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Introduction to White Supremacy and the Politics of Apartheid in Minnesota
23 May 1999
For African Americans, reality sharply contrasts with the image of Minneapolis as a progressive Scandinavian city, and a nice place to live. No other major city in the U.S. has higher rates of poverty and unemployment for African Americans. Minneapolis also has the distinction of having one of the ten most racially-segregated housing markets among large cities in the U.S., according to the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota.
And the Minneapolis public school system, which is implementing a neighborhood school plan, will soon be one of the most rigidly segregated school systems in the country.
To refer to the segregation of African Americans in Minneapolis and other cities in the Northern U.S. as de facto rather than de jure is misleading, the implication being that segregation was not state-sponsored as in the South, that it "just happened."
Though less elaborate and rigid than the system of apartheid that existed in the Deep South, the expulsion and exclusion of blacks from "white" neighborhoods, "white" public schools, and "white" jobs in the North was a matter of public policy and enforced through the courts.
The creation of black ghettos in cities across the Northern U.S. was accomplished through such policies as the promotion of neighborhood associations that enforced agreements which prohibited the sale and leasing of dwelling units to blacks in the "better" neighborhoods, siting public housing projects in predominantly black neighborhoods, "red-lining" neighborhoods where blacks reside in significant numbers by financial institutions (loans are made less available or unavailable within the red-lined areas), and the non-enforcement of fair housing laws in predominantly white neighborhoods.
The Segregation of the Housing market along racial lines began not long after the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which allowed the States to enact laws that required separate accommodations for blacks and whites, so long as the accommodations are equal.
However, as Justice John Marshall Harlan, the lone dissenting Supreme Court Justice noted, racial separation was the only aspect of the "separate but equal" doctrine that would be enforced.
The "separate but equal" doctrine was justified as an acknowledgment of the "natural affinity" that members of each race had for others of their own kind. Prior to 1900, however, there was no evidence that blacks had a stronger preference to live among others of their own kind than other distinctive ethnic groups in cities outside of the Deep South. Blacks were scattered widely throughout the urban landscape, though distributed more heavily in working class districts, and rarely accounted for more than 30% of the population on any block, according to studies from that era. In 1890, the closest thing to a ghettoized black population was in Indianapolis, where the average black lived in a neighborhood that was 13% black [from American Apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass, page 23].
It was only through the use of legal, and extra-legal methods by a white Supremacist movement that a pattern of racially segregated housing was achieved through-out the Northern U.S. Neighborhood associations were formed during the first decade of the 20th century that employed a variety of methods to cleanse their neighborhoods of black residents, including arson and murder.
After 1910, the color line was chiefly maintained by restrictive convenants, contractual agreements among property owners which did not allow blacks to buy, lease or occupy property. Typically, these agreements were enforceable through the courts if 75% of the property owners in a defined neighborhood signed on, remained in effect for twenty years, and were binding on the minority of property owners (and their successors) who didn't sign on [i.b.i.d. page 36].
By the 1920s, the expulsion and exclusion of blacks from most of the residential housing market resulted in the formation of predominantly black ghettos in cities throughout the Northern U.S.
Although at one time or another immigrants from various European countries were far more "ghettoized" in many Northern cities than blacks were on the eve of the 20th century, it was unusual for members of a "ghettoized" European nationality to be the majority in their own ghetto [i.b.i.d. page 32].
After the Supreme Court declared restrictive covenants to be unenforceable in 1948, the color line was maintained by overt discrimination and terror against blacks who attempted to move into white neighborhoods.
However, the Civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s forced the federal government to enact a fair housing law and desegregate the schools and other public accommodations, which greatly reduced the level of hostility towards blacks that was socially acceptable among whites.
Even though the Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed racial discrimination in virtually all housing transactions, most of the housing market in the U.S. is still off-limits to African Americans. The Fair Housing Act left it up to the victims of racial discrimination to enforce it through private legal action. However, because racial discrimination is done covertly, its victims are usually unaware of their victimization, or may suspect that it is happening but can't prove it.
The Anti-segregation Movement in Minneapolis Today
In the Fall of 1996 the Minneapolis NAACP branch elected a president and executive board members who played a major role in launching a series of protests in 1997 and again in 1998 against a neighborhood school plan adopted by the Minneapolis Board of Education in June 1995.
The president of the Minneapolis NAACP branch elected in 1996, Leola Seals has also spoken against a "relocation process" for public housing tenants that would be more accurate to describe as a "de-housing process:" one of many stands taken by Seals and the Minneapolis NAACP branch that put them at odds with the city government.
In an election of Minneapolis NAACP branch officers held on January 9, 1999, most of the candidates on a slate backed by city hall that ran against Seals received a narrow majority of the votes cast. Rick y Campbell, a city employee, became president-elect of the branch.
Seals continued to serve as branch president pending the outcome of a formal challenge to the election. The Minnesota-Dakota Conference of the NAACP recommended that Seals be re-instated as president for another full term. However, a ruling by the national board of the NAACP in May 1999 will soon allow Campbell and the new executive committee to be officially sworn in.
Douglas Mann 23 May 1999