Borchert Library director Ryan Matke (left) and Project manager Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (right)
Mapping Prejudice is part of a broader effort to examine the complex legacies of racist housing policies. Our investigation of residential segregation in Minneapolis was inspired by groundbreaking work in Seattle and Virginia that show how digital tools can illuminate structural racism and transform our understanding of the past.
Mapping Inequality was conceived by the University of Richmond's Digital Lab, which digitized New Deal redlining maps to illuminate how federal policy makers "used racial criteria to categorize lending and insurance risks." Historians have long understood the importance of redlining. Yet by using digital mapping software to organize, analyze and display historic data about this practice, this project provided new insights on structural racism in a way that made it accessible for a popular audience.
Mapping Prejudice builds on this existing work. But our efforts in Minneapolis are made especially urgent by the city's contemporary racial disparities, which are some of the largest in the nation. Our initial research shows that covenants helped to create a system of racial stratification in the city that persists to this day. Most notable is the gap in homeownership rates. While 78 percent of white families own homes in the Twin Cities, only 25 percent of African-American families achieve this same measure of financial stability.
Once completed, our database and map will be a powerful community resource that should serve as a foundation for productive community conversations and fact-based policy making.
Our work started with the Historyapolis Project at Augsburg College. Rooted in the conviction that contemporary problems demand a sophisticated understanding of the past, Historyapolis has traced the roots of the city's current day racial disparities.
This quest inspired Mapping Prejudice. Historyapolis director Kirsten Delegard had imagined using digital tools to make historic restrictions on property visible. But after visiting the Hennepin County property records office with Penny Petersen in 2014, Delegard realized she lacked the expertise necessary for this kind of systematic inventory of racial covenants.
Fortunately, Petersen was fascinated by the challenges of this research. A veteran property researcher and author of two books on Minneapolis history, Petersen began assembling a database that would grow to include several thousand restrictive deeds by the end of 2015.
Delegard immediately recognized the significance of this research and enlisted Kevin Ehrman-Solberg, a graduate student in the GIS program at the University of Minnesota and an employee of the Borchert Map Library. Ehrman-Solberg began to map the deeds located by Petersen. He soon became the project manager, masterminding the effort to build the databases necessary for this visualization.
With the support of University of Minnesota librarian Ryan Mattke, the trio made the Borchert Library their base of operations. The Center for Urban and Regional Affairs lent additional support and expertise. Together, they decided to create the first-ever comprehensive visualization of racial covenants for an American city.