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Chippewa Valley Museum uncovers documents showing housing discrimination

Published: Feb. 26, 2021 at 5:23 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - As we recognize February as Black History Month, The Chippewa Valley Museum is remembering some incidents of discrimination right here in Eau Claire. Local leaders are encouraging people to educate themselves on this dark past.

To understand where we are and where we got to go, we have to understand where we came from … in 1940 there were 15 African Americans living in the entire county, nine were in the city, and by then Eau Claire had a population of 40,000,” said Executive Director of the Chippewa Valley Museum, Carrie Ronnander.

Ronnander says information has been uncovered recently about examples of discrimination specifically coming out of Eau Claire’s Third Ward and East Side Hill neighborhoods.

“Restrictive covenants as a way to control the neighborhood basically, were pretty common throughout the North, really after the 20th century.”

Covenants would limit how close the homes could be, ban billboards, and prohibit black families from buying or renting homes. As retired UW Eau Claire Professor Jim Oberly explains, these findings are unfortunate but hardly shocking.

“It’s painful to see those documents isn’t it … it wasn’t until 1968 that congress said it is not legal to discriminate on the basis of race on housing sales or rentals and Wisconsin has a long history of struggle over that,” Oberly said.

Both have seen the lasting effects of these covenants in their studies.

“There’s a long intergeneration hurt, economic hurt of people being restricted where they could buy, paying more for less in return and not getting to go where they wanted to,” said Oberly.

Part of the solution, as Ronnander said, is in learning about the past. Both historians encourage people to think about the history behind the place they call home more often, as they believe there is much more to be uncovered.

Uncovering the history behind these restrictive covenants is not easy, according to both local historians. Documents like the one recently found by the museum can be discovered by visiting your local courthouse.

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