In the basement of Wilson Library at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, a team of researchers is working to map the history of racial segregation in Minneapolis. The group is unearthing racial restrictions buried in Minneapolis property deeds to create the first comprehensive visualization of historical racial covenants for a U.S. city.
The project, called Mapping Prejudice, started with Augsburg’s Historyapolis Project, which seeks to illuminate the history of Minneapolis and has traced the roots of the city’s present-day racial disparities through historical research. To date, Mapping Prejudice researchers have found around 5,000 property deeds containing language that historically restricted ownership of residential properties by race. Enforcing these restrictions has been illegal in Minnesota for more than 60 years, but the records provide insight into the racial segregation that persists in Minneapolis neighborhoods.
“Minneapolis is known for its parks, high-quality schools, and progressive politics,” said Kirsten Delegard, director of the Historyapolis Project and Augsburg scholar-in-residence. “Yet we have the highest racial disparities in the country.”
Delegard said racial covenants were once pervasive in many U.S. cities and were instrumental in remaking the racial landscape of Minneapolis, which had not always been segregated. As many as 10,000 or more Minneapolis property deeds may contain such racially restrictive language. One of those properties is the Augsburg House, a residence on West River Road in Minneapolis that the University purchased in 1998.
“When I saw the information that the Mapping Prejudice team had compiled for south Minneapolis, I suspected that Augsburg House originally had a racially restricted deed,” said Augsburg University President Paul Pribbenow. “Nearly every new development in south Minneapolis in the early 20th century carried those types of restrictions.”
The property’s 1926 deed didn’t initially show up in the project’s electronic search process because the document was handwritten, but Delegard was able to locate the deed manually. The University has sought legal counsel regarding options for clarifying that Augsburg does not support discriminatory restrictions on the property.
“At the same time, we want to ensure we maintain the historical record represented by the deed,” Pribbenow said, “so that we never lose track of the disgraceful manners in which covenants were used to segregate our communities and to inflict real harm on so many.” The Mapping Prejudice project is a massive undertaking, so the group strives to engage volunteers in the work. Many Augsburg students have become involved, including two history students who did semester-long internships last year helping build a digital map display and an entire history class that is working with the project throughout the fall semester this year. Several sociology classes got involved this past spring and summer, helping develop the program’s volunteer outreach strategy. Students from Pribbenow’s honors seminar also helped transcribe deeds this past spring, and a cohort of Augsburg first-year students engaged in the work as part of City Service Day at the beginning of the 2017 academic year.
“We absolutely could not have developed the project without this kind of participation from both students and faculty,” said Delegard, who is continuing to seek funding that will allow the project to get even more students involved in all aspects of the work.
Visit mappingprejudice.org to view an interactive map illustrating the spread of racially restrictive deeds across Minneapolis during the first half of the 20th century.
[Top Image]: The Mapping Prejudice team includes Kevin Erhman-Solberg ’14 [left], a University of Minnesota graduate student in geographic information science; Penny Peterson [center], a veteran property records researcher; Kirsten Delegard [right], director of the Historyapolis Project and Augsburg scholar-in-residence; and Ryan Mattke [not pictured], a map and geospatial information librarian from the University of Minnesota.