Decades after destruction of a predominantly black neighborhood in St. Paul to make way for an eight-lane freeway, resentment by some still lingers. But organizers of a healing ceremony planned for Friday hope to end that.
The Rondo Healing Ceremony and Plaza Dedication, scheduled from 4-5:30 p.m., will take place at a proposed commemorative plaza at the corner of Concordia Avenue and Fisk Street in St. Paul.
"It's an opportunity for everyone who had a role in the destruction of the community to acknowledge their role and apologize," said Vanne Owens Hayes, one of the organizers. "Those who were injured will have an opportunity to let go of that, and everybody can move forward together."
The Rondo neighborhood, which stretched from Rice Street to Lexington Parkway west of downtown St. Paul, was bulldozed for construction of Interstate 94 in the 1950s. Rondo was an area of about 150 square blocks where many middle-class families owned homes, but the construction split the neighborhood lengthwise, displacing residents and shattering Rondo's culture.
Hayes, who lived there, said the project tore out businesses along Rondo Avenue, including social clubs, restaurants, a union hall and a meat market. Many residents lived on the south side of the freeway while their churches were on the north.
Rondo wasn't exclusively a black community full of low-income residents, as some people think, but a neighborhood with many ethnic influences and a vibrant cultural presence, Hayes said.
The late civil rights leader Roy Wilkins wrote that Rondo seethed "with the pulsating beauty of the lives of its people. … It is a riot of warm colors, feelings and sounds with sights that would make one from the rural South feel at home and a person from Harlem or State Street at ease."
Rondo's destruction in the 1950s and '60s for urban renewal and a new freeway "created a psychological diaspora which has taken years to settle," said David Taylor, a historian at the University of Minnesota's General College.
Organizers of the healing ceremony said participants "will reconcile as decisionmakers and apologize for the pain, suffering and asset loss inflicted from the dislocation of the community, and residents will 'let go.' "
The ceremony will include songs, greetings, prayers and a remembrance.
Speakers will include Ron Buford, president of the Rondo Avenue Inc.; Artika Tyner, a professor at the University of St. Thomas; Toni Carter, a Ramsey County commissioner; St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman; and Jeff Martin, president of the St. Paul Chapter of the NAACP.
In case of rain, the ceremony will be held at Pilgrim Baptist Church, 732 Central Ave. W., St. Paul.