Displaced: A Lesson on Land, Property, and Race in Southwest Minneapolis

By: Marguerite Mills & Mapping Prejudice


Resource Overview

Where we live and our access to a consistent home has far-reaching impacts on our lives. But claims to this fundamental human need have been intentionally and violently stolen, threatened, and restricted. Through flagrant forms of violent dispossession to thinly veiled legal mechanisms of removal, the urban landscape was designed to benefit white people via the oppression of people of color. The patterns we see in present access to home, land, and property have been deliberately and carefully crafted over generations.


This lesson attempts to unpack this history by offering a case study in land theft, dispossession, and displacement in southwest Minneapolis. In this small scale urban example, the truth of displacement by design is told by tracking the evolution of this geography and its residents. The historical examples offered in this lesson may seem like extreme cases of violent dispossession, but they highlight a pattern of historical expulsions and exclusions that explain the lack of inherited wealth in black and brown communities. Students are pushed to ask the questions: “Who was here?” “Who is here now?” and “Why?”


This lesson focuses on unpacking the information and themes found in the Displaced digital map.


Lesson Snapshot

Grade Levels: 9-12

Suggested Time: 2-3 class periods

One period for class activity. One period for discussion/debrief and follow-up.



Learning Objectives

Core Themes

Critical Questions

Key Terms


Lesson Description


Additional Resources

Common Core Standards


Learning Objectives

Through exploring the history of local residents, beginning with native land dispossession through to black displacement, students gain knowledge of how the ownership of land and property has changed through deliberate design over time.

Core Themes

    • Dakota people populated the Minneapolis for thousands prior to white European settlers
    • Black families owned property all over Minneapolis prior to the mid-20th century
    • De Jure and De Facto mechanisms of segregation and displacement were used throughout the region’s history securing land for white people.
    • These instances of violent dispossession highlight a pattern of historical expulsions and exclusions that explain the lack of inherited wealth in black and brown communities.

Critical Questions

Who originally lived in Minneapolis?

Where do they live now? Why?

How did white people end up owning most of the land (and the most valuable land) in Minneapolis?

Why is this important?

Statistical Displacement Markers (map)

Minneapolis racial homeownership gap:

23% of Black Minnesotans own their home (50% disparity)

43% of Native Americans own their home (32% disparity)

75% of white Minnesotans own theirs

[data according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2015 records]

Key Terms & Concepts

*See more related terms in the Glossary (now found in Key Terms and Concepts)*

    • Displacement: the forced movement of people from their homes. In this context, we are discussing racialized displacement in the US. The process of displacement refers to both the forced uprooting of one racial group from their homes and their replacement by another racial group (or the interests of that group).

Further reading:

    • Dispossession: the process of stripping people of their claim to an area, property, or land. Dispossession refers to the deliberate severing of native claims to their homelands.

Further reading:

”An Indigenous Peoples’ History Of The United States For Young People,” Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

    • Structural racism: the formalization of a set of institutional, historical, cultural, and interpersonal practices within a society that materially advantages some racial groups while disproportionately disadvantaged otherized racial groups. These advantages and disadvantages are compounded and passed down over time and transmitted from one generation to the next, regardless of the role individuals played in the origins of the process.

Further reading:

“Stamped From the Beginning Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,“ Ibram X. Kendi

    • Segregation: segregation or racial segregation, refers to a system of separation, exclusion, and removal of people of color from “white space.” Segregation is and was geographically specific.

Further reading:

“The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” Richard Rothstein

“Colored Property State Policy & White Racial Politics in Suburban America,” David M P Freund

“City of Segregation: One Hundred Years of Struggle for Housing in Los Angeles,” Andrea Gibbons

“Segregation by Design: Local Politics and Inequality in American Cities,” Jessica Trounstine

    • De Jure vs De Facto Segregation:

De Jure (“by law”) segregation refers to the legally recognized institutional and formal policies and practices that create and enforce segregation.

Example: A racial covenant that expressly prohibits people of color from buying a property (this practice was legal until the mid-20th century).

De Facto (“by fact”) segregation refers to informal means of segregation that, while not legally recognized, enforce racial separation and exclusion.

Example: white violence against black residents and neighborhood hostility. While this harassment was and is not legal, it was used in countless instances to enforce racial segregation.

*Note: the distinction between de jure and de facto segregation is increasingly critiqued for dividing two interconnected processes

Further reading: *See “Segregation”

    • White Violence/Resistance:

Further reading:

Mapping Prejudice, University of Minnesota

    • Racial Covenants: legal agreements inserted into property deeds that barred people from purchasing, renting, and inhabiting property based on race. This segregative tool was used beginning in the late 19th century, until its eventual outlaw in the mid 20th century with court rulings (Shelley V. Kraemer, 1948) and national legislation (The Fair Housing Act, 1968). Despite their outlaw, the patterns of segregation these tools created endure to this day. In addition to lasting patterns of segregation, racial covenants created entrenched patterns of racial wealth stratification. Covenants not only kept people of color from investing in property, they enriched white people by artificially marking covenanted areas as more desirable and profitable (a process that was deepened still by redlining).

