In the late 1990s, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport bought several tracts of homes and a golf course nearby to make room for a new runway.

But an ominous secret was embedded in the property deeds — discriminatory covenants barring ownership of the property by people of color, Indigenous persons and non-Christians.

On Monday, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which owns MSP, voted to cancel and condemn discriminatory covenants in deeds of properties that have been purchased by the airport over the years.

"While we can't erase any harm discriminatory covenants caused in the years before MAC purchased properties, we can and do condemn such covenants and are taking action to formally render such language null and void," MAC Chair Rick King said, in a statement.

The MAC recently learned that some of the properties it purchased had restrictive discriminatory covenants after being contacted by the group Just Deeds. The coalition includes the University of Minnesota's Mapping Prejudice Project, the Minnesota Association of City Attorneys, title companies, Realtor associations, volunteer attorneys and several cities that help homeowners remove the covenants from their properties, MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan said.

Some 24,000 discriminatory covenants have been identified in Hennepin County by the coalition, including more than 400 properties purchased by the airport.

Many of the covenants were attached to the properties east of Hwy. 77 that were bought by the MAC to make room for a fourth north/south runway. The covenants were never enforced after the MAC bought the properties, which included Rich Acres and the Rich Acres Golf Course.

The decision in the late 1990s to expand came after a yearslong debate on whether to relocate the airport elsewhere in the metro.

Once the decision was made to stay put, the MAC launched a $3.1 billion expansion that involved building the new runway, as well as reconstruction of Terminal 2 and work on the main terminal.

In 2019, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law permitting property owners throughout the state to legally discharge discriminatory covenants.

Beyond condemning the practice on Monday, the MAC directed its legal department to file affidavits with the Hennepin County Recorder's Office to discharge the covenants attached to its properties.

Racial covenants in Twin Cities property records began in 1910 — they were used to bar anyone who wasn't white from purchasing property or owning land. The U.S. Supreme Court found these covenants unenforceable and they became illegal in Minnesota in 1962.

Still, many of the covenants linger in property records. "Discriminatory covenants were an unfortunate part of America's past," King said, "but we can ensure they aren't part of our future."

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752