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Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Anthony Brutus Cassius
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Anthony Brutus Cassius was born in Meridian, Oklahoma, in 1907. His father, an African American minister, gave each of his eighteen children a deep appreciation of education. Although Tony left Meridian at the age of thirteen, he finished high school once he had settled in St. Paul (Mechanic Arts High School, class of 1926), and went on to Macalester College and the University of Minnesota. Lack of money cut short his opportunities for formal learning, however. Mr. Cassius married Florence Allison in 1927 and started to work as a waiter at the Curtis Hotel in Minneapolis. He quickly began to question the low wages paid to the all-black Curtis waiters, and organized his co-workers into a union, Local #614 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union. It received its charter in 1930. Since the International union did not accept African Americans into full membership, and did not encourage racially integrated locals, Local #614 grew to include black waiters and cooks at other restaurants as well. Local #614 sued the Curtis Hotel over its discriminatory pay scales, and in 1940 won a settlement in its favor. Mr. Cassius served as the business agent of the local until 1939, and as president of the Local Joint Executive Board of the HRE. In the mid-1940s Local #614 merged with Local #665. In 1939 Mr. Cassius and his brother purchased a restaurant in south Minneapolis and opened the Dreamland Cafe and Tavern. Eight years later they bought a second restaurant downtown, and turned it into the Cassius Club Cafe. Mr. Cassius' attempt to obtain a liquor license led to a legal battle with two city aldermen, who questioned his political views and accused him of belonging to the Communist Party. After two and a half years, though, he became the first African American to hold a liquor license in Minneapolis. The Cassius Club was a popular gathering place for Twin Cities African Americans for another three decades. The restaurant closed in 1980. Mr. Cassius was active in civic affairs. He belonged to both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League at different times. He was also a founder of the Minnesota Club, an association of black professionals and business people, and on the board of The Way, a social service center for black youth in Minneapolis. He had two children, Alvedia Cassius Smith and Donald Cassius. At the time of the interview Mr. Cassius was retired and living in Minneapolis. He died on August 3, 1983. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Description of arrival from the south; St. Paul high schools; educational opportunities for African Americans. Working conditions for waiters at the Curtis Hotel, late 1920s. Organization of Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local #614, and support it received from Local #665 and Local #544 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Memories of the organization of HRE Local #665 (Miscellaneous Workers). Importance of picnics in the labor movement, especially among white ethnic groups. Memories of the 1934 teamsters' strike in Minneapolis. Harassment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1940s. Difficulties for an African American in starting a business, 1940s. Organized crime in the liquor industry in Minneapolis, and impressions of Albert J. Kilday. Memories of John Thomas. Employment and unemployment among African Americans in Minneapolis, 1920s and 1930s. Dining Car Employees Local #516 of the HRE, St. Paul, and the career of Maceo Littlejohn. African Americans in Minnetonka, 1930s. Organization of tunnel workers in Minneapolis into the International Hod Carriers, Building, and Common Laborers' Union, 1930s. Racial discrimination in American Federation of Labor unions. Impressions of Harold L. Stassen, Elmer A. Benson, and Floyd B. Olson. Minneapolis chapter of the Urban League, 1940s. Impressions of Lloyd MacAlomn. Deportation hearings against Peter Warhol, 1940s. Conditions for black labor union organizers in the South, 1940s. Protests against the film The Birth of a Nation in Minneapolis, 1930s. Formation of the Minnesota Club. Racial discrimination in Minneapolis hotels and restaurants, 1930s and 1940s. Employment opportunities for African Americans during World War II. Forums on issues affecting the African American community, held at the Phyllis Wheatley Settlement House, 1930s. Tolerance of racial discrimination in white churches, 1930s. Impressions of Cecil B. Newman. Labor union response to the influx of African American workers during World War II, especially by the United Packinghouse Workers of America. African American farmers around Minneapolis, 1920s. African American settlers in St. Paul, late l800s. African Americans in Duluth, early 1900s; lynching of three men in 1920. Memories of William Herron and Ralph Helstein. Role of the Minneapolis Urban League in opening up employment opportunities for African Americans, 1940s. Election of Nellie Stone to the Minneapolis Library Board, 1945. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: The first day of interviewing concentrated on the labor movement of the 1930s and 1940s. The second day broadened the focus to include the movement for civil rights among African Americans. There is a little overlap between the two days. Mr. Cassius has a tendency to exaggerate, and to make assertions about "the first" and "the largest" which are wrong. This is especially true when he discusses general African American history in Minnesota. The interviewer and interviewee speak over each other quite a bit. There is some background noise on tape #3. Mr. Cassius repeats himself a lot. The transcript edits out these repetitions.
4 hours sound cassette
56 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
02:48:23 running time
Interviewee: Cassius, Anthony Brutus
Interviewer: Ross, Carl
Made in: Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States
Creation: 12/01/1981 - 02/03/1982 (Interviews conducted 12/01/1981 and 2/3/1982.)
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 30.14 (Library Call Number)
AV1990.228.50 (Accession Number)
MNHS Library Catalog
Collection Finding Aid
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'