How Minneapolis Mapped Prejudice Into Its Housing

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In 1910 Minneapolis was not a segregated city. Yet a few decades later, large swaths of the city were entirely white and the black population was concentrated in a few small neighborhoods. That’s even as the number of black residents continued to rise.

What caused Minneapolis neighborhoods to become racially exclusive? A new study called “Mapping Prejudice” has uncovered and mapped racial restrictions buried in historic Minneapolis property deeds. While the covenants are no longer enforceable, their impact lives on.

Augsburg University’s Kirsten Delegard was one of the researchers on the project. She talked about Minneapolis racial covenants at the March 6, 2018, League of Women Voters Minneapolis Civic Buzz.

Racial covenants, specific language written into real estate documents, were used as a way of creating and enforcing racial segregation. The real estate industry promoted their use for many years. Covenants surfaced broadly in the U.S. in the 1920s, and the NAACP started challenging them. Covenant is a broad term describing an agreement, usually written to enforce a rule.

Racial covenants were declared unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948. In 1953 they became illegal in Minnesota. In 1968, Congress made them illegal nationwide in the Fair Housing Act.

Covenant language

Covenants were typically written into the abstracts for properties. The specific language could be as simple as, “…no person other than Caucasian race to occupy” to more complex statements such as, “The party of the second part hereby agrees that the premises hereby conveyed shall not at any time be conveyed, mortgaged or leased to any person or persons of Chinese, Japanese, Moorish, Turkish, Negro, Mongolian or African blood or descent.”

The Minnesota Legislature in 1919 banned real estate restrictions based on religious creed. That may be why the mapping researchers found fewer covenants against Jewish people, a group that experienced discrimination in other ways.

Today when preparing titles, abstractors typically eliminate these covenants. However, Delegard’s study shows the impact today of these ancient covenants. They have created a segregated community.

The Federal Housing Administration, along with lenders, relied on covenants. They also made use of the policy of redlining, a system that outlined neighborhoods that were racially mixed, and therefore, that they felt were too financially risky for them to write mortgages for or insure loans. As a result, Minneapolis has the lowest African-American home ownership rate of any city in Hennepin County.

Delegard expressed concern that the Trump administration may try to overturn the Fair Housing Act. Under Trump, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has suspended a rule requiring communities to submit plans to reverse housing discrimination as a condition of receiving billions of federal dollars in block grants and housing aid.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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