Rondo Neighborhood

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St. Paul's Rondo Neighborhood was the center of the local black community in the 20th century Twin Cities area. It was demolished during the period from 1956 till 1968, due to the construction of the I-94 freeway.[1][2][3][4][5] Over 500 families were displaced from the neighborhood, as well as many businesses and community locations.[4][6][7] [note 1][2][8][9]


Rondo in 1950 was bounded by Lexington Avenue to the west, Rice Street to the east, Marshall Avenue to the south and University Avenue to the north.[10]:xvi-xvii [11]

The freeway I-94 runs east-west, centered between what had been Rondo Avenue and St. Anthony. Originally Rondo Avenue and St. Anthony Avenue were thoroughfares that ran parallel, both beginning at Rice Street. Rondo ended at Dunlop Street and St. Anthony went the full length to Cretin Avenue at the Town and Country Club Golf Course. The construction of I-94 took the north portion of Rondo and the south portion of St. Anthony. The remainder of both Rondo and St. Anthony became freeway service roads, and Rondo Avenue was renamed Concordia Avenue.[12]

Four bridges over I-94 connect the two halves of what had been Rondo neighborhood: Lexington Avenue, at the western boundary of Rondo; Victoria Avenue; Dale Avenue; and Western Avenue, close to its eastern boundary. East of Western Avenue in 1966 Saint Paul College) built a new single-building campus at 235 Marshall Avenue.

The area south of I-94 was absorbed into the Summit-University neighborhood. The neighborhood of Frogtown starts at University Avenue and extends northward, but does not include the section of what had been Rondo between University Avenue and I-94.

Community description[edit]

Rondo was an important gathering of the black community in St. Paul. Organizations in Rondo included the St. Paul chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in which Roy Wilkins was involved, and black newspapers included the Appeal, the Northwest Bulletin, and the St. Paul Recorder (now the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder).

The St. Paul chapter of the Urban League, the Hallie Q. Brown community center,[13] the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center and many other community resources took form in Rondo.[14][note 2]

Black baseball remains an enduring part of the Rondo legacy. Famous players include Toni Stone, one of three women who played in the Negro Leagues in the early 1950s; and Roy Campanella - Hall of Fame catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers - who lived in Rondo during the late 1940s while with an earlier version of the Saints. [16]

Decision to route I-94 through Rondo neighborhood[edit]

The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 provided funding to American cities to build a network of freeways, necessitated by greater automobile use nationwide. A choice of routes existed; one other option was farther north, along abandoned rail tracks. The more central route— through the majority-black neighborhood of Rondo— was chosen.[17][18] In hindsight, there is widespread agreement that the negative ramifications of this construction fell disproportionately on the residents of Rondo.[7][2][6][9][note 3][note 4][15][note 5]

Other negative outcomes of the route chosen include the separation of the Minnesota State Capitol building from the commercial district of Downtown St. Paul, and some inconvenience for the Prospect Park neighborhood in Minneapolis.[19]

Light Rail Transit - Green Line[edit]

During the years of planning and preparation for the Green Line (2nd main route of the Twin Cities Light Rail Transit system, originally known as the Central Corridor project), attention was re-focused on Rondo Neighborhood and its history. Since the Green Line was planned to go on University Avenue, just a few blocks away from Highway I-94, the same groups were affected. Communities were concerned about the past repeating itself. A number of groups formed in order to ensure that this process was different.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, was among those who ran for and won the seats on the St. Paul City Council in 2007 for the main purpose of improving the Green Line project as it related to Rondo. A specific action taking by groups concerned about the Green Line was a lawsuit filed against local project planners and the Federal Transit Administration by the NAACP, Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Rondo residents and businesses and other organizations including Pilgrim Baptist, the state's first black church. They charged that the Metropolitan Council inadequately engaged in mitigating efforts on poor people and minorities, potentially repeating Rondo's results. From the actions including that lawsuit, three additional stops were added to better serve Rondo/Frogtown residents. Also, additional funds to address parking and business-loss concerns during the construction process were made available. On the national level, the Federal Transit Administration changed its so-called cost-effectiveness index, which had given preference to shorter travel times and longer distances between stops. Instead, under FTA administrator Peter Rogoff, transportation issues were being examined from a civil rights perspective. Social equity & livability factors, including economic development and congestion relief, were added to the decision-making process.[20][4][21]


