Other Cities

Race restrictive deed covenants or neighborhood restrictions can be found in most American cities, although their timing, their form, and their language varies by region and by city. Here are some brief sketches of the pattern of race restrictions in other cities.

Austin: Restrictive deed covenants and public zoning ordinances worked hand-in-hand to deepen racial segregation in Austin.  In the first decades of the 20th century, private racial restrictions increasingly isolated the City’s Black and Hispanic population into what is known as East Austin which deepened racial segregation in Austin. In the first decades of the 20th century, private racial restrictions excluded those “of African descent”, the swift to a broader restriction against those ‘not of the Caucasian race’ enabled Austin to employ restrictions against its growing Latino population as well. These private restrictions were buttressed by zoning, which both excluded African Americans and Hispanics from many residential areas and converted much of the property in and around East Austin to industrial use. The lasting impact of the segregation was that African Americans and Hispanics had to deal with obstacles in voting, segregation in housing, schools, and other public facilities. Source: Eliot M. Tretter, “Austin Restricted: Progressivism, Zoning, Private Racial Covenants, and the Making of a Segregated City” (Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, 2012).

Baltimore: Baltimore was an early innovator in racial segregation. In 1910, the Baltimore City Council passed a racial zoning ordinance prohibiting African Americans from moving into majority-white blocks. When the Supreme Court outlawed racial zoning in 1917, developers and homeowners turned to the use of race-restrictive deed covenants to accomplish and sustain segregation. These were employed in the CIty, and in its exclusive suburbs. The Roland Park Company’s Guilford development, for example, prohibited occupancy by “any negro or person of negro extraction.” This company is significant because they spread their ideas to colleges and universities to be taught, as well as to other city developers who then replicated the restrictive agreements. Baltimore’s early history of racial segregation helped strengthen and popularize a culture of restrictions and racial exclusivity in housing, while promoting the belief that blacks devalued property. Source: Paige Glotzer, How the Suburbs Were Segregated: Developers and the Business of Exclusionary Housing, 1890-1960 (Columbia University Press, 2020)

Chicago: Race restrictive covenants were first used in Chicago in 1916 and were widespread by 1947.  Contemporary estimates put the reach of restrictions at between 50 and 80 percent of the city’s residential property base.  Many of Chicago’s restrictive covenants were not set to expire until the 1980s in some cases (although they were unenforceable after 1947 and fully illegal after 1968). Chicago’s race restrictive covenants typically stated that the property “Shall not be occupied by anyone who is not Caucasian.”  They had the effect of drawing a stark color line between north and south Chicago, and between the city of Chicago and its suburbs. Source: “Racial Restriction and Housing Discrimination in the Chicagoland Area,” Digital Chicago (Lake Forest College).

Kansas City: In Kansas City, racial covenants followed a similar pattern as those in St. Louis; one set of restrictions cobbled together by petition in older neighborhoods facing the threat of racial transition; another drafted by subdivision developers to maintain the exclusivity of new developments. The developer J.C. Nichols, whose homes in Kansas City’s “Country Club” district were sold with the restriction that  ‘none of the lots hereby restricted may be conveyed to, used, owned, nor occupied by Negroes as owners or tenants,” played a central role in restricting racial occupancy across much of south Kansas City.  On the Kansas side of the metropolitan area, covenants restricted 96 percent of properties in new subdivisions; on the Missouri side, restrictions reach between two-thirds and three-quarters of subdivision properties.  Source: Kevin Fox Gotham, “Urban Space, Restrictive Covenants and the Origins of Racial Residential Segregation in a US City, 1900-50,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 24:3 (2000).

Milwaukee: Race restrictive covenants were widely used by developers in the Milwaukee suburbs through the 1920s and 1930s. Samples of subdivision deeds and plats show that these agreements were common in the suburbs such as Wauwatosa.  Most of these covenants, at least on paper, ran well past the Shelly v Kraemer decision (1947) into the 1960s and 1970s.  The racial restriction on the George T. Hansen subdivision in south Milwaukee had an expiration date of January 2024. Most covenants stated that people “not of the white/Caucasian race” could not own, lease, or rent the stated properties. Most of the covenants only allowed non-white occupancy for domestic servants.  Source: Lois Quinn, “Racially Restrictive Covenants: The Making of All-White Suburbs in Milwaukee County (UW-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute, 1979).

Minneapolis: In Minneapolis, racial restrictions began in 1910 and proliferated during the 1930s and 1940s. These restrictions were mostly attached to new subdivisions in Minneapolis, such as a development on Lake of the Isles stating that no houses “be conveyed mortgaged or leased to any person or persons of Chinese, Japanese, Moorish, Turkish, Negro, Mongolian, Semitic or African blood or descent.”  The spread of covenants on the east side of Minneapolis relegated virtually all of the City’s small but growing black community to neighborhoods west of the Mississippi River, and effectively eradicated pockets of black occupancy in northeastern g Lake Harriet. Source: Kirsten Delegard et al, Mapping Prejudice (University of Minnesota Libraries).

