Racially restrictive housing covenants are an ugly reminder of a time in this country when white homeowners could legally bar people of different races and faiths from buying or even living in their neighborhoods.

For those unfamiliar with this pernicious form of racism, such covenants — which can be found in property titles across the country — stated in shockingly plain language that the sale of a property was restricted. The first such covenant found in Minneapolis was issued in 1910, and it declared that the property in question "shall not at any time be conveyed, mortgaged or leased to any person or persons of Chinese, Japanese, Moorish, Turkish, Negro, Mongolian or African blood or descent."

Such covenants are long expired and unenforceable but are notoriously hard to excise. Now Minnesota homeowners have a reasonable alternative. A bill recently signed by Gov. Tim Walz will allow them to formally reject the terms of such covenants by filling out a form that would then become a permanent part of the property's abstract.

Rep. Jim Davnie said the bill he and Sen. Jeff Hayden sponsored was necessary because "while the covenants no longer have the force of law, they are still a moral injury to the homeowner." Just as importantly, he added, it raises awareness of the injurious history of racial discrimination in Minnesota housing and gives communities a way to talk about its lasting impact. Both Davnie and Hayden are Minneapolis DFLers.

Much of the groundwork for such discussions is being undertaken by Mapping Prejudice, an effort by researchers and volunteers to create a database of properties with such covenants. So far, the group has found 15,000 properties with racial covenants in Minneapolis alone and hopes to expand its work to Ramsey County soon.

The new law takes effect Aug. 1. Minnesota is only the third state in the country, after California and Washington, to enact such a law.