In 2016, the MNDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle, and the St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, together formally apologized for the way the interstate construction was handled.[9][note 6]

Rondo Days is a weekend-long celebration of the spirit of the Rondo community, now in its 35th year. Two prominent members of the Black community who were Rondo residents, Marvin Roger Anderson and Floyd G. Smaller, founded an organization called Rondo Avenue Inc to turn Rondo history into a current, ongoing awareness; they launched the annual festival in 1982. Initial celebrations included a parade and senior supper, the event has continued to grow and develop each year through the efforts of the Rondo-diaspora community and now also includes the Northern Lights Drill and Drum International, a competition that draws drill and drum teams nationwide.[9][22]

The Rondo Commemorative Plaza was installed in 2016 on Old Rondo Avenue (Concordia Avenue) just west of North Fisk Street to commemorate the Rondo community. Funds were provided by a variety of sources including a Community Development Block Grant from the City of St. Paul and donations from several local foundations and the 3M African-American Employee Network.[7][2][9][23]

The Minnesota History Theater presented a work called "The Highwaymen" to explore the related issues.[24]

Macalester College in St. Paul initiated a collaboration with Rondo Avenue, Inc. (RAI) to team-teach a multi-faceted "History Harvest" course about Rondo, within Macalester's emphasis on community-engaged curriculum, culminating in "Remembering Rondo: A History Harvest", with the partnership of the Macalester Civic Engagement Center (CEC).[17] [25] Students from the St. Paul High School for Recording Arts, in conjunction with the St. Paul Almanac and the St. Paul Neighborhood Network created a documentary, “Rondo: Beyond the Pavement." The work of Reconnect Rondo continues.[26] [27]

The history of black baseball and the cultural significance of Rondo are included in the St. Paul Saints City of Baseball Museum, unveiled in 2019. Saints Senior VP and General Counsel Michael Goldklang: “We have a photo frame of the Rondo highlights. It talks about how players would come in and stay in hotels and played baseball... “Black baseball is central to the history of St. Paul.”[16][28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “Last summer, St. Paul’s mayor issued an apology for the racially motivated routing of a highway through the Rondo neighborhood. “ U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx [8]
  2. ^ Jamil Jude, director of "The Highwaymen" describes the ongoing presence of Rondo in the black community, “As a black artist, when you move here, the first question people ask you is, ‘Do you know about the history of Rondo?’ I’ve been wondering why people always want to tell black artists that story and I think it’s because there is a desire to remember the history, the beauty of that community and what a disastrous — to the community — event the construction of the highway was,” says Jude. “So I feel like the seeds of this story were planted in me in 2011, when I moved to town.” [15]
  3. ^ "That Rondo's residents were black, that many were poor, that they were marginalized politically made the neighborhood the path of least resistance for the project."
  4. ^ "All across this country, where interstates were built, the urban poor — and, specifically, communities of color — were displaced,” says Jude. “It’s hard to say that highways are not what Minneapolis and St Paul needed. They did need them. But, at the same time, did we have to go where we decided to go? Who loses when progress has to happen?”[15]
  5. ^ “Today we acknowledge the sins of our past, regret the stain of racism that allowed so callous a decision as the one that led to families being dragged from their homes, creating a diaspora of the African-American Community in St. Paul.” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, 2015[2][17]
  6. ^ "American freeways tended to twist and curve to avoid wealthy neighborhoods and then straightened out into swaths of destruction through the neighborhoods of the poor, the disenfranchised and the non-white," St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, 2015 [2]


