What Are Racial Covenants?

In the first half of the 20th Century, racist property developers often barred people of color from living in the homes that they built. They imposed this segregation by adding restrictions known as racial covenants to a home’s deed.

This didn’t only happen under Jim Crow in the Deep South. The Mapping Prejudice project at the University of Minnesota found that, between 1910 and 1960, more than 30,000 racial covenants were applied to homes across Hennepin County.

A developer advertising a segregated Lake of the Isles neighborhood in 1919. Source: Mapping Prejudice

At their peak, a fifth of all new homes in the county were covenanted.

Hennepin County covenants shown in maroon. Source: Mapping Prejudice

These covenants discriminated against Jewish people and anyone who wasn’t white. Most often, as Mapping Prejudice found, the covenants targeted Black families.

A covenant discriminating against Black people, placed on a Minneapolis home in 1939. Source: Mapping Prejudice

Many of the covenants blanketed Southwest Minneapolis and the Lake Nokomis area. They became popular in the early 1900s when the real estate industry pushed the spurious claim that neighborhoods needed to be filled with white people in order to maintain property values. Speaking to Mpls.St.Paul magazine, Mapping Prejudice’s director, Kirsten Delegard, said, “It was like selling an insurance policy to prospective buyers. Like, if you have this covenant on this property, your property will be safe. Your investment will be safe. That was the selling point.”

Minneapolis covenants. Source: Mapping Prejudice

It was a virulent claim: By 1946, 64% of Minnesotans believed that their property values would diminish if a Black family moved next door. Four percent even said that their homes would become completely “worthless” if Black neighbors moved in.

Covenants in Southwest Minneapolis. Source: Mapping Prejudice

Armatage Reparations & Equity Action is focused on raising awareness of the covenants that shaped Armatage and nearby neighborhoods.

Covenants in Minneapolis’s Armatage and Kenny neighborhoods. Source: Mapping Prejudice
A covenanted block in Armatage.

Recognizing and renouncing our community’s racist origins are the first steps toward reparations for families still afflicted by the covenants’ legacy. With help from the Just Deeds project of Golden Valley, we are working with neighbors to renounce as many racial covenants as we can.

A covenanted block in Armatage.

Some may ask if renouncing the covenants is really necessary. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial covenants were unenforceable. And the Minnesota legislature made it illegal to add those restrictions to new homes in 1953. So didn’t segregation end decades ago?

Not exactly. The Supreme Court ruling didn’t actually outlaw the covenants. And in many cases, covenants were already cemented into the system. Many members of AREA, for example, own homes built in the 1950s. Our neighborhood’s original developer already added a covenant to our properties years earlier on November 19th, 1946.

Click to read the racial covenant that covers nearly every home between 55th and 56th Streets from Penn Avenue to Humboldt Circle in the Armatage and Kenny neighborhoods. Source: Provided by the Just Deeds Project

This meant that our homes were legally segregated until 1962, when Minnesota passed its Fair Housing Act. That decade was ample time to set Southwest Minneapolis on a path of segregation that still persists today.

To learn more about the covenants’ legacy and why we feel it’s important to renounce them, please continue reading.