Geocomputing: Textual Analysis

2019

Background:

Racial covenants are legal clauses that were inserted into property deeds in the first half of the 20th century that excluded people color from purchasing property. This practice was used in Hennepin County from 1910 through the mid-1950s. This mechanism of racial segregation is being studied by the Mapping Prejudice project. Mapping Prejudice has collected data for almost all the racial covenants in Minneapolis and Hennepin County, including original covenant language associated with each property and its spatial information. While present mapping of this data has been concerned with understanding in the spatial location and extent of these restrictions, there has not been a textual analysis to determine how these mechanisms changed. We understand that conceptions of race are discursively constructed over time and the goal of this project is to begin examining how this might be reflected in the language of racial covenants.

 

Explanation of methods:

Although there are many variations within racial covenant language, covenants fall into two primary categories: segregation by inclusion, and segregation by exclusion. “Segregation by inclusion” indicates that racial covenant language explicitly lists racial categories, which are allowed to purchase property. Language of this type is shown in the following example:

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Therefore the operational definition of a ‘segregation by inclusion’ covenant is any covenant containing the words: “White” or “Caucasian.” The presence of these words was taken to indicate that the language was constructed to indicate which racial categories ​could​ occupy a property. By contrast, ‘segregation by exclusion’ language explicitly lists racial categories which may not​ occupy or purchase a property. Example of ‘segregation by exclusion’ language is given in the following example:

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Based on this, ‘segregation by exclusion’ covenants were defined as any covenant that did not contain the word “White” or “Caucasian.”

Results

‘Segregation by exclusion’ was the dominant form of racial Covenant language in the earliest iterations a racial Covenants. A growing number of covenants excluded based on 'inclusionary' criteria with each passing decade. 

1910 - 1919

"white/Caucasian only" covenants: 17.67%

particular exclusion covenants: 82.15%

 

1920 - 1929

"white/Caucasian only" covenants: 73.28%

particular exclusion covenants: 25.94%

 

1930 - 1939

"white/Caucasian only" covenants: 82.95%

particular exclusion covenants: 16.96%

 

1940 - 1949 

"white/Caucasian only" covenants: 91.88%

particular exclusion covenants: 7.96%