MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - The City of Minneapolis is living with an embarrassing contradiction. City leaders and politicians portray it as one of the most progressive cities in America, but it also has some of the widest racial disparities in the U.S.
That divide is particularly acute in North Minneapolis, where 49 percent of the population is African American, compared to 19 percent African American city wide. Consider:
- The median income in Minneapolis for whites ($73,600) is almost three times that of African Americans ($27,950).
- Unemployment in North Minneapolis is historically almost three times as high as the rest of the city.
- In terms of home ownership in Minneapolis, which is how most Americans accumulate wealth, 75 percent of whites are homeowners, and 25 percent rent. But for African Americans, the picture is a mirror image: Only 30 percent of African Americans own their home in Minneapolis, and 70 percent are renters. It is one of the widest home ownership gaps in the U.S.
GEOGRAPHY, NO ACCIDENT
When it comes to geography and race there are few accidents in America.
At the turn of the 20th century, North Minneapolis, and in particular the area we call Near North today, was a place for newcomers to the city. In 1910, a quarter of the population was born in Sweden, Germany, and Norway. Less than one percent were African American.
The segregation we see in North Minneapolis today began with racial housing covenants, language literally written into property deeds prohibiting the sale of land or property, “to any colored person or person of negro blood.”
Researchers with the Mapping Prejudice Project at the University of Minnesota have uncovered more than 15,000 of these documents. The effect was a kind of American Apartheid, restricting where African Americans could live and pushing them towards neighborhoods without covenants, like North Minneapolis, as well as 4th Avenue in South Minneapolis, and what is today Seven Corners.
Housing covenants would set the stage for redlining, when banks would literally outline minority neighborhoods, like Near North, in red on maps, meaning the area was “hazardous” for investment.
Redlining and housing covenants were outlawed nationwide in 1968, with passage of the Fair Housing Act. But it foreshadowed the very areas of the city that would be hardest hit by the mortgage and foreclosure crisis of 2008.
In so many ways, these are the unseen tentacles of history that North Minneapolis lives with.
There was also a pivotal historical event, the so-called riots or uprising, along Plymouth Avenue in 1967, that many trace as the beginning of white flight from North Minneapolis.
CRIME: REALITY VS PERCEPTION
Nearly a third of all violent crime in the City of Minneapolis last year took place in the 4th Police Precinct. We looked at the homicide numbers for the last 20 years, and found out of 875 homicides city wide, nearly half (401) took place in North Minneapolis.
While violent crime is a sobering reality for many families on the North Side, after 25 years of covering crime in North Minneapolis, I’m convinced that it’s the perception of crime, and its cumulative headlines and coverage, that may do more harm than any single bullet. It has become a stereotype that doesn’t begin to capture the breadth of experience for the majority of neighborhoods.
All the news in North Minneapolis is not dire, and it never has been. A new corporate headquarters for Thor Construction, one of the largest minority owned construction companies in the country, will have its grand opening Friday, September 14, at the corner of Plymouth and Penn Avenues. The hope is it will be a catalyst for change. The building is also home to MEDA, a business/entrepreneur incubator. North Market opened earlier this year, with the help of Minnesota’s philanthropic community, and its given people a high-quality grocery store in what some called a “food desert.”
But not everyone is convinced all the changes coming will be good. The City of Minneapolis is debating its 2040 Plan, which depending on who you talk to, is either a panacea or a sure fire path to gentrification. The fear I heard from so many in the last few months, is that rising property values and rapid development will push African Americans out of their own neighborhoods, to make way for white Millennials.
The history of North Minneapolis would seem to be Exhibit A for that argument. The community is, without a doubt, at a crossroads. The obstacles - home ownership, wealth, and education - are all still there.
Now maybe, so are more of the opportunities.