From left: Borchert Library director Ryan Mattke, project director Kirsten Delegard, project manager Kevin Ehrman-Solberg, and property records specialist Penny Petersen.
Our work started with the Historyapolis Project at Augsburg University. 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.
Historyapolis director Kirsten Delegard had long imagined mapping racial restrictions on Minneapolis property. But after visiting the Hennepin County property records office with veteran property researcher 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 task. 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 Petersen's work 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. Together, they decided to create the first-ever comprehensive visualization of racial covenants for an American city.
The team has received extensive support from the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. The project has been funded by the University Metropolitan Consortium, the University of Minnesota Libraries and the John R. Borchert Map Library Endowment.
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 other cities that show how digital tools can illuminate structural racism and transform our understanding of the past.
Segregated Seattle was the brainchild of the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project at the University of Washington, which assembled a database of racial covenants that has become an important resource for historians, legal researchers and activists trying to understand how ideas about race shaped real estate law and housing policy.
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 retold the story in way that made it accessible for a popular audience.
Mapping Segregation is the work of Prologue DC, which is documenting how segregation has shaped the urban landscape of the nation's capital. This team has been compiling a database of restrictive housing covenants and has created a map that tells the story of legal battles over restricted deeds in Washington D.C.
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 created demographic patterns that remain in place in Minneapolis today. Residential segregation reinforces other disparities in employment, education and health care. 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.
Our initial analysis also draws new attention to the way that race has shaped public space in the city. Our early maps show that some of the city's most spectacular parks were ringed by residential districts that barred people of color from taking up residence. The result was an invisible racial cordon around the city's renowned Grand Rounds, which serves as the city's urban commons.
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.