Minneapolis residents protest racial integration in 1962.
Racial covenants came to Minneapolis in 1910, when Henry and Leonora Scott sold a property on 35th Avenue South to Nels Anderson. The deed conveyed in that transaction contained what would become a common restriction, stipulating 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."
Henry Scott became the first president of the Seven Oaks Corporation, a real estate developer that inserted this same language into thousands of deeds across the city. Seven Oaks was just one many Minneapolis developers that promoted restrictive covenants.
The language of these restrictions was variable, reflecting shifting racial anxieties. What was unchanging was the logic undergirding these devices. Racial restrictions, according to early twentieth century urban planners and real estate developers, were necessary to protect property values and ensure neighborhood stability.
In Minneapolis, a handful of people pioneered the use of these kinds of restrictions, which shaped the urban landscape of the city for generations. But these "unjust deeds"--as one scholar has dubbed them--were widely embraced. After they were created by real estate developers, the Federal Housing Authority endorsed them in the 1930s. White homeowners came to see them as critical insurance for their family's biggest asset. Bankers required them.
Over the last fifty years, racial covenants have become the stuff of legend in the local Jewish community, where elders have blamed restrictions like these for preventing Jews from settling anywhere they wanted. Jews experienced intense discrimination in housing, education and employment. In fact, Minneapolis was declared in 1946 to be the "capital of anti-Semitism in the United States" by journalist Carey McWilliams.
But our research has discovered that this anti-Semitism was only rarely articulated in racially-restrictive deeds. Though some covenants named a laundry list of "objectionable" categories of people, our preliminary survey reveals that covenants were aimed mainly at African Americans. While we have found over 5,000 covenants, less than two-dozen of these contain anti-semitic restrictions. Property records echo the results of opinion polls from the mid-twentieth century, which revealed that Minnesotans believed African Americans to be particularly undesirable neighbors. In 1946, sixty percent of Minnesotans told pollsters that Africans Americans should not have the freedom to live in any neighborhood. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed asserted that a non-white neighbor would hurt their property values. And sixty-four percent declared that they would not sell their home to an American American, even if the person offered more than a white buyer.
Even as opinion researchers were assembling these figures for the Governor's Interracial Commission, this consensus on race and real estate was beginning to crumble. In 1946, the American Veterans Committee picketed the Minneapolis Realty Board, decrying a new housing development that used these kinds of restrictions as "unnecessary, undemocratic and un-American." This protest unfolded with a NAACP legal campaign as a backdrop. The civil rights organization filed a series of legal challenges that eventually brought its lawyers to the Supreme Court, which ruled covenants unenforceable in 1948. Minnesota banned them in 1953. But they remained legal in much of the country until the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968.
This legal history is relatively well-known. What is still unclear is when and where these restrictions were embedded in the urban landscape. Mapping Prejudice seeks to answer this question. And with our visualization, we hope to make history.