Minneapolis street renamed Cheatham Avenue to honor life of John Cheatham, City’s first Black fire captain

March 17, 2022

Community leaders celebrated the official renaming of Dight Avenue to Cheatham Avenue in south Minneapolis this morning to honor the legacy of John Cheatham, who became the first Black fire captain with the Minneapolis Fire Department in 1899 and is believed to be the City’s first Black firefighter.

Cheatham, who was born enslaved in 1855, worked out of Fire Station 24 until his retirement in 1911. The station is about two blocks from the newly renamed street. Cheatham Avenue runs from 34th Street East to 43rd Street East in south Minneapolis. The old namesake of the street was Charles Fremont Dight, a physician and Minneapolis alderman who founded the Minnesota Eugenics Society in 1923. He was also a Hitler supporter.

City Council Member Andrew Johnson (Ward 12) worked with community members on an application to rename street and they ultimately voted Cheatham as someone worthy of having the honor.  

“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Captain John Cheatham and his fellow Black firefighters who so courageously stepped up to serve and protect the residents of our community, despite the unending racism and oppression they faced,” Council Member Johnson said. “Seeing John Cheatham’s name raised high serves not just as a reminder of his legacy, but also his example, which is one for all of us to follow.”

“I am very excited, extremely proud and thankful of the fact that the City of Minneapolis is honoring the legacy of Captain John Cheatham in this way,” said Minneapolis Fire Chief Bryan Tyner. “I have always believed that I stand on the shoulders of those pioneering Black firefighters who came before me. As the first Black fire captain in the City’s history, Captain John Cheatham certainly presents a broad set of shoulders. His perseverance and service made it possible for me and others to serve this City as Black firefighters and set the path for me to eventually serve the City as its fire chief.”

“This is a very exciting day to see the street signs change to honor the life of John Cheatham,” said City Council President Andrea Jenkins. “He was a trailblazer when he joined the Minneapolis Fire Department in 1888 as the City’s first Black firefighter and rose the ranks to become the City’s first Black fire captain. His legacy is one of distinguished service to this city and am very honored to be part of celebrating him today.”

“We honor Captain John Cheatham today and all days with great pride and gratitude,” said Mayor Jacob Frey. “His legacy will live on and touch the daily lives of city residents who will be reminded of his achievements and historic service to our city. I applaud the work of Council Member Johnson and the community members who championed this recognition of a true hero of Minneapolis.”

“The newly named Cheatham Avenue serves as the border for St. James AME church, founded in 1860. It is the oldest Black institution in our state,” said LaJune Lange, a retired Hennepin County District Judge. “The dishonor has been removed by renaming the street after a man who dedicated his life to serving all the residents of Minneapolis in their time of need.”