Susan Haigh, Associated Press, July 28, 2021
Fred Ware and his son were researching the history of the home he’s owned in the Hartford suburbs since 1950 when they discovered something far uglier than they expected.
Tucked in a list of rules on the home’s original deed from the developer was a provision that said: “No persons of any race other than the white race shall use or occupy any building or any lot,” with the exception of “domestic servants of a different race.”
“He was stunned and I was stunned. This is the house I grew up in and is the only home my dad has ever owned,” David Ware said.
While the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948 ruled such racially restrictive housing covenants unenforceable, many remain on paper today and can be difficult to remove. In Connecticut, David Ware asked legislators to help homeowners strike the language, and a bill ultimately was signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, in July.
Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP, said the law’s passage is bittersweet because housing discrimination remains an enduring problem.
“We’re glad that the law is being passed, but the practices are still being carried out today. We see gentrification going on all over America. So housing is a huge issue and this law doesn’t eradicate behavior,” he said.
Ten states this year have passed or are considering bills concerning restrictive covenants based upon race or religion, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Besides Connecticut, the list includes California, Indiana, Ohio, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Nebraska, New York and North Carolina. In 2020, three states — Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia — passed legislation concerning covenants. In some cases, the bills update earlier anti-discrimination laws already on the books.
The restrictive language was written into property documents in communities throughout the U.S. during the early- to mid-20th century amid the Great Migration, which saw millions of African Americans move from the rural South to the urban Northeast, Midwest and West.
Several bills concerning covenants are currently before the California legislature, which previously passed legislation allowing property owners to address restrictive covenants. One bill would redact “any illegal and offensive exclusionary covenants in the property records” as part of each sale before they reach the buyer.
In Minnesota, where thousands of racial covenants have been discovered by a team of historians, activists, geographers and community members, a law was signed in 2019 that allows residents to fill out a form seeking to clarify that the restrictive covenant is ineffective, and subsequently discharge it from the property.
Since passage of the law, a group called Just Deeds has provided free legal and title service to help more than 100 homeowners discharge covenants from their properties. A group of neighbors in Minneapolis went so far as to have lawn signs printed that say, “This home renounced its racial covenant.” The Minneapolis Start-Tribune reported that some are planning to support other initiatives to close the home ownership gap between whites and minorities, support reparations legislation and make micro-reparation payments directly to Black residents of Minnesota.
“Renouncing the covenants is really the first step,” neighbor Eric Magnuson told the newspaper.