In early 2015, Amy Selikoff was struck that though the Civil War had ended nearly 150 years before and yet, it really didn’t feel like it.
The Confederate flag is still on Mississippi’s state flag, the same flag flying on the grounds of South Carolina’s capitol, Michael Brown’s death sparking massive protests the summer before, the hashtag wars of #BlackLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter. Conversations about Obama’s legacy, mass incarceration, the urban-rural divide. Fractured. Fragmented. Frustrated.
Why haven’t we been able to put it behind us?
This question drove her to begin reading every book on the Civil War and Reconstruction. She found part of the answer, but she had to keep digging to find the thread of the source and traveled back to the 15th century through today. Six centuries of captain’s logs, newspaper articles, speeches, declarations, enslaved person’s narratives, enslaver’s diaries, period novels, textbooks, even case law.
Her conclusions weren’t easy.
Nor did she know exactly what she was supposed to do: write a book, publish an essay to Medium, go back to school, or just keep reading. She read more and wrote some protest songs, listened to Lauren Hill and Bob Dylan, wrote some more protest songs. Played them for herself and her cats. But as she kept writing a sort of poetic history came about. Think Longfellow or Tennyson, but 21st century and not so rhymey. She read the poem thing to a few friends and they didn’t hate it. But she kept reading, learning, thinking, and writing.
What should be done next? Some friends suggested running for office. No thanks. One friend said why not make it a show and apply to the Fringe. Why not? This at least was a start of a next step. And here’s where we find ourselves today.
A Bit of Backstory
When Amy was 11 she lived in St. Paul, Minnesota. She attended an amazing public school named Mississippi Creative Arts Elementary Magnet School and rode the bus across town an hour each day. This school was in a housing project for refugees from South East Asia, but it was also one of the most diverse schools in the state and one of the most successful.
Amy loved history, geography, science, and sports. In 1993, the History Day Project theme was past, present, and future. How do communities change over time? The year before Amy read a book by Evelyn Fairbanks, called Days of Rondo. It’s about a historically black community of that name in St. Paul. The History Day adviser suggested that would make a very interesting project because most of Rondo was destroyed when Interstate-94 was created in the 1950s and 1960s. Significant African-American wealth wiped out as it lay directly in the path connecting St. Paul and Minneapolis. Single-family homes replaced by housing projects, which still stood in 1993.
For research, Amy’s parents dropped her off downtown at the Minnesota Historical Society on Saturday afternoons and she found her way to the records room and fell in love with the stacks (rows of books). They also went to modern-day Rondo and walked across the highway bridge over the Interstate and took pictures of the divided community. African-Americans weren’t paid a fair price under the eminent domain laws guaranteed by the 5th Amendment. It wasn’t fair in 1950. And it 1993, it still wasn’t fair. And seven years later, this is what led Amy to be a double major in history and journalism.
Today a new corridor project underway in the planning stages, some in St. Paul fear a repeat of the injustice of Rondo.