Mitchell Hamline School of Law will work with the City of Saint Paul to help homeowners remove discriminatory racial covenants on their property deeds.
The partnership, announced Monday, is part of the city’s move to become one of nearly two dozen Minnesota cities to in a coalition called Just Deeds.
Just Deeds is a collaborative effort between community groups, attorneys, and government agencies to identify and remove racial covenants on property deeds in Minnesota. In the early 20th century, racial covenants were a common practice that placed legal agreements on property deeds that prohibited the sale or lease of property to African Americans and other people of color. There was also a time when they were used to exclude Catholics and Jews. The aim was to maintain segregation and prevent integration in neighborhoods.
While they are now illegal and unenforceable, the language of these covenants remains a painful reminder of the racist policies that have shaped Saint Paul’s history.
“Racial covenants are a dark chapter in our city’s history,” said Mayor Melvin Carter, who spoke at a press conference at Mitchell Hamline. “Words matter, and we’re committed to ensuring everyone in our community feels like they belong.”
The city will work with Mitchell Hamline’s Center for the Study of Black Life to identify volunteer attorneys and legal professionals, including law students, to assist with the effort. “Mitchell Hamline is proud to be part of this important effort that will also give our students real world experience in working to correct historic injustices,” said President and Dean Anthony Niedwiecki.
The partnership is an extension of work Mitchell Hamline has already incorporated to coursework for several years. Hundreds of students have researched thousands of deeds on behalf of Just Deeds and its progenitor organization, Mapping Prejudice. “We’re proud of all we’ve done to date with these groups,” said Professor Mark Edwards, who has helped coordinate student work with the organizations. “This is a logical next chapter to this important work.”
One of Just Deeds’ co-founders, Golden Valley City Attorney Maria Cisneros ’14, will be on campus later this month to work with students. Cisneros also spoke at Monday’s press conference, along with St. Paul City Attorney Lyndsey Olson ’03, who will oversee the city’s Just Deeds work.
The first property in St. Paul that will see its racial covenant discharged is just a few blocks from the Mitchell Hamline campus. The building that houses the Rondo Community Land Trust is in the once thriving African American Rondo community that was devastated by the construction of Interstate 94 in the 1960s. The organization is working to rebuild and revitalize the neighborhood while actively working to discharge its own property’s racial covenant.
“We are grateful to the City of Saint Paul for their support in discharging this covenant and helping us to promote racial equity and trust in our community,” said Mikeya Griffin, the organization’s executive director.
“We’re not only interested in studying the ways in which the law orders and disorders Black living and dying,” said Professor Anansi Wilson, director of Mitchell Hamline’s Center for the Study of Black Life and the Law. “We’re also interested in thinking about the ways in which people across race, gender, class, nationality, and ethnicity come together to create the American Dream that hasn’t yet been born.”
St. Paul joins Just Deeds coalition to flag racial covenants in housing (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
St. Paul makes it easier for homeowners to remove racial covenants from property deeds (Fox9)
St. Paul joins coalition to remove racial covenants from property deeds (WCCO-TV)
St. Paul joins coalition to rid property deeds of racist clauses (KARE-11)
St. Paul announces program to help homeowners discharge racial covenants (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
St. Paul offers residents free help removing racist language from deeds (Axios)
St. Paul joins effort to clear racial real estate covenants (MPR)