  1. ^ Gihring, Tim (November 14, 2006). "Nativity Story – For 30 years, Penumbra Theater Company has produced plays by, for, and about African Americans. But its own story is just beginning". Minnesota Monthly. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Callaghan, Peter (October 14, 2016). ""Reconciling with Rondo: could an I-94 'land bridge' help heal a 50-year-old civic scar?"". MinnPost. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  3. ^ "Rondo Neighborhood & I-94: Overview". Minnesota History Center - Gale Family Library. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Yuen, Laura (29 April 2010). "Central Corridor: In the shadow of Rondo". MPR News. Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  5. ^ Rupar, Aaron (19 August 2014). "St. Paul map shows how I-94 cut through heart of city's African-American neighborhood". City Pages. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  6. ^ a b Condon, Patrick (April 10, 2010). "'Rail line stirs bad memories in black neighborhood'". Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Melo, Frederick (October 14, 2016). "Ground broken for plaza commemorating Rondo neighborhood, lost to I-94". St. Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  8. ^ a b {{cite web|title="Bridging the Divide: Connecting People to Opportunity"| work=Remarks of US Dept of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at the Center for American Progress, Washington, D.C.|volume=|location= |date=March 30, 2016
  9. ^ a b c d e Melo, Frederick (June 10, 2016). "'Son of St. Paul's Rondo wants to mark his long-gone neighborhood". St. Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  10. ^ Cavett, Kate, ed. (2017). Voices of Rondo: Oral Histories of Saint Paul’s Historic Black Community. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  11. ^ McClure, Jane. "Faust Theater". Retrieved 13 January 2018.
  12. ^ Boxmeyer, Don (May 12, 1990). "Remembering Rondo/Interstate 94 obliterated St. Paul's Rondo Neighborhood – the heart of the Cities' Black Community – But Memories of it Linger On". St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  13. ^ "'About page". Hallie Q. Brown Community Center. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  14. ^ Melo, Frederick (October 31, 2016). "Funeral for Rondo landmark planned for Saturday". St. Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  15. ^ a b c Hewitt, Chris (February 1, 2017). "Rondo neighborhood play dedicated to 'memories we step on and the lives we drive over'". Twin Cities Pioneer Press. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  16. ^ a b Borzi, Pat (May 17, 2019). "'With City of Baseball Museum, the Saints add a side of history to CHS Field'". MinnPost. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  17. ^ a b c Wingo, Rebecca S.; Sullivan, Amy C. (March 2017). "'Features: Remembering Rondo: Inside View of a History Harvest". American Historical Association. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  18. ^ Marciniak, Aaron (February 6, 2013). ""I feel like I'm driving over my bedroom" – St. Paul's Rondo history in spotlight at Minnesota History Center". St. Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  19. ^ Reicher, Matt (September 10, 2013). "The Birth of a Metro Highway (interstate 94)". Retrieved 13 January 2018.
  20. ^ Walsh, James (March 27, 2018). ""Melvin Carter's historic rise from Old Rondo to St. Paul's 'made-for-this' mayor: If you were surprised to see a child of old Rondo rise up and capture the mayor's office in St. Paul, then you've never met Melvin Carter"". Star Tribune. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  21. ^ Yuen, Laura (June 11, 2016). ""After rocky start, Green Line overcomes community objections"". MPRNews. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  22. ^ Tormoen, Erik (June 30, 2017). "5 Things You Need to Know about Rondo Days". Minnesota Monthly. Retrieved January 13, 2018. On the Weekend of July 15, the annual Rondo Days Celebration, Minnesota's largest African-American-sponsored event, returns to St. Paul at the Rondo Educational Center and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rec Center Park
  23. ^ Kwan, Gabriel (October 3, 2018). "'Realtors' $50K boosts project in St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood'". MPRNews. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  24. ^ Combs, Marianne; Julie, Siple (February 2, 2017). "'The Highwaymen' tells the story of St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  25. ^ "'Students Explore Definitions Of "Home" In Mainstage Production'". ‘The Mac Weekly’. April 25, 2019. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  26. ^ Murray, Isabella (November 2, 2018). "'Student filmmakers' documentary tells of once-thriving Rondo neighborhood disruption". St. Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  27. ^ Broaddus, Adrienne (February 11, 2019). "'St. Paul students invited to festivals with Rondo film "Rondo: Beyond the Pavement" uses pictures to tell the story of a once-thriving St. Paul neighborhood torn apart to make room for I-94.'". KARE 11. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  28. ^ Hallman, Charles (May 14, 2019). "'New St. Paul baseball museum chronicles local Black history'". ‘Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder’. Retrieved May 25, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

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