Article by Jane Eastwood
On July 17, Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman joined members of the African American community in a ceremony to remember, reconcile and restore feelings of loss and anger over the destruction 50 years ago of the historic Rondo neighborhood to make way for the interstate highway. In the 1960s, the Federal Highway Administration, with the approval of the then-Saint Paul mayor and City Council and Minnesota Department of Transportation, removed more than 600 families and numerous businesses from the Rondo neighborhood, tearing the heart out of the African American community. This pattern of destruction of neighborhoods with high concentrations of families and businesses of color was repeated across the United States during creation of the federal interstate highway system.1
Former Rondo residents, many of whom were teens and young children when their families were uprooted, shared personal stories of pain about losing their homes, acknowledging the losses of personal and family wealth that has lasting impact today and offering messages of letting go and moving on toward positive action. Mayor Coleman delivered a formal apology for the destruction of the Rondo neighborhood, acknowledging the pattern of structural racism evident in the decision to route Interstate 94 through the neighborhood in the name of “urban renewal.”
Fearing the loss of knowledge about the Rondo neighborhood, community leaders and elders plan to develop a park on the site of the last commercial enterprise from old Rondo. The pocket park will feature displays with photographs, artwork, written-and digitally-recorded oral histories of the neighborhood and its residents. The Mayor has included funding to launch the development of the park in his 2017 budget, to help ensure that Saint Paul never forgets Rondo.
Coverage on local television station KARE: Rondo neighborhood gets apologies for I-94
1“The Battle of Its Life.” Federal Highway Administration. See “Separate But Not Equal Transportation” section.