By Merrill Aldrich, Unity Church Member
Tracing the genesis and the effects of structural racism can be arduous and labor intensive work. Recently, Kirsten Delegard, director of the Mapping Prejudice Project at the University of Minnesota shared with us a glimpse of the data, visualizations, painstaking research and personal anecdotes that she and her colleagues have combined to tell the sad history of racial covenants in the Twin Cities.
Racial covenants were real estate contracts -- clauses inserted into warranty deeds--used by real estate developers and agents to enforce unlawful segregation and prevent people of color from buying or occupying property. With geographic maps, showing specific blocks and years, the Mapping Prejudice project details the areas of Hennepin County where segregation was reinforced by these clauses in property deeds that reserved land and structures for white people. The maps are backed by exhaustive research into the title history of lots where phrases prohibited the sale, using a variety of terms, to non-whites.
Delegard’s personal interest in this subject came from several generations of her family living in Minneapolis, and a discomfort with what she described as “the dissonance” she observed in the lore of her home town. A certain set of mythologies we have in the twin cities about civic virtue, with stories like Hubert Humphrey’s efforts to end racial segregation and Walter Mondale’s Fair Housing Act, while true, seemed to her to obscure other narratives that are explicitly racist and should be told. She “resolved to lead my home town through a process of remembering” by reconstructing the history of racial covenants and their effect in creating de facto segregation in Minneapolis.
If you missed this talk, much of the content is available in the film Jim Crow of the North, available to stream online.
Because of the nature of the source data for the Hennepin County mapping project, a large contingent of crowd-sourced volunteers came together to review the historical deed documents. Almost 3,000 volunteers read about 177,000 deed-related documents to compile the data. Coming up in a few weeks -- specific date TBD -- the project will formally expand to enable volunteers to gather this data for Ramsey County, including Saint Paul. We’d like to encourage anyone at Unity with an interest in this work to pitch in and assist in expanding the map. To find out more, sign up to receive the Mapping Prejudice Project electronic newsletter (scroll to the bottom of the page and locate the "Stay connected with Mapping Prejudice" box).