By Alexandra McLaughlin ’16

“We start talking about the artifacts and then we moved on to talking about their lives. Everyone has a story.”
—Rachel Ladd ’17 

A soup tureen. A cookbook. Black and white photographs. These are some of the artifacts that Rondo community members recently shared with Macalester students. Rondo, a historically African American neighborhood in St. Paul, was bisected and ruined in the 1960s by the construction of Interstate 94. After decades of overlooking this destruction, last summer the city of St. Paul issued a formal apology to the former Rondo residents.

A few months ago, Rondo community members approached Macalester professors with the idea of doing something to preserve their neighborhood’s history. This collaboration resulted in the History Harvest event on March 5.

All day long, people who had lived in the neighborhood stopped by the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, carrying with them objects they associate with Rondo. The center of the room contained five long tables where Macalester students were stationed. There they asked contributors a few preliminary questions about the artifacts, filled out forms, and directed people to a variety of stations.

At digitization stations, students scanned or photographed artifacts for computer storage. At artifact interview stations, students got the stories behind the pieces. Neighborhood donors who wished to talk further were ushered into a separate room where longer oral interviews focusing on the lives of people in the Rondo community took place.

In the coming months, students will digitize the artifacts and interviews and add them to the Rondo website. Anyone with access to the Internet will be able to see the artifacts and learn the stories behind them through audio and video transcripts.

Community outreach was a major component of History Harvest’s success. Students handed out fliers to people as they left church, and visited senior living homes, barber shops, and local businesses, such as the Golden Thyme cafe on Selby Avenue.

As a geography major, Hannah Mira Friedland ’17 (Glenview, Ill.) had often heard about Rondo in other classes. “We talked about the spatial aspects and the highway cutting through Rondo,” she says. “But before we had never had the chance to actually meet people and hear their firsthand stories. This has been a really cool opportunity to get to know who else is living less than 10 minutes away from Mac.”

One Rondo community member brought in a soup tureen and a cookbook that had belonged to her grandmother. Her grandmother grew vegetables in her garden and filled the soup tureen to feed others in the community.

Another woman, Estelle Hartshorn Jones, brought in black-and-white family photographs. One shot from the 1920s depicted her grandfather with his band. He played piano.

Jones was 10 years old when the highway came through Rondo. “We cried and cried,” she told the Mac students. Despite the upheaval caused by I-94, her family prevailed. Her uncle opened a grocery business on University Avenue; Jones had saved a newspaper clipping featuring his store.

Macalester history professor Rebecca Wingo hopes to familiarize students with both the history process and their Rondo neighbors. “It’s that hands-on experience that is transformative for students,” she says.

Rachel Ladd ’17 (Lewisburg, Pa.) was tired when she woke up that morning, but after talking to people about their artifacts, she was newly energized. The room buzzed with conversation and laughter. “I’m having a blast,” Ladd says.

For a community that has historically been silenced, discussing photos, soup tureens, and newspaper clippings takes on additional significance. “People want to talk,” says Ladd, an anthropology major. “We start talking about the artifacts and then we moved on to talking about their lives. Everyone has a story.”

March 14 2016

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