“One day a buzz began to float ‘round town, and the be-bop usually coming out of the juke joints had a slightly different sound…”
The Rondo Community was usually abuzz about something, but this time it was different. This was about a “freeway” coming through the center of “our town.” The buzz moved so fast and spread so quickly, you knew this was, somehow, different. (Back in those days, you didn’t really need a phone get the word out. The grapevine got the word out before you knew it.)
We’d heard of “Causeways” and “Expressways,” but this “freeway” thing, had a different ring and feeling to it all together. For those of us you lived in the Rondo community, we knew that something about this latest news would be historic, significant and life altering. Was it the look on our parents face? Was it the somberness that had suddenly blanketed the community? Was it the decided change in the beat and the energy that was Rondo? Or, was it because it was the day the music died?
Rondo was at the heart of St. Paul's largest Black neighborhood. African-Americans whose families had lived in Minnesota for decades and others who were just arriving from the South, Chicago and St. Louis, made up this vibrant community that was in many ways independent of the white society around it. It was a place where you left your doors open – day or night. It was a place where you could scold your neighbor’s child – and quite frankly, parents expected it, and depended on it, because paramount was the raising of the child which everyone in those days knew took a community. It was a place where people took you in and looked after you – whether you needed a job, a meal or a place to stay.
As it played out, our worst fears were to be realized and there was nothing more to do or say but move -- just like blacks had done – for generations, and generations, and generations before. Others, like NAACP Kaliq Davis’s grandfather, held out for as long as they could. The construction of I-94 in the 1960s shattered our tight-knit community and displaced thousands of African-Americans into a racially segregated city, and a discriminatory housing market, that we weren’t ready for and that wasn’t ready for us. When all was said and done, Rondo was gone – and the music and energy of the community along with it.
This “freeway” phenomenon occurred across the country, mostly in poor and black neighborhoods. Some say systematic genocide. Some say progress. Some say it made sense to go through the inner cities due to low property values. Some say it was because we were virtually independent of the “communities”: that surrounded us. You’ll need to decide for yourself. But what you can be sure of is, that this one move set the progress of black communities’ back by leaps and bounds for generations to come, and made us co-dependent on a society that neither wanted us next door to them, or was prepared to live next door to us.
So, whether you grew up here or grew up somewhere else, we were all affected by this phenomenon. But, for a couple of days a year, the Rondo Days Festival and Celebration, brings us together, again, and somehow lets the music in our hearts and souls sing and live, again.