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CTEP Preserves a Bit of Rondo History with the Hallie Q. Brown Center

July 8, 2018

By Will Shirey, CTEP Member at Hubbs Center


The Rondo History Preservation Project - a CTEP Civic Engagement group - worked with the Hallie Q. Brown Center in St. Paul to record and preserve oral histories regarding the historic Rondo neighborhood, a predominantly black neighborhood that was cleaved by the construction of I-94 in the 1950s.   

Building began on the highway in September of 1956, with city planners having rejected an alternate route that would have left the Rondo neighborhood intact. Families in the direct path of I-94 were relocated entirely: North-South streets were split in two and property values plummeted. The neighborhood had long been a hub of neighborly activity. Abundant photographs survive from civic organizations and block parties; Evelyn Fairbanks memoir “The Days of Rondo” also portrays the old neighborhood in its former glory.

We partnered with the Hallie Q. Brown Center to record memories of the Old Rondo neighborhood held by surviving community members. Beginning in the late fall, we gathered donated equipment such as video cameras, tripod stands, and carrying cases. We also held an internal training meeting, led by Amelia, to show the entire group how to set up and operate the cameras.

We then began to attend Rondo reunion events, which the Center hosts on a regular basis, in order to record Rondo memories. We had a chance to record interviews with members from the community telling their personal stories. Working with an interviewer and interviewee, we set up entire rooms at the Hallie Q. Brown Center with cameras and audio recorders to gather hours of oral history. One such event, called the “Tea Party,” allowed us to pull aside attendees with stories about the highway episode to record them on video while Rondo residents mixed and mingled.

On several other occasions, members of the Civic Engagement group went to the Hallie Q. Brown Center and taught the Center’s interns how to set up the tripods and cameras, work with film, and record videos with different settings. After Rondo reunion events, members of the team converted analogue film to digital versions of the recordings.

As a Civic Engagement group, we saw our task partly as recording the oral histories at the Rondo reunion events, but perhaps more importantly as giving the Hallie Q. Brown Center the tools it needs to preserve Rondo history going forward. The people who lived through the highway fight as children are now quite elderly: it is imperative that the Center has staff equipped with the knowledge and the tools to record at every event. We hope that our media trainings of the Center staff will have the longest impact.

The Hallie Q. Brown Center’s ultimate goal is to have an exhibit showing the history of the highway fight, a history that touches on one of the darker chapters in the history of modern American racism. With our recordings and our trainings, we believe we are putting them on the right path.

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Civic Engagement Project Title: The Rondo History Preservation Project
Project Members: Amelia Palacios, Sydney Bertun, Maggie Simmons, Will Shirey, and Hope Cimenski
Project Partner: Hallie Q. Brown Center

Each year our 35 CTEP AmeriCorps members choose community action projects that make a contribution to bridging the digital divide. The CTEP civic engagement projects are often cited by CTEP AmeriCorps members, staff, supervisors, and community supporters as one of the most unique and energizing parts of the program. This is one of the 2018 civic engagement projects.