MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Twin Cities are known to have one of the worst homeownership gaps for black and white residents in the country. While there are many systemic reasons for that gap, one can be traced back to a practice that developed in the early 20th century.
In the late 19th century, racially restrictive covenants began to emerge in California. Real estate agents and developers drew up a list of people, from Asians to Jews, who were barred from buying the land. But mostly, the conventions targeted African Americans in an effort to keep them out of certain neighborhoods in cities across the country.
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“When researchers started looking for covenants, they never stopped finding them,” said Dr. Kirsten Delegard, co-founder of Mapping Prejudice, a project that works to identify covenants in the Twin Cities.
Covenants were used in every city and suburban area in the country, from Seattle to Richmond, to block off white, affluent neighborhoods and new real estate development, shaping the city’s landscape and preventing blacks from buying homes.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld their legality in 1926. In Minnesota, the covenants were no longer enforceable after 1953, but remained in effect throughout the country until the Fair Housing Act was signed in 1968.
A story of twin cities
The first racially restrictive covenant in Minneapolis was written in 1910, when Henry and Leonora Scott sold a house on 36th Avenue South to a man named Nels Anderson.
“And it was, I think, a little experiment by a developer who was playing around with different ways of doing things to add value to properties,” Delegard said. Scott would start a real estate development company with a man named Edmund Walton, an influential Twin Cities real estate agent who notoriously wrote racially restrictive covenants on many of his properties.
But even so, blacks resisted the practice.
In 1931, Edith and Arthur Lee, a black couple, bought a house in south Minneapolis, sparking protests and causing angry crowds of thousands to gather on their property.
In the early 20th century, a man named John Scott bought a small piece of land at 50th and France, with a vision of creating a black enclave and ensuring autonomy for his family. He named the area “Evelyn’s Addition,” after his daughter.
“You can say ‘oh, that’s very sweet and sentimental, but it also feels like a deep act of resistance,’” Delegard said. “Black women are certainly disenfranchised in many ways. So the idea that he would call this place this, this big plot of land for his daughter. . . I think it’s very, very deep.”
But Scott struggled to hold on to the land, eventually selling parts of it to the Minneapolis School Board and a woman named Mary Hummel. When Hummel sold that land, she added a covenant to the deed, ensuring that a property once owned by a black family would become inaccessible to them in the future.
Also in the surrounding area at the time, Thorpe Brothers, a pair of Twin Cities developers, purchased 300 acres of land and proceeded to convert it into one of the most racially restricted developments in the country, now known as the Edina Country area. Club. Scott died in 1931, and his family lost the six remaining parcels of land, and what was once an oasis was surrounded by some of the most racially restricted landscape in the city.
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For a time, the covenants also prevented Jews from buying land, but a man named Emmanuel Cohen lobbied local legislators to pass a bill that prohibited religious discrimination in the covenants. That bill was passed in 1919.
The covenants cover St. Paul in patterns that echo Minneapolis: Areas built between 1910 and 1940, like Como Park and Highland Park, are submerged, while wealthier areas of the city, like Kenwood and Summit Avenue, are submerged. They often don’t see conventions because the developers didn’t see the need to include them. .
But overall, St. Paul is a smaller city and was founded long before Minneapolis, which means there are fewer compacts on that side of the river. Mapping Prejudice is working to publish more comprehensive data on conventions in Ramsey County.
A Lasting Legacy
The pacts irremediably divided the cities. In 2016, Met County said the homeownership rate for white households is triple that of black households in the metro area. That affects accessibility to jobs, transportation, air quality and entrance to schools.
“I always tell people that, you know, history lives on. And I feel there is a history of urban disinvestment and devaluation of particular populations left behind in some core urban cities that is very important to understand,” said Dr. Brittany Lewis, senior research associate at the Center for Urban and Regional Development. Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
As Minneapolis and surrounding areas began to develop, settlements concentrated in areas near parks and lakes, pushing black Minnesotans into smaller and smaller communities as space for whites in cities expanded. outer areas of the city.
“Once gentrifications are a market process, it was always going to happen,” Lewis said, arguing that divestment is strategic and racial pacts are one way white supremacy has shaped Minneapolis.
“At the core of this is economic law, how we value the work and experience of different people,” he said.
However, work is underway to help homeowners disavow covenants.
The Just Deeds Project has partnered with 14 cities along the metro and downloaded over 100 of them.
“And it was very important,” said Golden Valley Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager Kiarra Zackery, “not to remove the language because you erase the story and you lose that context. So when we say ‘disavow the covenant,’ what we’re really talking about is adding another piece of paper to the file that is your title deed to say ‘I, as the owner, do not agree with this practice.’
So far, some of the biggest profits have come from members of the community, Zackery said.
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“We always get asked what’s next,” Zackery said. “You could say that the first step is to learn. Step two is to disavow the pact and step three is to choose your own adventure. And the community has been doing a lot to choose their own adventure.”