Mapping the Legacy of Racism in Twin Cities Real Estate

By MNR News posted 10-01-2020 07:21 AM


photo of arther lee monumentAs we seek to improve the quality of life for all people in our state, we must explore our past. Acknowledging the historical legacy of racism is an essential first step toward making meaningful and equitable change.

Time and time again Minnesota makes the list for one of the best states to live in – and you betcha’ we’re proud of that. We also pride ourselves on being Minnesota Nice – helping our neighbors or pushing a stranger’s car stuck in the snow. But Minnesotans haven’t always been welcoming, inclusive, or “nice”. And though we most often associate the racism of Jim Crow and other policies with the South, Minnesota also has a very troubling history of racist policies that barred people of color from owning homes. These policies continue to have an impact on Minnesota’s Black residents even today.

Racism in Real Estate is a course offered through Rethos and was made available for CE through both the Minnesota Realtors, Minneapolis Area Realtors, and the Saint Paul Association of Realtors. The course was a webinar that explored the history of overt, covert, and even violent discriminatory practices in Minnesota. The session was led by Denise Pike, a public historian who worked with the Mapping Prejudice project to document the racial covenants and redlining that restricted where Black people could live in the Twin Cities.

racial covenant verbiage

Example of the racial covenant verbiage found in many property deeds in the Twin Cities in the early 20th century.

Racial covenants were restrictive deeds that barred people of color from owning property in specific areas and neighborhoods. The first racial covenant in Minneapolis was made in 1910, and the practice soon spread across the Twin Cities. In the 1930s, a new tool was created for keeping people of color from purchasing homes in predominantly white neighborhoods called redlining. Created by the new Federal Housing Administration (FHA) as a way to rate risk factors for government-back mortgages, redlining gave favorable scores for neighborhoods with racial covenants in place, and “hazardous” scores for areas where people of color lived. This made it nearly impossible for Black residents to obtain FHA loans. People of color, regardless of their financial status, were classified as “too risky.”

redlined mapmap legend

         A map of the FHA’s redlining in Minneapolis

Even when Black residents overcame hurdles and found housing in white neighborhoods, they often encountered hostility, threats, and violence from their white neighbors.

When Edith and Arthur Lee moved into a home at 46th & Columbus in South Minneapolis in 1931, they were greeted with a mob of over 4,000 people who yelled and threw rocks at their home, and even killed their dog. The hostilities went on for three days. The Lees bravely fought for their right to make that house their home for two years, but eventually moved to another neighborhood. In 2014, the Lee’s home was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and the historical marker placed on the home’s lawn bears witness to the dark history made there 100 years ago. Today, the same neighborhood is sprinkled with All Are Welcome Here signs, but the historical marker is a stark reminder that this wasn’t always the case.

image of monument
Monument at 46th & Columbus with a brief history of Lee & his family. The quote reads: “Nobody asked me to move out when I was in France fighting in mud & water for this country. I came out here to make this house my home. I have a right to establish a home.” - Arthur Lee

Although the 1968 Fair Housing Act made racial covenants and redlining illegal, it hasn’t erased the long-term effects of racist policies that prevented so many people who were not white from buying property and building wealth for most of the last century. These effects are still felt across the state even today.

Minneapolis has the highest gap between Black & white residents in the country. Only 23% are owned by Black residents, while 75% are owned by white residents. These percentages call out the substantial racial wealth gap in the Twin Cities, and underscore the barriers Black residents still face in their efforts to find affordable housing. Where you live affects what resources and opportunities you have access to - including jobs, food, health care, and education.
graph of home ownership rates in twin cities by race

It’s important to remember that these discriminatory policies weren’t just words on a piece of paper - they affected real people. The legacy of racial covenants and redlining has led to decades of generational trauma and mistrust in the institutions that enacted these policies. While today’s Realtors® subscribe to a Code of Ethics that sets a higher standard for fairness in housing than any federal law, work still needs to be done to ensure an equitable future in housing. That starts with education, empathy, getting involved, and carrying these important conversations forward. 

“Racist structures don’t need racists to perpetuate them.” – Denise Pike


Want to learn more? Check out some of the resources:

Watch: TPT's Jim Crow of the North
Listen: MPR: What it would take to close the racial housing gap
Read: Mapping Prejudice
Read: Denise Mazone: A Place to Call Home
Explore: Implicit Bias Test