Group highlights property deeds with racist language in Minnesota’s Ramsey County – InForum

ST. PAUL — A group working to identify and quash racist language in Twin Cities property records has come out with new data about Ramsey County. Researchers from the Mapping Prejudice Project combed through tons of documents and found more than 2,000 homes that were off limits to people of color until the mid-20th century.

Racial covenants have long been illegal, but proponents of the project say acknowledging past wrongs is the first step to reversing Minnesota’s property and wealth gaps, which are among the worst in the nation.

The new map came as a surprise to Etienne Djevi, who said that until this week he had no idea the deed to his Roseville home likely included a clause that once barred any non-white person from buy or rent it.

“I was shocked,” Djevi said. “I am a black man. Living in this house for two and a half years and understanding that someone in the past didn’t want my kind here, it hurts.

Djevi, an infectious disease doctor who grew up in Benin, shares his home with his wife and two sons. Although he has yet to see the recordings for himself, Djevi’s property is marked on a new map from the University of Minnesota’s Prejudice Mapping Project, indicating that the plot has a racially restrictive covenant. .

While the language can’t be removed from the headline, Djevi said he’s contacting the Just Deeds group to have their volunteer lawyers add wording to waive the racist clause ‘so it’s just another black person. or another person of color may have to deal with in the future.”

Mapping Prejudice technical lead Michael Corey said the first known alliance in the Twin Cities dates back to 1910. Over the following decades, the practice grew at the behest of estate agents and developers. Corey said the covenants, often mentioned in real estate listings, continued even after 1948, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the covenants unenforceable.

“Clauses were often put on these properties to attract white buyers,” Corey said. “And unfortunately they didn’t think of throwing a lot of people out and under the bus to get people into these properties.”

Since its inception in 2016, Mapping Prejudice has identified more than 25,000 alliances in Hennepin County. For three years, they have been associated with the association Accommodating the dear neighbour? project at St. Catherine’s University on a similar effort in Ramsey County, where they’ve confirmed about 2,400 alliances so far. Corey said it was likely a significant undercount due to missing or illegible records.

He said the process begins by feeding the microfilmed recordings through optical character recognition software, which looks for racist language. Everything the computer reports is then passed on to a group of volunteers. It is a laborious process.

“Combined between Ramsey County and Hennepin County, over 6,000 volunteers worked on this data,” Corey said.

Cindy Schwie is part of the volunteer group. Like Djevi, Schwie lives in Roseville and said she became interested in the project after spotting “disgusting” language in the title summary of the house she and her husband bought in 1974.

The deed to Cindy Schwie’s home in Roseville, Minnesota includes language prohibiting “persons of any race other than the Caucasian race” from buying or renting the house.

Matt Sepic / MPR News

The clause states that “no person or person of race other than the Caucasian race shall use or occupy a building on any of the properties described above, except that this clause does not prevent the occupation by servants of a different race domiciled with the owner or tenant.”

Even though the clause has been illegal for decades, Schwie said she is working to have it overturned, in part to send a message to future owners of her home.

“As owners, we don’t want that there,” Schwie said. “It’s not what we believe in. And we want others to know in the story that we didn’t believe in it.”

Carol Gurstelle lives near Schwie in a mid-century housing estate where all houses have racial covenants. Gurstelle said the clause on his deed is specific and explicit; it prohibits “niggers”, as well as Jews and people of Asian origin.

Gurstelle said she heard about the clause when she bought the house nearly five decades ago. Gurstelle said she long considered it curious archaic legalese.

“Since then, with the growing awareness of prejudice in this country and the way practices such as race pacts have shaped the way our cities have developed, I am more offended by it now than I was then. .”

Besides Roseville, the new map shows pockets of alliances scattered across St. Paul, Maplewood, White Bear Lake, and other towns.

St. Catherine’s University sociologist Daniel Williams said the effort to identify restrictive covenants is not just about quashing racist language. Its larger purpose is to illustrate how the pernicious influence of this language remains.

“Segregation was not inevitable,” Williams said. “But once segregation happened, it effectively racialized the space, and that had consequences that were truly endless.”

Because covenants and other racist policies restricted home ownership, Williams said black people had far fewer opportunities than others to create wealth and pass it on to future generations. He points to a 2021 Federal Reserve study that pegs the median net worth of white Minnesota households at $211,000. For black households, that figure is $0.

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Jennifer C. Burleigh