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Mapping the segregation of Minneapolis

Published on January 9, 2020

Central Minneapolis across the Mississippi River, 2008.
Central Minneapolis across the Mississippi River, 2008. Image Credit: Ron Reiring. CC BY 2.0

Before it was torn apart by freeway construction in the middle of the 20th century, the Near North neighborhood in Minneapolis was home to the city’s largest concentration of African American families. That wasn’t by accident: As far back as the early 1900s, racially restrictive covenants on property deeds prevented African Americans and other minorities from buying homes in many other areas throughout the city.

The effects still reverberate today: Despite its reputation for prosperity and progressive politics, Minneapolis now has the lowest rate of homeownership among African American households of any U.S. city.

Now, a group called Mapping Prejudice is uncovering these roots of the city’s racial disparities by documenting and mapping all of the old restrictive covenants in Minneapolis. “All that civic rhetoric about [Minneapolis] being a model metropolis at the cutting edge of great urban planning obscures some darker truths about the city,” said Kirsten Delegard, a Minneapolis historian and project co-founder.

What is exceptional about Minneapolis is its efforts to reckon with its history of discrimination. No other American city had as comprehensive a covenant research project as Mapping Prejudice, although others have tried. The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project at the University of Washington, for example, began mapping restrictive covenants in 2004; so far, it has identified about 500 covenants covering approximately 20,000 properties, according to historian and project co-founder James Gregory.

As the project demonstrates, digging up the racially restrictive past of property deeds take a lot of sweat and tears. But the zoning changes in Minneapolis and other legislative reforms indicate that they can have an impact: Minnesota and Washington enacted laws earlier this year that allow homeowners to renounce restrictive covenants in their deeds. “It’s only symbolic,” said Gregory—the covenants have been unenforceable for decades. “But it’s part of a necessary recognition that the past is still with us.”


Continue reading at CityLab.

Originally written by Greg Miller for CityLab.
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