It's appalling that they still exist, but it's not surprising they are part of the city's history. They are part of many cities’ histories.
Buried in Rochester's historic property deeds are racist covenants that banned non-Christians and people of color from living in certain parts of the city. The bias was perpetrated through the use of redlining, a discriminatory practice that denies loans or insurance to certain people based on race or ethnicity.
Racially motivated zoning was deemed unconstitutional in 1917, but covenants continued to be written into individual property deeds, Rochester City Attorney Jason Loos said during Monday's Rochester City Council meeting.
“They were still socially acceptable into the 1930s,” Loos said.
In 1953, the Minnesota Legislature prohibited the use of real estate restrictions based on race, and federal action followed in 1968.
While unenforceable, the discriminatory language remains on documents related to land transactions.
Loos said the covenants can be found in deeds in the Pill Hill and Kutzky Park areas, both in City Council member Mark Bransford's Ward 2.
“That’s our history, and it’s not a good one,” Bransford said.
Many residents likely don’t realize such restrictions are still on property deeds.
On Monday, the city council unanimously approved a partnership with the Just Deeds Program to help the city map where racist covenants still exist.
Volunteers will need to read through individual deeds filed with the county prior to the 1950s, when the state banned the covenants. The job will likely take two years.
When covenants are found, the city can inform property owners, who may request to have them removed.
But council member Shaun Palmer said the covenants should provide a history lesson.
“I’d like to see us do some education on what happened here, and not just wipe it off the deeds,” Palmer said.
No amount of scrubbing can erase the stains of the city's racist past. But hopefully they can act as evidence that our society is changing, however slowly. Let's delete the offensive language, but learn from the history.