Racist property language getting undone in Dakota County

Racist language built into some homeownership documents in the Metro area is surfacing and getting undone.

Racial covenants enforcing white-only neighborhoods are in current property deeds all over the country, including here.

"That they’re still here is kind of crazy," said Dakota County resident Donald Rora.

The words buried deep in deeds for some of the properties in Rora’s neighborhood shocked him.

"That cannot be a good thing, you know, to tell people where they can live," he said. "That sounds like something from down South."

Home deed paperwork is pretty complicated and most homeowners probably don’t thumb through every page and look at every single line, but if they did, a lot of them might be surprised to find racial covenants.

The racist deed restrictions are right there in black and white — demanding "no race or nationality other than Caucasians" occupy homes with the exception of servants.

They’re common in the neighborhood where Dakota County Commissioner Joe Atkins’ cousin lives.

"It’s crazy," Commissioner Atkins said. "If you simply looked at these deeds you would think this was still a racially-restricted neighborhood."

Mapping Prejudice is a project at the University of Minnesota identifying the racist deed restrictions.

Their data from Hennepin, Ramsey, and Dakota Counties show an explosion of racial covenants in the 1930s and 40s.

Michael Corey says the restrictions usually targeted attainable, middle-class neighborhoods and not only are the words still there in the deeds, but their impact is persistent in cities like Minneapolis.

"The areas that had racial covenants are still among the whitest places in the city today," said Corey, the Mapping Prejudice Technical Lead.

The Supreme Court ruled the segregating language unenforceable in 1948, but it didn’t go away.

Mapping Prejudice has found Minnesota racial covenants dating into the 1960s.

Corey says by then they had no legal force, but they had symbolic power.

"The idea that there’s a racial covenant in your neighborhood is what stops people because you as a Black person trying to buy a house can see that you’re not welcome in this neighborhood," he said.

"That’s not the message that South St. Paul or West St. Paul or Dakota County want to send," Commissioner Atkins said. "We’re not a place full of hate and discrimination."

Dakota County’s recorder will be adding language to deeds noting the racist language is unenforceable and the county is helping property owners renounce the covenants.

The process could take years, but Mapping Prejudice is also about to start similar projects in Anoka County and around Rochester.