Skip to main content

Mapping Prejudice Project, Hennepin County receive award

Each year, the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) celebrates Freedom of Information Day by presenting the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award and the John Borger Lifetime Achievement Award in the spirit of Mr. Finnegan’s and Mr. Borger’s demonstrated leadership and commitment to the freedom of information and its power to effect change.

The 2021 Freedom of Information award honors the partnership of the Mapping Prejudice Project and Hennepin County.

The Mapping Prejudice Project launched in 2016. Using historic data resources provided by the Hennepin County Recorder Registrar of Titles office, the project coordinated thousands of volunteers, historians, geographers, and activists to identify and document the widespread use of discriminatory covenants embedded in property deeds. Mapping Prejudice identified the extent of legal barriers to homeownership using optical character recognition technology and analysis and data entry by a team of crowd-sourced volunteers. Combined with a county GIS parcel dataset, the information mined from deeds was spatially represented with the use of mapping software.

These covenants, combined with redlining and predatory lending practices, created long-reaching disparities for communities of color, limited opportunities for home ownership, restricted access to resources in employment, health, education and transportation, and exacerbated the racial wealth gap. 

Broader impact

Because of this project, Hennepin County is the first county in the nation with a comprehensive list of these discriminatory covenants, but it will not be the last. The Mapping Prejudice Project has inspired other counties within the state and across the country to identify, document and disavow racial covenants.

This partnership has raised public awareness about past prejudices and has led to significant changes in public policy.

In 2019, Minnesota passed a state law enabling homeowners to legally disavow prejudicial language from their property records. In 2020, the Hennepin County Board voted unanimously to disavow the practice and approved a resolution to eliminate the recording fee for disavowing discriminatory covenants. The Recorder/Registrar of Titles has since partnered with groups of concerned citizens, local attorneys, and title professionals called Just Deeds who are assisting property owners disavowing discriminatory covenants in facilitating their work with free legal and title services.

Partnership key to project's success

This project could not have been accomplished without ongoing cooperation and partnership between Mapping Prejudice and Hennepin County.

“Hennepin County Recorder staff are heroes who have played a critical role in allowing us to create a new co-creative mapping process that is helping people all over the country understand structural racism and the history of housing discrimination in the United States,” said Mapping Prejudice Director Kirsten Delegard. “Their dedication to open records and public access has been exemplary.”

This story reflects Hennepin County disparity reduction priorities in housing and justice.