The recent release of a map identifying the residential properties in Ramsey County with racial covenants attached to their deeds is being viewed as a call to action. The map was unveiled on June 15 during a program at Saint Catherine University (SCU) sponsored by the Welcoming the Dear Neighbor? project at SCU and the Mapping Prejudice project at the University of Minnesota. Representatives of the two institutions said they consider the map just a starting point for additional research and education on equity in housing.
More research needs to be done to fully understand the effects of housing discrimination in Saint Paul, according to Michael Corey, associate director of Mapping Prejudice and a resident of Merriam Park. Although more than 2,400 properties have been identified as having racial covenants, he said, questions remain. For example, why do some neighborhoods show large clusters of covenants and others have few or none?
The covenants were added to property deeds by developers and real estate agents to prevent those who were not white from living at those addresses. The earliest covenants identified in the Twin Cities date as far back as 1910, and they became commonplace in Saint Paul beginning in the 1920s.
In 1948 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial covenants were unenforceable. However, new covenants were still being struck here until 1953 when the Minnesota Legislature banned the practice. That action was followed in 1968 by the federal Fair Housing Act, which protects against discrimination in the sale or rental of property.
A typical covenant would state 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.”
Close to 300 people attended the June 15 program in person or virtually. The maps of racial covenants were explained and stories were shared of racial discrimination and intimidation. Neighborhoods with concentrations of racial covenants include several areas of Highland Park and Macalester-Groveland, the Como area and the far East Side of Saint Paul (see map).
A typical covenant would state 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.” This is true of the covenants found in Highland Park from the mid-1920s to the 1940s and for properties near Mississippi River Boulevard. At least one deed in this area excludes “any persons of the Jewish or Negro race.”
Racial covenants helped determine a neighborhood’s racial makeup, homeownership patterns and overall well-being, according to the SCU researchers. Families living in areas with racial covenants may have benefitted for generations from increased property values, they said. Conversely, neighborhoods that were redlined by real estate agents as being poor investments for loans and mortgages suffered a decrease in overall quality of life.
“Covenants are part of our history. They created a landscape of segregation that is perpetuated today. While our neighborhoods are diversifying, we’re still living with the consequences.”
According to Corey, the apparent discrepancies in the number of covenants found in each neighborhood may be explained by faulty or hard-to-decipher records. Neighborhoods that were platted before there were racially motivated concerns about property values may have fewer covenants, he said. It is also possible that covenants were not added to properties that were thought to be financially out of reach for non-whites.
“Covenants are part of our history,” said Brian Wagner, a Realtor in Coldwell Banker Realty’s Crocus Hill office. “They created a landscape of segregation that is perpetuated today. While our neighborhoods are diversifying, we’re still living with the consequences.
“And housing discrimination still happens,” Wagner said. “I’ve heard recent stories of homeowners experiencing discrimination in home appraisals. Today, many people of color feel like they have to clear their home of any racial identification for fear it may impact the appraised value.”
Outreach on racial covenants continues
Wagner, who is on the board of the Macalester-Groveland Community Council, said the council is planning a program in early August related to the Mapping Prejudice and Welcoming the Dear Neighbor? projects. Local residents will be invited to bring their property deeds to the program to initiate a conversation.
“Opportunities to talk about race are always important,” Wagner said. “These conversations are difficult. I have felt uncomfortable talking about my own identify and the privilege I carry. Our neighborhood is sacred ground to those of us who live in this wonderful community. I’m hoping the event educates and creates greater understanding of how policy shapes geography and creates or inhibits the building of community and relationships.”
“The housing disparities that remain in our city today have their roots in history,” said Catherine Penkert, director of the Saint Paul Public Library, which hosted a program on June 23 at the Highland Library where SCU representatives explored the history and legacy of racism and housing segregation in Saint Paul. “We aim to host more events featuring the Mapping Prejudice and Welcoming the Dear Neighbor? projects this year to continue illuminating inequities and spark reflection and action.”
In the meantime, Saint Paul Public Library staff members have created a list of articles, books and more about the Mapping Prejudice project. Visit sppl.bibliocommons.com/list/share/1135422437_sppl_featured/1873751109.
— Anne Murphy
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