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Voices of Rondo

Oral Histories of Saint Paul’s Historic Black Community

2017

As Told to Kate Cavett
Foreword by David Vassar Taylor

Voices of Rondo

A look at the historic Rondo neighborhood of Saint Paul through the eyes of thirty-three former residents—back in print

Real-life stories illuminate the northern urban Black experience during the first half of the twentieth century through the reflections of residents of Saint Paul’s historic Rondo community. We glimpse the challenges of racism and poverty and share the victories of a community that educated its children to become strong, to find personal pride, and to become the next generation of leaders.

Reflections from this rich variety of persons whose lives were a part and parcel of that once vibrant community make for a compellingly grand and informative narrative.

Mahmoud El-Kati, Macalester College

In Voices of Rondo, real-life stories illuminate the northern urban Black experience during the first half of the twentieth century, through the memories and reflections of residents of Saint Paul’s historic Rondo community. We glimpse the challenges of racism and poverty and share the victories of a community that educated its children to become strong, to find personal pride, and to become the next generation of leaders in Saint Paul and beyond.

Voices of Rondo

Kate Cavett has collected oral histories from more than two hundred men, women, elders, youth, and community members. In 1996 she cofounded Hand in Hand Productions, a nonprofit oral history organization based in Saint Paul. She was a consulting producer of Oh Freedom over Me, a documentary for American Public Radio that considers the history of Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964 as a challenge to address racism today.

David Vassar Taylor, professor, historian, and higher education administrator, grew up in Saint Paul’s Rondo neighborhood. Between 1974 and 1975 he was appointed director of the Minnesota Black History Project for the Minnesota Historical Society. His books include African Americans in Minnesota and Cap Wigington: An Architectural Legacy in Ice and Stone.

Voices of Rondo

Reflections from this rich variety of persons whose lives were a part and parcel of that once vibrant community make for a compellingly grand and informative narrative.

Mahmoud El-Kati, Macalester College

I truly enjoyed reading the stories of this distinguished group of African Americans, many of whom I have come to know quite well. Through their voices, I now have a much deeper understanding of the community that nurtured their talents.

Dr. Patricia A. Harvey, former Superintendent of Saint Paul Public Schools

Voices of Rondo

Contents

A Definition of Oral History xi
Foreword xii
David Vassar Taylor
Map of the Rondo Neighborhood xvi

Voices of Rondo

Mary Chambers Bradley Hamilton 3
Richard Morris Mann 9
Willie Lee Frelix 21
Benjamin Louis Alexander Senior 30
Gladys Clemons Miller 36
Anisah Hanifah Dawan 42
H. Janabelle Murphy Taylor 50
Bernice Greenfield Wilson 56
James Stafford Griffin 65
Melvin Whitfield Carter Senior 79
Ventress Laroe Jackson Roberson 92
Gloria Ellen Gilbreath Wilson 97
Buelah Mae Vivian Baines Swan 101
Gloria Jeanne Lindstrom Lewis 112
Don Gough Wilson 122
Constance Jones Price 134
Barbara “Petey” Vassar Gray 149
Kathryn Coram Gagnon 158
Gloria Yvonne Presley Massey 175
Floyd George Smaller Junior 181
Marvin Roger Anderson 187
Ora Lee O’Neal Patterson 200
Mary Kalleen Murray Boyd 207
Nathaniel Abdul Khaliq 227
Alumni of the Three Fours Girls Club 230
Mary K. Murray Boyd
Carol Jean Dawson
Linda Ruby Griffin Garrett
Vanne Hazel Owens Hayes
Paula Patricia Thomason Mitchell
Melvin Thomas Henderson 249
Deborah Gilbreath Montgomery 259
David Vassar Taylor 270
Teresina “Willow” Carter Frelix 280
William “Billy” L. Collins Junior 284
Wilbert John Dugas Junior 293
William Kelso “Corky” Finney 298
Yusef Mgeni 309

Final Word 325
David Vassar Taylor
The History of the Rondo Oral History Project 327
Acknowledgments XXX
Guide for Grandparents, Parents, and Teachers XXX
Index XXX