Thursday, May 14, 2009
9:50 PM | Posted by David Boston
Please be warned that this blog post covers racially charged issues in American history, and includes documents from the early 1900s which contain racist language.
In the early 1900s, as suburbanization and white flight from the urban cores was in full swing, restrictive covenants began being drafted. These restrictive covenants basically restricted any buyer of a home within the area that the covenant "protected" from later selling their home to a minority individual or family. Home buyers had to sign restrictive covenants along with their deed if they wanted to buy a house in many suburbs in the early 1900s.
One example of a restrictive deed, drafted by the Pacific Building Company in 1911 for lots in San Diego, California read "This property shall not be sold, leased, rented to or occupied by any person other than one of the Caucasian race." The deed then goes on to state the consequences of violating the restrictions. "It is hereby expressly agreed that in case the foregoing conditions, or any thereof, be broken by the grantee, his heirs, successors or assigns, or legal representatives, this conveyance shall become and be null and void and the title to the premises herein conveyed shall revert to the grantor, and the said grantor, its legal representatives, successors or assigns, shall have the right to reenter upon and possess said premises with their privileges and appurtenances and hold the same forever." Another example of this can be found in the image to the right, which is the racial clause from a title on property in Lake County, Illinois in 1925.
So basically, if you let anyone who wasn't white live in your house after signing a restrictive deed, they took your house away. Legally.
Defenders of these restrictive covenants and deeds would say that they were drafted in an attempt to protect property values. These restrictive covenants and deeds were used in many suburban neighborhoods across America for many years until they started to come under legal review in the 1930s. Here is what one American attorney called as a witness said in 1933 in a court case recalling his discussion with an African-American family and defending his position supporting restrictive covenants in Cook County, Illinois: "That, Mr. ..., is not the point. This is not directed against you individually. This is directed against general occupancy by negroes, because the people in this block know by experience that if negroes come in, their property values will be destroyed, and that is the reason, it is purely a matter of property values."
Restrictive covenants were not only used to restrict minorities from living in the suburbs. They also determined sizes of houses, distance from the streets, sizes of required green open spaces, and a variety of other requirements in detail. So how long were restrictive covenants legally able to plan out the zoning of American suburbs? For almost half the century, actually. The U.S. Supreme Court did not rule against the enforcement of restrictive covenants until the landmark case of Shelley v. Kraemer in 1948. And even after this decision, many restrictive covenants were merely replaced by "neighborhood protective associations" and "corporation contract agreements." You can see the headlines from a liberal newspaper "New World" bringing attention to restrictive covenants in Seattle in 1948 to the left.
It was not until after the civil rights movement of the 1960s that we truly saw the change that America needed. Though racism is far from being a thing of the past in urban housing and development, we have come a very long way in the past 50 years, and that is something we should be very proud of.
Who is this fool?
- David Boston
- I graduated from the University of North Florida with a BA in Political Science, double-minoring in Public Administration and Urban & Metropolitan Studies. Starting in the Fall of 2010, I'll be pursuing a Master's degree in Urban Studies and Planning from the University of Maryland - College Park.