For several years, the Anoka County Historical Society had an exhibit called, “Farms to Flamingos: Building a Mid-Century Modern County.” This display showcased the post-WWII housing boom that created what we know today as the suburbs, as well as that idyllic time in history when neighborhood baseball teams, washing machines and family trips in large cars became typical.
It also featured a companion display titled, “Shattering the Myth.” This exhibit called out the societal inequalities of the era, as well as blatant discrimination practices against people of color such as redlining and disproportionate combat casualties in Vietnam.
This exhibit, a portion of which is still available at AnokaCountyHistory.org, stated that “African Americans faced discrimination when trying to purchase a home in overwhelmingly suburban, white neighborhoods.” Real estate agents did not want to show houses in white areas to African Americans, and if they did, the agents tried to talk the family out of buying the home. Real estate agents felt it was unethical to sell a house in a white neighborhood to African Americans because many believed their presence would drive down the property values of the surrounding houses.
Until 1968, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) followed a policy called “redlining” when determining in which neighborhoods they would approve mortgages. Redlining was the practice of denying or limiting financial services to certain neighborhoods based on racial or ethnic composition without regard to the residents’ qualifications or creditworthiness. The term grew from the literal red line drawn on maps to mark the area where financial institutions would not invest. This practice continued in some places as late as 1974, when the Illinois State Legislature passed laws against redlining.
Conversations against this inequity did occur in Anoka County. The North Suburban Committee on Civil Rights was a grassroots organization centered in the Circle Pines area. They reported about 1,000 signatures to their “covenant” in 1965. A main activity of the group was participating in the Metropolitan Clearing House Information Center. That organization maintained a list of people willing to sell their homes to African Americans. The organization also provided “aid and council to those seeking a house.”
In the April 29, 1965, issue of the Circulating Pines, the newspaper suggested one way to bring minority families to the community would be asking the School Board to consider the applications of African Americans when hiring teachers. The article went on to reason that since people live near their job, more opportunities must open in the community to “attract” people of color to the area.
“The main problem in our community is that there appears to be no problem at all,” the article said. “We are an all-white community. There are no Negroes here, as far as we know, to remind us that there are inequalities … In the North the typical suburbanite is denied both the advantages of interracial communication and the painful task of seeking justice.”
To learn more about racial covenants and their impact on housing development in Minnesota, visit mappingprejudice.org or watch “Jim Crow of the North” on TPT.org. If you’re interested in pursuing a mapping project in Anoka County or have information to contribute to this project, please contact the Anoka County Historical Society at email@example.com.
Rebecca Ebnet-Desens is the executive director of the Anoka County Historical Society.