Oxnard: The city of Oxnard, California was constructed by white planners and laid out in a way that intentionally segregated and disenfranchised its Mexican residents. Oxnard’s covenants primarily focused on Mexican residents who were not immigrants, but were as native to Oxnard as the white residents. Racial restrictions for housing were divided by the railroad tracks; Mexicans to the east and Caucasians to the west. Housing was controlled by deed covenants stating that residents of these houses must be Caucasian unless they are living there as a servant to the Caucasian occupant. Residential segregation, in turn, was reinforced by school segregation, shaping not just residential opportunity but economic opportunity as well. The racial divisions were apparent and had been preserved by members of  the community. In fact, property guidelines which regulated who could purchase to reside on a housing lot in particular areas of town were well-known throughout the city limits. Children growing up in Oxnard were well aware of “other side of the tracks” boundaries which governed their everyday lives and opportunities. Mexican residents felt they were not of the right socioeconomic status to go into certain businesses, the white owners and patrons would not serve them anyway. Racial restrictions on housing in Oxnard, California were neither the beginning nor the end of racism and prejudice within the city’s limits. After Shelley v Kramer made formal restrictions unenforceable, white residents and civic leaders sustained this segregation by other means.  Source: Garcia, David. Strategies of Segregation (University of California Press, 2018). 

St. Louis: In St. Louis, the first racial restrictions were placed in the 1890s, but most were drawn up between 1920 and the early 1940s. The City saw two patterns of restriction: On the north side, surrounding the older African-American neighborhood of “The Ville,” neighborhood restrictions (more than 400 of them) were assembled by petition, with the St. Louis Real Estate Exchange taking the lead. The “uniform restriction agreement” in wide use in St. Louis by the early 1930s sought to “preserve the character of said neighborhood as a desirable place of residence for persons of the Caucasian Race” holding that homeowners could not “erect, maintain, operate, or permit to be erected, maintained or operated any slaughterhouse, junk shop or rag-picking establishment” or “sell, convey, lease, or rent to a negro or negroes.” On the City’s south side, and in the suburbs of St. Louis County, restrictions were larger scale, and imposed by the developers of new subdivisions. By 1945, such restrictions covered nearly a third of all residential properties in the City. Source: Colin Gordon, “Dividing the City: Race Restrictive Covenants and the Architecture of Segregation in St. Louis,” Journal of Urban History (2021); and Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City (PennPress, 2008); and accompanying web resources.

San Francisco: In San Francisco, racial restrictions against Asian Americans developed after the 1906 earthquake. The need for large-scale rebuilding allowed for exclusive developments to be built in the city center, rather than on the suburban fringe. Developers took the opportunity to create white-only suburbs like Presidio Terrace. Presidio Terrace was designed as both an exclusive enclave of white-only residence, and as a means of stemming the Asian American community settlement into the nearby Western Addition. Advertisements for Presidio Terrace promised protection from the “Japanese invasion.” The development’s development’s marketing brochure “Object Lessons in Home Building” promised that “ no lots can be improved, sold or leased for business purposes, and no one but those of the Caucasian race can occupy any building in the Terrace.” Covenants assured white residents of racial homogeneity away from “unruly and disorderly” Japanese neighbors and Chinese laundries. Californian public policy further alienated and disadvantaged Asian Americans. The 1913 and 1920 Alien Land Law Acts excluded Asian immigrants from naturalization and property ownership, severely limiting their legal rights and economic opportunities for generations. These stereotypes and discrimination reflect white America’s broader anti-Asian sentiments and policies that created Japanese internment camps during World War II and continues to harm Asian Americans today. Horiuchi, Lynne. “Object Lessons In Home Building: Racialized Real Estate Marketing In San Francisco.Landscape Journal 26 (2007).

Seattle: In Seattle, racially restrictive covenants were used extensively between the early 1920s and the late 1940s. Through the early 1920s, restrictive agreements—pursued by developers and homeowners–defined a segregated area in central Seattle east of the ship canal. Many restrictions prohibited “Hebrew, Ethiopian, and Malayan” ancestry from residing in the Capital Hill, Queen Anne, and other districts around central Seattle (even “Aryan only” restrictions were in place into the late 1940s). Suburbs to the North, South and West were restricted, confining restricted populations to south and east central Seattle—including the Central District and Chinatown.  Forty years of restrictions dramatically affected Seattle and their impact can still be seen today. Source: Catherine Silva, Enforcing Neighborhood Segregatation in Seattle, Segregated Seattle (Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project).

Shaker Heights: Shaker Heights, Ohio, like many American suburbs developed in the early 1900s, promised an escape from the city to an exclusive, upper-class neighborhood. Developed by the Van Sweringen Company between 1905 and 1912, Shaker Heights used design standards and other restrictions to protect property values. While the developers did not impose explicit racial restrictions, in 1925 they responded to the threat of “social invasion” by adding a clause (Restriction #5) requiring that any potential buyers of a property had to be approved by either the developer or a majority of other owners. Restriction #5 relied upon The Shaker Heights Protective Association, which used an onerous application process and neighborhood votes to weed out undesirable residents. These “undesirable” neighbors, in practice, were mostly African Americans and Jews. A working alliance was forged between African Americans and Jews to challenge the community restriction, which ultimately yielded integration beginning in the 1960s. Today, Shaker Heights boasts a significant level of integration of homeowners of a multitude of ethnic groups. Source: Virginia P. Dawson,  “Protection from Undesirable Neighbors: The Use of Deed Restrictions in Shaker Heights, Ohio.,” Journal of Planning History (2018).

Washington: In Washington D.C., the earliest racial restrictions were established during the early 1900s as the black population of the city was rapidly growing. Restrictive deed covenants were used by developers to prevent the black population from entering the newly expanding subdivisions outside of the city to confine them to substandard living arrangements in the older districts of the city. Starting in the early 1920s, many pre-existing neighborhoods and lots were also restricted by use of African Americans through petition-based covenants. These petitions were often organized by neighborhood associations. The language of these covenants and petitions included phrases such as “ . . . shall not be transferred, occupied, sold to . . . to negros, or anyone having negro blood.” Many of these covenants and petitions were enforced by neighborhood residents well into the late 1950s. Source: Mapping Segregation in Washington DC (Prologue DC, 2017).