The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) 2021 Freedom of Information awards honor the partnership of Mapping Prejudice & Hennepin County and also the directors of Minnesota House and Senate information services

Public is invited to a virtual award ceremony featuring a presentation on the Mapping Prejudice Project.

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) is pleased to announce 

that two teams will receive this year’s John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award: 

The Mapping Prejudice Project and Hennepin County, working in partnership, documented the widespread use of racial covenants in property deeds restricting ownership to Caucasians from 1910 to 1955. The Project raised awareness of deep-seated past prejudices and led to significant changes in public policy. Project leaders, based at the University of Minnesota, and thousands of volunteers used a wide range of technology to extract data from more than one million scanned deed images and make the findings publicly available via maps and other resources.  “It was shocking for people to see the extensive use of covenants and read phrases like . . . ‘said premises shall never be occupied by a colored person or for any immoral use’,” wrote Will Craig and Steve Brandt in nominating the Project for this award. Other covenants offered explicit lists of those to be excluded – for example, “premises 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.” Mapping Prejudice staff has made 300 public presentations, and its website attracted nearly 200,000 unique visitors. Strong public response included a state law enabling homeowners to legally discharge prejudicial language from their property records. Now, local governments across Hennepin County are taking steps to make it easier for owners to learn about covenants. The Project has expanded to Ramsey County and beyond. As the eyes of the world turned to Minneapolis in May of 2020 following the killing of George Floyd, national media organizations drew on the Project’s maps and contextual historical framework to help foster understanding of the factors leading to the ensuing social movement.  

Barry LaGrave, Director of Minnesota House Public Information Services, and Steve Senyk, Director of Minnesota Senate Media Services, made significant contributions to open government in Minnesota by leading their respective offices to provide legislative information as the pandemic forced reductions in physical public access to state government. In 2020, the state House and Senate adopted rules to allow for remote hearings. These two directors of non-partisan legislative offices quickly adapted during the middle of the 2020 session, making it possible to record and process such meetings. Their challenge demanded scrambling to add resources, including hardware, staff, and additional contracted resources. “The past year has required quick thinking, sudden adaptations, creativity, attention to detail, teamwork, and expanded infrastructure, all of which Barry and Steve brought to bear in their work,” wrote staffers of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library in nominating LaGrave and Senyk for this award. “As the 2021 legislative session approached, both media offices upped their game and increased the streams available on the Internet… to address the committee structures that had been put in place to better adapt to the realities of COVID-19 and remote committee hearings.” Beyond timely public access to the workings of Minnesota government, those efforts also led to audio and visual files that are archived for use by legislative researchers, the media and the public. 

Award ceremony: When: Monday, March 15th, 7 pmHow to join: The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Please use this link to register: