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Ramsey County racial covenants FAQ

What is going on with Ramsey County?

In 2019, Mapping Prejudice worked with a team from St. Catherine University to obtain digitized copies of Ramsey County property records. In February 2020, Mapping Prejudice joined with “Welcoming the Dear Neighbor?” to put out the call for volunteers to build the map of racial covenants in Ramsey County. Less than one month after the formal launch of this effort at St. Paul City Hall, the pandemic began and the world went into lockdown. We scrambled to move our volunteer sessions to Zoom and were amazed when more than 3,000 people joined the work. Over the next year—as the Twin Cities found itself at the center of a global uprising after the murder of George Floyd—many of you signed on to Zooniverse and read old property deeds. You searched through 250,000 digital images for racial covenants and extracted the information necessary to to locate them on a map. By February 2021, this transcription work was finished.

So–where is the map of Ramsey County covenants?

Once the transcription work was completed, our team focused on “cleaning” the information generated through Zooniverse. We are working to locate these historical racial covenants on a modern map of Ramsey County. But the built environment has changed a lot over the last century. Some property parcels have disappeared from the map. Freeways and big box retailers have been built over historic neighborhoods. To map these covenants, we have to toggle between the past and the present, rebuilding parts of our historic streetscape on this modern digital platform. This requires a mix of automation and a great deal of manual labor to process the records that can’t be automated. All of this takes time.

What is taking so long?

We have created this co-creative mapping process as we go. Our map of racial covenants in Hennepin County was the first of its kind for an American city. Making this map–in collaboration with all of you–has required lots of experimentation and innovation. We’ve had to refine our digital tools and adjust the questions that we ask volunteers. And we’ve had to stop and assess how best to make our technology work with different levels of image quality, an evolving list of search terms and the inevitable differences between county record sets.

We also had to take a break this year. Our team was rocked by tragedy in June 2021 when we suddenly lost one of our colleagues. Kevin Ehrman-Solberg was one of our project co-founders and had handled our geospatial work. When he died, we needed time to mourn and re-group.

When will the work be complete?

We are back at work, energized by our ongoing community support and new additions to our research team. Last December, we welcomed our new colleague, Michael Corey, who is now leading our data and geospatial work. He has been assessing our project data pipeline and taking stock of the Ramsey County data to insure we are capturing all of your hard work.

We cannot wait to share the data that YOU created. That will open the door for the conversations, analysis and action that give this work meaning.

We are planning to release a set of in-progress data and maps later this spring. It won’t be complete. But we are committed to a research process that is co-creative and transparent. That means that we will start releasing data as soon as we can ensure its accuracy.

When will I know about my neighborhood? Or my house?

This first map will reveal the locations of racial restrictions we have found so far. It will take a bit longer before we can say with certainty whether your house or neighborhood has racial covenants. And it will be even longer before we can give you the data necessary for granular analysis. But please hang on. We are hard at work.

Volunteers contributed 21,000 hours of labor to mapping covenants in Ramsey County. As always, we are so grateful to all of you for your commitment to this work, your curiosity and your desire to use history as a foundation for reparative justice. Thank you so much.