The Uncostitutional Restrictive Covenants Essay

901 words - 4 pages

In the early 1900s, “restrictive covenants” more specifically racially restrictive covenants were legally enforceable agreements that prohibited landowners from leasing or selling property to minority groups, at that time namely African Americans. The practice of the covenants, private, racially restrictive covenants, originated as a reaction to a court ruling in 1917 “which declared municipally mandated racial zoning unconstitutional . . . leaving the door open for private agreements, such as restrictive covenants, to continue to perpetuate residential segregation” (Boston, n.d.). It was more of a symbolic act than attacking the “discriminatory nature” (Schaefer, 2012, p. 184) of the restrictive covenants, when the Supreme Court found in the 1948 case of Shelley v Kraemer that racially restrictive covenants were unconstitutional. In this particular case, a white couple, the Kraemers lived in a neighborhood in Missouri that was governed by a restrictive covenant. When a black couple moved into their neighborhood, the Kraemers went to the court asking that the covenant be enforced. In a unanimous decision, it was decided, “state courts could not constitutionally prevent the sale of real property to blacks even if that property is covered by a racially restrictive covenant. Standing alone, racially restrictive covenants violate no rights. However, their enforcement by state court injunctions constitutes state action in violation of the 14th Amendment” (Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948). Even though the Supreme Court ruled that the covenants were unenforceable, it was not until 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was passed that it become illegal (Latshaw, 2010). Even though today it is illegal, it might appear that we still have an unspoken covenant if you look around many of our neighborhoods. Today’s version of the restrictive covenants not only includes African Americans, but Hispanics, Asian Americans, as well as others. We find subtle ways to promote this injustice just as we saw in Schaefer, 2012 “Of Race and Risk” (pp. 70-71) when Patricia Williams was seeking a loan to purchase her home. The racist clause “Whites-only” even though legally meaningless, still exists even today on some property deeds. In the 1990s, then Texas governor, George Bush sold his Dallas home, and had to acknowledge that the clause was still a part of the deed on his property (Hutcheson, 1999).
“Sundown towns” were communities that effectively promoted the idea of racially restrictive covenants in a different way. “Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Set on YOU” (Schaefer, 2012, p. 185) was the racial theme that emerged into the idea of “sundown towns.” These towns existed throughout the country and promoted racial discrimination and prejudice. It is hard to imagine these towns in our generation, but I for one lived in one of...

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