"Hemmed In": The Struggle against Racial Restrictive Covenants and Deed Restrictions in Post-WWII Chicago

By Plotkin, Wendy | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

"Hemmed In": The Struggle against Racial Restrictive Covenants and Deed Restrictions in Post-WWII Chicago


Plotkin, Wendy, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


This article discusses an aspect of Chicago's history of residential segregation that is less well known than others - the flourishing of racial deed restrictions and restrictive covenants in the period from 1900 to 1953. Racially restrictive deed restrictions and covenants were legally enforceable provisions of deeds prohibiting owners from selling or leasing their residences to members of specific racial groups. Although one of the first covenant court cases resulted in a ruling against their constitutionality in California in 1892, in subsequent years, U.S. and state courts ruled that enforcement of covenants was constitutional.1

In 1917, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against municipally mandated racial zoning, a practice that had been adopted in cities across the South, including Baltimore, Richmond, Norfolk, and Louisville. The Court decided in Buchanan v. Warley that this type of state action setting aside sections of the city for the different races violated the Fourteenth Amendment's equal rights protection.2 However, in the North, the ruling spurred the use of covenants, because courts distinguished between the Fourteenth Amendment's applicability to publicly enacted zoning ordinances and the enforcement of privately established racial restrictive covenants.3

Almost a decade later, in 1926, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of covenants again in a Washington, D.C. case. The language in Corrigan v. Buckley led advocates to argue that the Court had effectively acknowledged the constitutionality of covenants. This resulted in state Supreme Courts in Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin and lower courts in Missouri and New York dismissing the issue of constitutionality of covenants. Cities across the United States, especially Chicago, increased their use of these discriminatory instruments.

From 1926 to 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court heard no covenant case. In the 1940 Hansberry v. Lee decision (discussed below), the Court ruled in favor of Chicagoan Carl Hansberry but did not rule on the constitutionality of covenants. Finally, in the 1948 ruling in Shelley V. Kraemer, the Supreme Court ruled that courts could no longer enforce covenants.5

While covenants were only one of many strategies used by Northern whites to fight off racial integration in Northern cities - and were arguably less effective than other means such as violence and outright refusal to sell, rent, or provide real estate financing to African Americans-they are worthy of examination. In some cities, especially Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, covenants attained significant coverage and / or enforcement. In these cities, the dynamics of establishing, enforcing, and resisting covenants involved a complex set of interactions: 1) covenant creation by community organizations in enthusiastic, costly, and time-consuming campaigns; 2) rising awareness of covenants on the part of African Americans and others who refrained from even attempting to acquire housing in covenanted areas; 3) their challenge by African American and other constrained groups through the acquisition and occupancy of covenanted properties; 4) the mobilization of major institutions in the African American community, including life insurance companies and realtors, to assist in challenging covenants; 5) their enforcement by courts, depending on the discretion of individual judges; and 6) the rise of local, state, and national civil rights campaigns in the World War II era to resist the spread of covenants and call for their elimination.

Studying covenants in the 20th Century city offers insight into a range of issues. These include the dynamics of conservative and liberal community organization; the role of race in the residential real estate industry; the institutionalization of racism and resistance to it in the U.S. judiciary at all levels; the growth of the civil rights movement in Northern cities in the 1930s and 1940s; and the personal experiences and responses of people subjected to state-supported discrimination.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Hemmed In": The Struggle against Racial Restrictive Covenants and Deed Restrictions in Post-WWII Chicago
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.