George Floyd’s Death and the Long History of Racism in MinneapolisHistorians in the News
tags: racism, African American history, Police, urban history
Understanding how things got so tense in Minneapolis requires understanding the history of the city’s racial geography, says Kirsten Delegard, a historian and director of Mapping Prejudice, a University of Minnesota project that has plotted the locations of racial covenants, legal clauses inserted into property deeds that reserved that land for the exclusive use by white people.
“Minneapolis wasn’t particularly segregated when racial covenants were first introduced in 1910; they were preemptively put into place before black people lived in Minneapolis in large numbers,” Delegard says. “You have 2,700 African Americans living in the city in 1910 and [then] 30,000 racial covenants blanketing the city to make sure all this land could never be occupied by people who aren’t white. After they had been in place for 30 years, the city became highly segregated and people who weren’t white were sorted into just a handful of very, very small neighborhoods.”
Those small neighborhoods include one near the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, where the officer knelt on Floyd and where subsequent demonstrations have taken place. The nearby area has historically been known as a hub for black middle-class life and working-class communities. Just west is the neighborhood’s commercial center, the Old South Side. It’s been home to African-American journalists, doctors and lawyers, as well as NAACP presidents, important black churches and some of Prince’s old stomping grounds.
“Like every black neighborhood in the country, it’s also been subject to over-policing and very different kinds of police practices than the predominantly white neighborhood a couple of blocks away,” she says. “When you get to the edges of those neighborhoods, there tends to be more literal policing and more contention over who can be in public space and what people are doing.”
The very intersection where the violent arrest took place is one such edge. At that corner, properties were governed by racial covenants. Delegard’s research shows these covenants were often put in place on the borders of black neighborhoods, in an effort to contain the population.
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