About the Project

This project, inspired by similar work in Minneapolis and Washington DC, traces the history of racially-restrictive deed covenants and subdivision restrictions in Iowa counties.

The Johnson County research was completed in Spring 2020, by undergraduate researchers working under the direction of Professor Colin Gordon. With the help of the Johnson County Recorders Office we assembled digital deed books from high-resolution scanned images spanning 1910-1950. We then searched the records for words and word stems that might indicate the presence of a racial restriction (i.e.”restr,” “caucasian,” “colored”). Once we identified a restriction, we copied it and recorded its key elements (location, language of restriction). We then followed up at the Recorders Office, pulling plat maps of restrictions and converting legal descriptions into addresses. This enabled us to map the full extent, and timing, of racial restrictions in Johnson County. The Johnson County research teams was Gabe Bacille, Dune Carter, Colin Gordon, Colton Herrick, Daniel Langholz, Jack Lauer, and Keiran Reynolds.

The Black Hawk County research was completed in Spring 2021. With the help of Black Hawk County Recorder Sandie Smith, we identified race restrictions in the Recorder’s Deed Records, Miscellaneous Records, and Plat Books. Since the records were not searchable, we relied on Plat book notations and the Miscellaneous Records index to find the restrictions. Restrictions were mapped using the legal description field in the current Recorders’ database. The Black Hawk County research team was Brayden Adcock, Matt Bartholomew, Kate Dennis, Tyler Dolinar, Carson Frazee, Colin Gordon, Cori Hoffman, Emily Kehoe, Cassidy Kengott, Christopher Marriott, Charlotte Stevens, Daniel Welsh, and Hannah Wegner.

Special thanks to Johnson County Recorder Kim Painter, Black Hawk County Recorder, Sandie Smith (and their staff) for their help and cooperation; Kirsten Delegard and Kevin Ehrman-Solberg of the Minneapolis-based Mapping Prejudice project for inspiration and advice; Richard Carlson of the Office of the State Archaeologist for sharing his work with the manuscript census records; and Nikki White and Jay Bowen of the University of Iowa Digital Studio for mapping and web support.

All inquiries: Colin Gordon, colin-gordon@uiowa.edu