20th Century, African American, History, Minnesota, omnipresent history, Uncategorized

Rondo Neighborhood Removed

The Place to Be. blackthen.com

1959
Freeway construction passes through established neighborhoods in the Twin Cites. The Rondo neighborhood, long a center of black community life in St. Paul, is razed to make way for Interstate 94. Four hundred houses are condemned and torn down.*

“If New York has its Lenox avenue, Chicago its State street, Philadelphia its Wylie avenue, Kansas City its Eighteenth Street, and Memphis its Beale street, just as surely has St. Paul a riot of warmth, and color, and feeling, and sound in Rondo street.” 
–Earl Wilkins, The St. Paul Echo, September 18, 1926**

Connecting the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul had long been in the minds of local civil engineers. The excerpt below from the MNopedia article by Ehsan Alam sums up their thoughts rather precisely.
“In the 1930s, commuters and city planners began to call for a highway linking the business districts of downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. After World War II, city engineers chose St. Anthony Avenue as the route. This street was located between University Ave and Marshall Avenue, and went all the way to Minneapolis.”***

Yet, that is not the whole story. We find that there is a viable alternative to either Rondo or St. Anthony Avenues that wouldn’t split an existing neighborhood in half. Minnehaha Avenue, now known as Pierce Butler Route, is road that runs adjacent to the rail lines between Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Often, the land adjacent to rail lines is already publicly owned, and would suggest that this route may encroach less on neighborhoods and privately owned property. ****

Given these circumstances, one wonders “Why did these cities and Federal Department of Transportation leaders choose to place I-94 through many neighborhoods (including Rondo) instead of adjacent to them?” In any type of city planning or civil engineering events, there are myriads of motives and opinions that compete to be heard. Below, we explore a few hypotheses.

George Herbert Herrold, an engineer and city planner far and away has the most documentation of the City Planning Board of St. Paul, Minnesota. His manuscript covers a 33 year time frame from the start of the Board in 1920 until 1953; just the years that would tell us of their motives, studies, and actions. This research suggests that the city had an interest in eliminating slums. To elaborate, their working definition of a slum constituted a neighborhood with a high percentage of rental properties whose owners did not live in the neighborhood. *

However, what the Board defined as “slums” also was home to the largest African-American neighborhood in St. Paul. Granted, there were some run-down rentals, but there were also a large contingency of fine homes belonging to Rondo’s middle-class residents. Rondo had a population of roughly 30,000 of which about one-third were black, and the remainder composed by Italians, Jews, Native Americans, and a sprinkling of other ethnicities. It is precisely because of Rondo’s diverse assemblage that suspicions of “red-lining” or racist motives arise in criticism of St. Paul’s role in routing I-94 through this neighborhood.******

In contrast, we find evidence that does not support this conclusion. Department of Transportation employees did extensive studies on both alternatives, as they did elsewhere through the Interstate Highway System. Commonly, this looks like engineers doing on-site observations and gathering data: counting cars on every East-West thoroughfare, establishing “desire lines” (i.e. which roads are most preferred), collecting data on rush hour usage, travel times from origin to destination, etc. Of these DOT engineers professor C. Wells of Macalester College states, “the process that they went through would seem to suggest that race had nothing to do with it…”. **** The data collected suggests that the direct route along St. Anthony Avenue was the preferred route, and support for the “northern route” along Pierce Butler and the railway diminished.

As the neighborhood of Rondo saw the writing on the wall, they peacefully protested and gained concessions. According to the research of Mark Simonsen, their focus became the four points listed below.
1. Stay in homes as long as possible.
2. Receive Fair Market Value for homes.
3. Depress the freeway below street level.
4. Requested that they be able to buy new homes anywhere they could afford them. (Open Housing Law)****
Residents won the first three of these requests, but failed to enact the Open Housing Law. In fact, even the city of Saint Paul declined to honor the Open Housing Law within its boundaries. It’s City Attorney denied O.H.L. on the basis that it conflicted with Minnesota’s constitution; sellers could legally choose to whom they sold their property. ****
Shall we pray? Eternal Father, we are reminded of your words of promise today as we sit and watch this snapshot of history that physically divided the Rondo neighborhood with an Interstate.
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for the sake of My name will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Matthew 19:29-30 BSB *
We love that we can always come to You for a hearing, and that Your Hearing and Presence bring justice! Be forever praised!

As a starting point, we acknowledge that You provided two paths for Interstate I-94. We acknowledge that the outcome of following the less disruptive “northern route” may never be known. Yet, there was a solid opportunity to choose a route that had less impact on human lives and relationships. Did we miss You in this? Maybe so. In any case, we acknowledge that we chose the road that wrecked neighborhoods. Will You forgive the seeds of division sown in this moment by the proponents and opponents of running the highway by the railway? Where we judged our neighbor, we have offended You; will You heal the past, free the present, and bless the future in this decision of 1959?

