EconomyLatestWill Minnesota’s Once Epicenter of Black Livelihood Be Restored?

Saint Paul’s Rondo community was never the same after the I-94 highway was constructed right through it; tearing apart a once united bustling Black neighborhood. From the mid-50s through the 1960s, this primarily Black community suffered tremendously during the construction timeframe, as many were forced to relocate outside of what was Saint Paul’s biggest Black neighborhood.

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Not to mention with little to no compensation offered towards the transition. Rondo was the epicenter of Black excellence in Minnesota’s urban city, Saint Paul. Businesses were successful, homeownership was accessible, and most importantly, the community was strong. All of that was lost through the implementation of the I-94 highway, which raised questions if its placement was racially motivated. Curtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Governmental documents showed that the placement of the highway was originally planned to be elsewhere, as many argued that the original placement wouldn’t have hurt any communities and was a “better” option. About 700 Black owned homes were destroyed in the process of the highway construction, and about 300 Black owned businesses lost. Many of the, now elders, shared their experience of coming home to a short notice eviction letter in the Rondo documentary, Rondo: Beyond The Pavement(Interstate 94 in 1967 via MNHS)

But now, around 50 years later, a plan to build a land bridge over the I-94 highway–said to “right past wrongs that systematically impacted our (Saint Paul’s) African American residents,” is claimed to be in the works, according to organization Reconnect Rondo.

With the 50s being the peak of Black homeownership in Minnesota, and an overdue economical gap due to long term inequities faced by Black Minnesotans, could this vision be Saint Paul’s holy grail?

Since the allocation of 6.2 million dollars to support this project, controversy around this big dream has stirred Saint Paul’s social justice communities. Preserve Rondo, a local activist group fighting for transparency, led a community conversation this past week about the vision, expressing that there were “a lot of questions to be answered.” One of the primary questions raised was how the investors could be held accountable by the community. The vision, proposed with promising opportunities such as home ownership and economic restoration for Minnesota’s Black community caused some community members hesitancy when it was confirmed that the land bridge wouldn’t actually be Black-owned land. Later claimed to be owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“…Including (referencing the questions are being asked) what the relationship is and was with the Urban Land Institute, which is a known and historically racist institution that many people have disclosed to the ReConnect Rondo board about the opposition of working with them.” – Preserve Rondo

One of the ReConnect board members, Mary-Kay Boyd, also at the community conversation, stated “One thing we made clear? everything on that bridge is to be owned by Black people, just like we did in the Rondo community when I was coming along. Everything.” Ending her speech with “I just ask that we embrace and not throw darts,” after stating that the board isn’t compromising the community with the intention of the land bridge.

Community members continue to demand transparency.

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