Above: Standing on the West Side, looking towards downtown Saint Paul, 1965. Image from the Minnesota Historical Society.
Our work today as a community organization is rooted in our history here on this land, the West Side of Saint Paul. That means that all of our work is grounded in the histories of displacement that have affected the West Side, from the forced removal of the Dakota people in 1851, to the destruction of the immigrant community on the Riverside Flats in the early 1960’s, to today’s displacement of low-income people of color due to gentrification. To organize for a just and joyful West Side today, we must also learn about and understand the lessons from our past.
Stories From the Flats
“What I liked most about growing up on the Flats was that there were people from every nationality, and every color, and we all coexisted awfully well together. We all grew up on the West Side and were proud of it. When I was about 12, the National Guard came in and made everybody move off the West Side so they could build businesses down there. A lot of people didn’t want to leave, and barricaded themselves in their houses. We were renters, so when they said ‘move,’ we moved. The flood wall should have been put up earlier. But I don’t imagine we paid too much taxes down there, and so we weren’t that important to them.” – Bob Luna, pictured, above. Photo: Elizabeth Leonardsmith
The old West Side flats is a part of our West Side neighborhood in Saint Paul, Minnesota that has changed dramatically over the generations. It was the first neighborhood that many immigrants arrived in when they came to the city, and grew into a vibrant neighborhood with Jewish, Mexican, Lebanese, Syrian, and many other communities. In the early 20th Century, Mexican immigrants began putting down roots and creating a rich cultural neighborhood including places of worship, stores, schools, and homes. The Mississippi River flooded the neighborhood frequently, including a series of devastating floods in the early 1950s. Later, these floods were the pretext used to displace families from their homes, and only afterwards was a levee built to hold back the waters and allow for industrial development. This historic displacement has had a devastating impact on generations of families, who nevertheless have fought to maintain their identity, culture, and community here on the West Side.
Learn more about the history of the West Side flats.
Explore a photo gallery and interviews with neighbors who grew up on the Flats.
WSCO Organizational History
Learn more about the past five decades of WSCO's organizational history, from our origins in the 1970s as neighbors organized to save Riverview Library, to present-day projects. Click here.