Anthony Cassius and the Fight for an On-Sale Liquor License (1947 - 1949)

Anthony Cassius and the Fight for an On-Sale Liquor License (1947 - 1949)
The Ever Dapper Anthony Brutus Cassius (MPLS/ST Paul Magazine)

Anthony Brutus (A.B.) Cassius had a front-row seat to racial injustices in the Twin Cities for years after arriving here in the early 1920s. He saw the mistreatment of people of color, men and women who looked like him, and joined the fight for equality. Between 1946-1948, he battled with the city of Minneapolis to obtain an on-sale liquor license, highlighting the black community's struggle to find a place in traditionally "white" spaces. Ultimately, Cassius prevailed, becoming the first black on-sale liquor license holder in city history, but the lengthy process nearly cost him everything.

Vincent J. Fabel, owner of the Cedar Avenue Bar at 408 Cedar Avenue, had his liquor license revoked on June 27, 1947, for selling alcohol on a Sunday. As a result, a different establishment had the opportunity to assume the vacated license. On July 14, Cassius, on behalf of his Cassius Bar and Cafe at 207 Third Street South, became the city's first applicant.

Once city inspectors approved his application, Cassius' request was put in front of the two aldermen for the Sixth Ward, Edward A. Hendricks, and Edgar T. Buckley, for approval or denial. Hendricks signed the application, indicating his support. However, Buckley did not. He believed that the potential license holder should not only pay the requisite fees but offer to purchase the equipment and fixtures of the previous license holder. This practice had been the norm in the city's forty prior liquor license approvals.

Cassius refused. Unofficial appraisals of Fabel's bar equipment placed the purchase cost somewhere between twenty-five and forty thousand dollars. Cassius didn't have the money to buy everything and had no reason, legal or otherwise, to do so if he did. The existing equipment and fixtures at the Cassius Bar and Cafe were more than suitable for his needs.

Furthermore, forcing the new licensee to bail out the previous holder was unofficial city policy — not actual policy. Cassius was under no legal obligation to agree. Buckley held firm, believing the former owner, though he lost his license due to breaking the law, shouldn't be forced to lose everything he had due to a single mistake.

Then the personal attacks began. In July, despite the less-than-unanimous approval of the two Sixth Ward aldermen, Cassius' application was forwarded to the city's health and hospitals committee. Alderman Walter C. Robb noted — on the record, and without verifiable proof — that he'd heard charges that one of the applicants was connected to the northside underworld. He called for Cassius to be further investigated.

The measure for further investigation was defeated, but the application process was sent back to the health and hospitals committee. Nothing came of the charges.

Two more rumors moved to the forefront the following week. One involved the true ownership of the Dreamland Cafe, a place Cassius had owned until a recent sale. City officials allowed license holders a single liquor license for a single location, regardless of how many establishments a person owned. The Cafe had a 3.2 beer license; if Cassius were still the owner, this would make him ineligible for a second liquor license.

Cassius sold the Dreamland Cafe to his nephew Wayne Pierro on February 25, 1947. He had a public bill of sale to prove the transaction.

The second was significantly more insidious. It was claimed that Cassius was a member of the Communist Party. His association with members of the Communist and Socialist movements while fighting for workers' rights in the 1930s caused people to infer his connection to Communism. Cassius steadfastly denied the claims. Once again, nothing came of the charges, later deemed nothing more than City Hall gossip.

Racial undertones beneath the claims against Cassius soon moved to the forefront. A petition was circulated in the neighborhood around the Cassius Bar and Cafe. The obvious scare tactic claimed an approved liquor license would end with "large numbers of Negroes (descending) upon the neighborhood."

Alderman Hendricks, citing a negative opinion of Cassius in the neighborhood, changed his vote from approval to dissent.

On August 7, 1947, the Minneapolis City Council voted to deny the Cassius liquor license request and stay any further approvals until updated liquor license ordinance procedures were passed. Cassius sat in limbo while the changes were implemented. The health and hospitals committee officially canceled his application on December 21, 1947.

The application process began again in November 1948. Cassius was the second person to apply but believed he had earned the right of the first refusal due to his previous request. Both the health and hospitals committee members and City Council agreed.

On New Years' Eve 1948, on the recommendation of the city's health and hospitals committee, Anthony Cassius was approved for an on-sale liquor license by the Minneapolis City Council. This act made him the first black man in city history to hold such a license.

The eighteen month fight between Cassius and the city exhausted his finances. He had no money to make necessary improvements to his bar. He went to local banks to get a ten thousand dollar loan. Cassius was turned down time after time until finally receiving the money he needed at the Midland Bank — but only after the bank's president interceded on his behalf.

His Cassius Bar and Cafe, a local institution for many years, closed in 1980.


References

  • Gonzalez Ettel, Diana. "Doors of Cassius Bar swing shut on black owner's past." The Minneapolis Star, July 3, 1980, 1.
  • Minneapolis Daily Times. "Hendricks Withdraws O.K. of Cassius Liquor License." August 5, 1947, 16.
  • Minneapolis Morning Tribune. "Anti-Cassius Move Begins." July 25, 1947, 1.
  • Minneapolis Morning Tribune. "Council Gets Plan for New Permits." July 26, 1947, 7.
  • The Minneapolis Star. "Council OKs License for Cassius." December 31, 1948.
  • Minneapolis Star. "Council Asks New Ordinance." August 8, 1947, 1.
  • Minneapolis Tribune. "Cassius Denies He's Communist." August 3, 1947, L.
  • "“Don’t Be Fooled by Appearances”: A.B. Cassius and the Fight to Integrate Public Spaces in Minneapolis |." | Making History in Minneapolis. Last modified February 11, 2015. https://historyapolis.com/blog/2015/02/11/dont-fooled-appearances-b-cassius-fight-integrate-public-spaces-minneapolis/.

Further Reading

  • "Anthony B. Cassius." Find a Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/137704674/anthony-b_-cassius.
  • Bos, Mecca. "Anthony Brutus Cassius and the First Black-Owned Bar in Downtown Minneapolis." Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. Last modified July 18, 2021. https://mspmag.com/eat-and-drink/the-godfather-of-dreamland/.
  • Burnside, Tina. "Southside African American Community, Minneapolis." MNopedia | Minnesota Encyclopedia. Last modified February 1, 2017. https://www.mnopedia.org/place/southside-african-american-community-minneapolis.
  • "Labor and Integration: Anthony Cassius." Lakewood Cemetery. Last modified September 2, 2018. https://www.lakewoodcemetery.org/2018-09-02-labor-and-integration-anthony-cassius/.
  • Ross, Carl. "Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Anthony Brutus Cassius : Collections Online : Mnhs.org." Research | Minnesota Historical Society. https://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display?irn=10362585&return=brand%3Dcms%26q%3DAnthony%2520Brutus%2520Cassius.