MINNEAPOLIS, Mn. — Racist language is written into thousands of home deeds across the United States. Phrases like "no race or nationality other than the Caucasian race” were commonly included in deeds to stop families of color from moving in. In big cities and small towns, the language still exists in those documents today.
Enforcing those words is now illegal, but in many places, the impact the language created is still felt.
The Zackery family has lived in their Minneapolis home for 20 years, but recently, they found their home’s deed contained a racial covenant meant to exclude Black families from moving in.
“It says that ‘no person outside or persons outside of the Caucasian race should own or inhabit the space thereof,’” said Kiarra Zackery.
It’s called a “racial covenant.” In the past, this could legally stop families of color from moving in.
“Your childhood, like all of those good things, it just makes you seem like if I'd been two generations older that I wouldn't have been having the same reality,” said Kiarra Zackery.
“I was disappointed,” said Ulysses Zackery. “Why would that language still exist? Why would that have to exist? And some people say, ‘Well, it's just words,’ but words hurt, and they still do.”
So, they turned to a group called Just Deeds. The nonprofit removes racial covenants from home deeds for free. Despite the covenants no longer having legally binding power, Amy Schutt, the assistant city attorney for the City of Minneapolis, said it’s important to remove language.
“By 1968, with the passage of the Federal Fair Housing Act, racial covenants had become illegal, but they remained on the title to properties, here in Minneapolis and across the country,” said Schutt. “And really, no effort was made to address the negative, the negative results of those covenants that had impacted people of color, who lives in our community. I think it's important for folks to realize that when you do nothing to address the problem, we shouldn't be surprised that the problem exists today.”
The Zackerys were relieved and excited to go through the simple process of removing the racial covenant from their home deed.
“For me, it's like making my home, our home, on paper, really be our home,” said Kiarra Zackery.
In many neighborhoods where racial covenants were once in place, Schutt said segregation still exists. Neighborhoods that had the restrictive covenants are still mostly White, and those without are still mostly Black.
“Homes that had racial covenants on them have a present-day home value of between four and 15% higher than homes that never had a racial covenant on them,” said Schutt. “Disparity in value was created at the time, and then nothing was done to address the disparity, and so it exists through today. So, I think it's important for folks to realize that when you do nothing to address disparities, they continue.”
Schutt said there are an estimated 8,000 homes across Minneapolis with racial covenants in their home deeds. Patrick Whelan and his wife, Vera, found their Minneapolis home had a racial covenant on it, too.
“I kind of was just taken aback,” said Whelan. “I thought to myself, why did I not know this?”
He and his wife started asking their neighbors to check their deeds. Many of their neighbors found the same thing he did.
“This is a real reason for a huge amount of wealth disparity between races in the united states,” said Whelan.
They went to Just Deeds to get the racial covenant removed. He said the process was simple and only required a form to be filled out. He hopes his neighbors and community will look into their own home deeds to help address the racism of the past.
“It was people who look like me that put racial covenants in place. Well, it's probably people like me that need to make some changes,” said Whelan.
History is going to continue to repeat itself until we decide to interrupt it. But you can't interrupt intentionally, right, if you don't know what the history is,” said Kiarra Zackery.
If you are curious about your own home deed, Mapping Prejudice is a resource you can use to search your own neighborhood.
Additionally, you can connect with Just Deeds HERE.