The Mapping Prejudice Project: A brief guide to taking meaningful action
The Mapping Prejudice Project at the University of Minnesota Libraries is mobilizing volunteers to map racial covenants — legal clauses embedded in property deeds that were used to bar people who were not white from owning or occupying property.
One common restriction embedded in Hennepin County property deeds declared that the:
“premises 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.”
Before the Minnesota legislature banned these restrictions in 1962, and the federal government followed suit in 1968, developers inserted these legal clauses into millions of property deeds across the United States.
Mapping Prejudice finished mapping covenants in Hennepin County at the end of 2019. The project is now working with the “Welcoming the Dear Neighbor?” group at St. Catherine University to engage community members to identify covenants in Ramsey County, Minnesota.
Here’s why we need to know about these restrictions today:
- Racial covenants were used to deliberately reserve huge swaths of land for the exclusive use of white people. They show the “racism behind the racial disparities” in American communities today.
- Racial restrictions like covenants depressed homeownership rates for Blacks. This has intergenerational consequences. Today, the Twin Cities metropolitan area has the lowest African-American homeownership rate in the country.
- Obstacles to property ownership made it hard for Black families to amass wealth. Today the average white household in the United States has 10 times as much wealth as the average Black household.
- Racial covenants provide tangible examples of structural racism. These deeds and the map of covenants helps white people who have not personally experienced discrimination “see” structural racism, which is different from personal bias.
- This research provides validation for the lived experiences of Black people and other groups targeted by these covenants, who have faced enormous barriers as they sought housing, credit, and education.
- Awareness of historical injustice is the first step towards real change.
- Data about these racial exclusions supports transformative policymaking.