Justice for Black Neighborhoods: A Conversation with Scholars and Residents of the Highway Diaspora
The Interstate Highway Act of 1956, the nation’s largest public works project at the time, laid the groundwork for the modern American metro, in which hundreds of millions of commuters zip between expansive suburban homes and jobs concentrated in the urban core. But suburbanite convenience brought destruction and heartbreak for communities along the routes of new highways. People of color, in particular, already segregated into a few corners of the city, were left in the cold–often forced to abandon their neighborhoods to make way for the highways yet unwelcome in the suburbs that the new roads created. As Deborah Archer, a legal scholar and President of the ACLU observed in “White Men’s Roads Through Black Men’s Homes,” highways “facilitated the physical and economic destruction of Black communities.”
In the Twin Cities, more than 80 percent of St. Paul’s Black residents lived in the neighborhood of Rondo prior to the passage of the Highway Act. Then, in 1958, the State of Minnesota routed I-94 through Rondo’s heart, bulldozing approximately 1,500 homes and 300 Black businesses. Now, more than sixty years later, those that highways displaced are leading a growing movement around the country to reclaim the communities they lost. One of its most prominent trail blazers is ReConnect Rondo, a nonprofit that seeks to build a community land bridge over I- 94 and reignite a Black cultural enterprise district in St. Paul. Exploring the legal origins of our racist highway infrastructure policies and the promise of restorative public projects, this discussion with two of the leaders of ReConnect Rondo will chart a path for how to equitably rebuild America’s cities.