Next, we see the depth of consideration and the data collected to resolve this issue. We remember that the DOT and civil engineers went out into the neighborhoods between Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and actually observed where our people drove, how many, and how long it took them to arrive at their destination. Like Your message to the prophet Isaiah, You continually invite us to “come now and reason together”. You are not threatened by our observations, science, data, or investigations!

We thank You that the numbers don’t lie, or in this case, the numbers don’t lie about where we drive; we voted with our wheels. Yet, we fully acknowledge that though “numbers don’t lie”, we are often skewed by our own biases as we interpret them! Will You lift the suspicion of these studies up, out, and onto the Cross? Will You be with us as we reconsider this moment with You?

To continue, we see this data filtered through the distorted looking glass of banking. As a short backstory, we find that the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) had created a system of segregation, real ethnic and racial division, and negated facts that challenged their narrative. It is here, if I can be so bold Lord, that I see some of the ugliest acts of racism and ethnocentrism committed in St. Paul of this era. It is a fact that the FHA created maps based on ethnicity and race. It appears that though the FHA commenced with noble pursuits, in reality it fostered and reinforced the racialization of space.

Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! We allowed these dreams of placing a home within reach of all to take a wrecking ball to those deemed not worthy by bureaucrats! We give You the damage caused by our State and Federal government’s judgments contained in the word “slums”. We acknowledge to You all the pain and falsehoods spoken over the residents of Rondo like, “a black family will not be given a home loan west of Lexington Avenue.” We acknowledge the defilement of this land through judgment and counter-judgment: from the Mississippi River to Marion Street, from University Avenue to Marshall Avenue; this land is Your land! Will You take these lies, curses, unbeliefs, and misbeliefs up, out, and onto the Cross?

Conversely, will You speak truth to cursed ears and broken hearts? Will You impart life where it has been crushed and stunted? Will You uproot those who have negated human choice because it interferes with their vision of what “helping” looks like? Will You release Your Holy Spirit, and replace the memory of wrecking balls with “Welcome” mats in this Rondo corridor forever?

“Do not afflict your countrymen, but let every one fear his G-d: because I am the Lord your G-d.” Levitcus 25:17 Douay-Rheims Bible

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20th Century, History, Transportation, Uncategorized

Interstate Highway System Begins

1956
Congress authorizes the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Eventually, I-35 and I-94 link urban and rural Minnesota, while metropolitan multi-lanes connect suburb with city, home with work and shopping.*

To understand the largest infrastructure project in American history that began construction on August 13, 1956, one needs to backtrack to the beginning of President Eisenhower’s career. The young Eisenhower observed a convoy of vehicles and made study of their 56 day journey across the breadth of America. These findings pointed to the necessity of an efficient road system for the benefit of American citizens, their businesses, and for our military and national defense.**

Eisenhower’s goal spanned several administrations, numerous studies, and various iterations before it could be fulfilled. The timeline below shows some of the major steps.

National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (1956). http://www.ourdocuments.gov

1922- General John J. Pershing established the the first defensive network using existing roads. It became known as the “ Pershing Map”.


1938- President Franklin Roosevelt gives a hand-drawn map of eight proposed superhighway corridors to Thomas MacDonald; head of the Bureau of Public Roads. Macdonald’s study of these corridors is refined by Herbert S. Fairbank into the first practical study of the interstate highway system entitled “Toll Roads and Free Roads”.

1944- The “ Federal Aid Highway Act” authorized construction of a system approximately forty thousand miles, but did not provide funding.**


1952-1954- President Eisenhower tapped General Lucius D. Clay and the Clay Committee to develop the interstate highway plan. This lead to standardizations of materials, techniques, and designs. It sought to connect all metro areas in the United States with populations exceeding 50,000 people. It also necessitated a Federal Tax on gasoline which provided about 90% of the hefty $25 billion price tag. ($1092B in today’s dollars.)

So now we have a snapshot of what happened nationally, but how did this epic construction project impact Minnesota? We in the Twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul became a very important crossroads for vacationers, and commerce. Interstate 35 connects Duluth, Minnesota and the harbor on Lake Superior with a primary north-south artery of the system connecting with Loredo, Texas; a massive 1556 mile (2504km) corridor. We are also home of Interstate 94. This critical road connects the eastern branch of the Great Lakes in Port Huron, Michigan and terminates in Billings, Montana some 1585 miles (2551km) later. It’s the primary east-west branch of the Interstate system for the northern portion of the U.S.

