Jon Neilson learned on Tuesday that the bungalow he and his wife, Karli, bought 10 years ago in the St. Paul’s Como Park neighborhood has a bill of sale stating that the owner “may not sell or rent said property real estate to a person of color”.
“Oh my God, that’s unfortunate,” said Neilson, a librarian at Concordia University, when the language of the race alliance was read to him. He and Karli, a teacher at Harding High School, are white.
Arnold Kwong, who is of Chinese descent and also lives in the Como Park neighborhood, has an identical alliance in his act. Kwong’s parents bought the two-story stucco house in 1952 and discovered the racial alliance in the deed in the 1970s while preparing their will.
“You hold this in your hands and say, ‘What?’ “said Kwong, owner and leader of a high-tech company. “Your 21st century sensibilities are offended.”
Mapping Prejudice, a grassroots organization that exposes racial covenants in deeds and completed research on Hennepin County in 2019, released the results of its campaign to document covenants in Ramsey County during a program Wednesday for St. Paul residents at St. Catherine’s University.
“We really need [the input of] community members who know their history, what their experience is, whether they lived in a house with race covenants or couldn’t buy a house because of race covenants,” said Kirsten Delegard, director of the Mapping Prejudice project.
The search in Hennepin and Ramsey counties was carried out by some 6,000 volunteers scouring the records. The Ramsey County search is far from over, but so far the group has found about 2,400 deeds with race pacts, including nearly 1,200 in St. Paul, some dating back to 1914.
Delegard said Mapping Prejudice hopes to expand its research to Washington, Anoka and Dakota counties this summer.
Most Ramsey County deeds containing race pacts appear to have been recorded in the 1920s and 1940s. The largest suburban concentrations were found in Roseville, White Bear Lake, Maplewood, Mounds View, and the Falcon Heights area near State Fair grounds.
State and federal laws now prohibit housing discrimination and prohibit a landlord or real estate agent from refusing to sell a property to someone because of their race or ethnicity. But many neighborhoods where the wedding rings were found remain predominantly white.
Ramsey County Council on Tuesday passed a resolution condemning race pacts and voted to exempt owners from the $46 registration fee for adding a statement to their deed disavowing a race pact.
He also asked county officials to participate in the Just Deeds Coalition — which includes Mapping Prejudice, the Minnesota Association of City Attorneys and the Minneapolis Area Realtors — which helps deliver on pledges and also helps communities recognize a racist past and to pursue reconciliation.
“It’s so important,” Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt said of the council’s action. “A lot of people aren’t aware of the wedding rings that have been placed.”
Mapping Prejudice found about 24,000 Hennepin County deeds with racial clauses, including more than 8,000 in Minneapolis. Hennepin County Council passed a resolution in 2020 that allows residents to fulfill pledges in their deeds without a filing fee, according to County Auditor/Treasurer Mark Chapin. He said about 600 residents have done so, mostly since 2020.
The first supposed racial alliance recorded in the Twin Cities was in Minneapolis in 1910. Mapping Prejudice also found large concentrations of racial alliances in Richfield, Edina, St. Louis Park, Golden Valley and Robbinsdale – creating a segregation wall along along west Minneapolis. and the southern borders.
Delegard cautioned that people shouldn’t assume there was less racism in Ramsey County than in Hennepin just because fewer race pacts were found there. Some of the original microfilms of the Ramsey County deeds were unreadable, she said.
More St. Paul than Minneapolis was plated – when wedding rings were usually inserted – before 1910, when wedding rings began to appear. Additionally, Ramsey County has 143,275 residential properties, while Hennepin County has approximately 280,000.
Ramsey County Auditor/Treasurer Heather Bestler said Mapping Prejudice is asking the county for access to the original deeds, which are easier to read than microfilm. “We are actively working on it,” she said.
“Unfortunately, it’s not surprising”
Nationwide race pacts, which date from the 1840s in Massachusetts, became more common in the United States in the 1880s, according to Mapping Prejudice. The National Association of Real Estate Boards – now the National Association of Realtors – included in its code of ethics in 1924 a provision “to ward off those who will damage the value of the house”, which Mapping Prejudice said was a code for African Americans.
Redlining, a banking practice that made it impossible to get loans for properties in racially mixed neighborhoods, spread across the country in the 1930s and kept blacks out of home ownership. Although the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that the restrictive covenants were unenforceable, they continued to be enforced.
The Minnesota Legislature finally banned the New Covenants in 1953, and nine years later voted to outlaw housing discrimination in the state based on race, religion, or national origin. In 1968, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, outlawing housing discrimination nationwide.
Mapping Prejudice found newspaper advertisements placed in 1913 in the St. Paul Daily News and the Minneapolis Tribune by attorney and developer Thomas Frankson that promoted new homes in what would become the Como Park neighborhood. The announcements said the properties could not be sold or rented “to a person of color” and that the restrictions would be enforced “to the fullest extent of the law”. A similar announcement was published in a Swedish-language newspaper.
Frankson was twice elected lieutenant governor, serving from 1917 to 1921. A 2010 article about Frankson in Ramsey County History magazine briefly mentions race pacts but focuses more on his “unorthodox” political history as an often Republican. allied with other parties.
Kwong, 66, who lives in the 1300 block of Hamline Avenue, said her house and others nearby were developed by Frankson. He said neighbors accepted his family, then one of the few Asian families in St. Paul, and now the neighborhood is more diverse. But he experienced racism; when his name was published in the newspaper in 1978 along with that of his new wife, a white woman, he said he had received racist hate mail.
Jon Neilson, 39, said he and his wife were unaware of the engagement on their act in 2012 when they bought their house in the 1300 block of Arona Avenue. “It’s deeply unfortunate, but unfortunately it’s not surprising,” he said.
Both Neilson and Kwong said they were inclined to file the documents to disavow the alliances. “I would be interested in any process the county has in place to recognize and rectify this,” Neilson said.
Mapping Prejudice’s efforts in Ramsey County have energized some neighborhood activists. Laura Oyen said she was leading a Como neighborhood history project with members of the District 10 Community Council in St. Paul.
“People should not be excluded from living in an area because of who they are, their race or their religion or their socio-economic background,” Oyen said. “There should be more fairness.”
To cancel a race pact in Ramsey County, go to ramseycounty.us/property and click on “Race Alliance Disclaimer,” or call 651-266-2050.