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship in March 2019, I took on the research topic: “Investigating the Incomplete Story of the Black Freedom Movement in Minneapolis in the 1960s,” in order to seek better understanding of my hometown’s involvement in the civil rights movement. I chose this research topic because growing up, I did not learn much Black history in school, but when I did it was centered around the civil rights movement in the American South. Since I barely learned about Black history regarding my hometown, I took this opportunity not to only educate others on the Black experience in Minneapolis, but to also educate myself.
In the Spring of 2020, my time was occupied with applying to summer research programs. I applied to four research programs, and I was accepted into three of them. I chose to participate in the Pre PhD Summer Enrichment Program at Howard University. Although it was virtual due to COVID-19, I knew I would get the most out of this program than the others. The day I started my program, May 26th, 2020, is a day I will never forget. I had only woken up just in time to eat breakfast and to prepare for my first Zoom call with the program’s faculty, staff and students. That morning, I did not have a chance to browse through social media as I usually do. I received a call from my mother as I was getting ready, and the news completely shifted my then anxious mood to a somber one. My mother informed me that a Black man was killed by police the previous night, but I was not shocked or surprised because this was a sad reality for Black America. What shocked me was that it had happened in my city, Minneapolis, Minnesota. She sent me the video of the altercation with George Floyd and the officers, but I could only watch about 2 minutes of the 8 minutes and 46 second video. I had seen this happen before in July 2016, when Philando Castile was shot to death in his car in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, so I could not stomach to watch another unarmed Black man be lynched on camera.
It was very difficult for me to focus that day, and the days to follow. That week was the most destructive week I have ever seen my city. Protests arose, buildings burned, and stores were looted. This was my reality for about two weeks while simultaneously trying to remain focused on my research program, as these events were unfolding right outside my window. How could I focus on my future when George Floyd no longer had one? I participated in three protests when I was not engulfed in my program’s obligations. Attending those protests shifted my mindset on my research project. I saw signs that read “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.” I witnessed community members mourn the loss of another Black life at the George Floyd Memorial in South Minneapolis. Most importantly, I witnessed Black community members express their frustrations about how Black lives are treated in America. They constantly occupied the 3rd Minneapolis Police Precinct to express their grievances, and eventually, it went up in flames.
After attending protests, I began to think about the Plymouth Race Riots in Minneapolis of 1966 and 1967. I vaguely remember learning about the event, but I did not know much about it at all. The uprisings that unfolded in my city during those weeks following George Floyd’s death caused me to want to delve deeper into why the Plymouth Race Riots occurred. During my program, my mentor Dr. Grant, suggested I narrow my research topic even further, and I agreed. I decided to narrow my research topic to investigating the Plymouth Race Riots of 1966 and 1967, specifically the remote and immediate causes of the riots. The civil unrest across America, particularly in my city, has affirmed my undergraduate research project because it validated my work. It has confirmed that my work is important and deserves proper and careful study because once again, the country is witnessing a national uprising like in the 60s, but this time, Minneapolis is at the center. The uprisings in Minneapolis were not unwarranted; they happened due to the constant dismissal of Black lives in America, and I want to dig deeper into how Black lives were consistently dismissed in 1960s Minneapolis, which led to the Plymouth Race Riots, or as I will refer to in my research, the Plymouth Avenue Uprisings.
Posted By , 26 Aug 2020