Further reading:

Mapping Prejudice, University of Minnesota




Lesson Description

Building Background Knowledge and Interest

Prior to starting this lessons main activity there it is key to set the stage and give students a background and some frame for discussing the topic. Depending on your class’s prior lessons you may want to spend more or less time preparing students to discuss the topic of race and inequality in the classroom. Refer to the Learning Objectives section of this document to build out your pre-learning work.

When starting the lesson, I begin by providing students with a brief outline of the material and what they can expect to get out of it. “We are going to think about land and property in this country. Who has it? Who doesn’t? Why? A recent study found that Minneapolis has the largest racial homeownership gap in the country. 75% of white Minnesotans own their homes while only 23% of black Minnesotans own theirs (50% disparity). And 43% of Native Americans own their home (32% disparity with whites). So why is this the case?”

To explain the complex history of land and property in this country, students will learn pieces of it in groups by reading and summarizing the experience of indigenous peoples and black Minneapois residents in the early 20th century that were pushed from their homes. They will then share what they learned with their classmates, so that the group as a whole can tell the story of how land in Minneapolis changed hands.

To peak students’ interest in this history, I present them with the challenge of piecing together the lineage of land in southwest Minneapolis. “You are going to be examining the history of who has lived in this area and the story of how they got where they are now. You will share what you find out with your classmates.”


Class Activity

Group Work and Presentations

  • Divide students into groups to review sections of the map. Explain that they will be responsible for finding the details of their section and sharing them with the class so that everyone can answer the big questions (Who lived here? Where do they live now? Why).  Have the groups examine the map sections to answer the following prompts:
    • Summarize the events/history detailed in the section (2-3 sentences)
    • Who has the land at the beginning of this section, and how does it change?
    • WHAT are the mechanisms creating this change in control over land
      How and why does it change?



Section/Group 1
(Indigenous removal / dispossession)

From the map start up to “On the Lake”

Section overview: White settlers dispossessed native peoples of their land though land treaties. Often coercive and ultimately broken, these treaties pushed indigenous people onto smaller reservations away from many of the sacred sites of their ancestors. In this section of the map, students watch a visualization of native land treaties in Minnesota and read about the important role land acquisition played for white settlers during the period of westward expansion.

Important Takeaways:

1) Land inhabited by the Dakota and Ojibwe (spanning across the area now known as Minnesota) was systematically taken from them through a series of treaties.

2) Native land was reserved for white people through violence and through legal forms of displacement (de facto and de jure segregation)


Section/Group 2
(Urban development)

“On the Lake” up to “Racial Segregation”

Section overview: The area around Minneapolis’ chain of lakes was developing in the late 19th and early 20th-centuries. The area was a hot-bed for what we may now characterize as “proto-gentrification,” meaning that desirable amenities were popping up all throughout the area. However, at the time, there were few established mechanisms of segregation in northern cities, so the early days of the lakes district were relatively integrated. Accessibility on public transit (the streetcar system) and relative affordability of land (universally at that time) made property ownership attainable for black families looking to establish a home.

Important Takeaways:

1) Southwest Minneapolis was an integrated space in the early 20th-century

2) There was no difference in the home making patterns and quality of homes created by white and black residents.

Section/Group 3
(Black Displacement)

“Racial Segregation” through “Pushed Out”
*longest/most dense section

Section overview: black families were pushed out of southwest Minneapolis. First through violence, threats and social pressure. Then, through legal mechanisms: the racial covenant.

Important Takeaways:

1) Black families experienced direct pressure in the form of violence to leave their homes.

2) Residents of color were the direct target of racial covenants, which excluded them from buying property.

Class Discussion

After each group has presented their section, write the key points given by each group on the board, and discuss what the students took away from the activity.

      • As a class piece together a brief history of the areas development:

Who lived in SW MPLS at various times?

Who lives there now?

What were the actions (mechanisms) used to change the residents of this area?

      • Based on the information you collected from this resource, what similarities can you draw between the experience of indigenous peoples and black residents less than a century later? Differences?
        • Why is it important to recognize both the similarities and differences of these experiences? What can we establish by seeing patterns in history? What can be lost by lumping groups together without recognizing their unique experience?
      • How have you learned about this before?
      • I ask students to write down what they have learned about the history of who has lived in the area we now call Minnapolis. I also ask them to write down what else they would like to learn.


Additional Resources

For more information on topics discussed in this lesson and its materials, please see the Further Reading section which contains an expansive bibliography. As well as the Glossary witch is organized by key term and topic, with each entry linking to related content and further reading on the subject.



Common Core Standards


Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.


Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.


Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.


Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.


Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.


Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.




The Mapping Prejudice Curriculum Copyright © by Marguerite Mills. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book