Now we turn from history-past to addressing our G-d who lives and reigns in the Eternal Present. We remember You, Adonai, and just a few of the ways You made a way and a road for the nation of Israel. I recall how often the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke of roads.

Isaiah
“And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field.” Isaiah 36:2 ESV


“A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3 ESV


“And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.” Isaiah 57:14 ESV


“Go through, go through the gates; prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway; clear it of stones; lift up a signal over the peoples.” Isaiah 62:10 ESV

Jeremiah
“Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” Jeremiah 6:16 ESV


“But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway,…” Jeremiah 18:15 ESV


“Set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went. Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities….” Jeremiah 31:21 ESV

(
“In those days and in that time, declares the LORD, the people of Israel and the people of Judah shall come together, weeping as they come, and they shall seek the LORD their God.
They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, ‘Come, let us join ourselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.’”
Jeremiah 50:4-5 ESV

Let us sit awhile with You, and remember that You are the Lord of Logistics. (Sorry we forget about Your miraculous relocation of the nation of Israel: out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through incredibly arid and dangerous climes. Oh, and with the most formidable army in the world in pursuit!? When there is no way, there is Yah’s-way!) You make us alive, and have given every creature some mode of transportation that suits them. Yet, You care about things as practical as our Interstate system in little “flyover” Minnesota. Again, what say You about the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956?

We thank You for the epic dreams of our forbearers: General Pershing, FDR, Mac Donald, Fairbank, and General Clay! Acknowledging their planning and administration, we thank You for the tens of thousands of men and women who realized this vision. We praise You for the music of heavy machinery doing good work: excavators, backhoes, bulldozers, graders, dump trucks, loaders, and rollers! We remember all of those who burned up in the summers, worked in muddles in the spring rains, and froze in the winters. They got the job done, and did it well! We applaud them and Your approval of their efforts begun in 1956!

Our state is more secure in it’s defenses because they laid this road! Our economy is vastly improved because of the increase in interstate trade, and the reduction of the price in transportation costs to the end user of virtually every product or food; some years have seen a 35% increase in local economies because this system exists! Our people have enjoyed the pleasure of freedom of movement: they have seen more beauty through camping and RV travel, they can visit family across the US in a few days, and they do so in safety with easy navigation!

Yet, my mind moves to the spiritual and relational impact of our Interstates. How does this network of roads impact us past? We acknowledge to You the pride of colossal construction. Where have we offended You in this?

To commence, we see the temptations unique to our citizens that come with great freedom. Because it is possible to see more, do more, and trade more; we have too often taken the bait. We have not exercised self-control in our transportation businesses, to and from work, or even on vacation. Something deep in us drives us beyond a reasonable stopping point. Will You take these attachments and idolatries both past and present-tense up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ?

Next, I pray about our ease of movement and its’ disruption of our connection to Your land. How many human and creaturely lives were disrupted because I-35 crossed their paths? How many farms were cut in half? How many animals found their pathways to food or water blocked? How many neighbors were bifurcated by this road eating at least a 272ft wide path through their neighborhood?

Granted Lord, change is neither necessarily good nor bad, but I remember this fact to You; something whole was split in two. For some good reason, You saw fit to give us a yearning for home. Humans everywhere desire a place unique to them and their families. It just seems that the more we move, it may have tainted our desire to stay.
Do we look to “the open road” myths because our hearts have detached from our homes, our friendships and marriages, and inwardly from even ourselves? Do we bustle about to expand the territory of our businesses because we cannot stop on our inward scenic overpass, take in a breathtaking view of our accomplishments, and say “I’m good.”?

Lord, as this fabulous Interstate System is a metaphor for connection, there are are a few declarations I want to pronounce with You over this epoch. By the Cross of Christ, by the Blood of Christ and His Resurrection, and by the Eternal Word I want to declare my agreement with You, Isaiah, and Jeremiah over the entire “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”, from 1956 to the present, and into Your eternal now to ‘join ourselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten’. May the detached coasts inside be connected! Reknit the neural pathways of our minds, drive us to new habits, and bathe us in new ways of thinking! Be the defender of our hearts against evil, and help us take in the beautiful, the good, to put the rag-top down and go crusin’ with You!

*P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
** Infrastructure Explained.“The History of the Interstate Highway System”. Internet. You Tube. October 5, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7n6g1ypx1PE
*** http://www.learningabe.info/NationalTrail_taskthree.html
**** https://www.transportation.gov/content/federal-aid-highway-act-0
See it in writing? “Transcript of National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (1956)” http://api.mnhs.org/mgg/words/html/custom/highway_act.html
Feel like watching? Check out this reliable source from TPT (Twin Cities Public Television) https://www.tpt.org/interstate-94-a-history-and-its-impact/

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