Conversations around race and racial justice

Minneapolis school board denounces racial covenants found at elementary school

A teacher stands in front of a white board in a classroom.
The covenants barred non-white people from buying, renting or occupying the land where the Lake Harriet Lower School, where Katie Koppy teaches kindergarten, sits. District officials say the school is nearly all white.
Courtesy of Katie Koppy 2020

Previous owners of the land that Lake Harriet Lower School sits on added the racial covenants to land parcels when developing the Linden Hills neighborhood almost 100 years ago.

When the covenants were brought to the attention of the Minneapolis school board by a Star Tribune reporter, board chair Sharon El-Amin said they wanted to act swiftly to discharge the documents in a unanimous vote Tuesday.

“Our board has really been trying to work to make sure that we are remaining within our mission to remain anti-racist and making sure we serve the families that are in Minneapolis schools,” she said.

El-Amin, whose district includes north Minneapolis, said she wasn’t necessarily surprised at the revelation of the racial covenants, but she was hurt. El-Amin said she hopes the board’s decision is able to bring awareness to students, staff and families of structural and systemic racism in the metro area.

“We know that the systemic racism has always plagued our system, our communities, that we are still at 2023, finding ourselves faced with those things affecting us … everything within our community has always been an issue and a problem for us as Black Americans here,” El-Amin said.

Racial covenants were legal contracts that kept neighborhoods white-only before the Fair Housing Act outlawed them in 1968, but their impact still lingers. Kirsten Delegard helps document these impacts as the co-director of Mapping Prejudice, a project from the University of Minnesota that tracks structural racism across the metro area.

“For me, having grown up in this neighborhood, having attended the school, finding out that there was a racial covenant on my elementary school helps me understand why that elementary school was basically 100 percent white,” Delegard said.

The Lake Harriet-area school and its upper campus nearby have the most white students of any Minneapolis public school. Delegard said students and teachers at the district have been engaging with Mapping Prejudice since the project started in 2016 and hopes the vote from the Minneapolis school board sparks more action across the city.

“We say we believe that that’s just the first step. And that the process of discharge allows you to figure out — to see your personal connection, or in the case of MPS, their institutional connection to the history,” Delegard said.

The school board said it will review all of its properties and will denounce other racial covenants, if found.