“At no time shall said premises or any part thereof or any building erected thereon sold, occupied, let or leased or given to any one of any race other than the Caucasian, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domicile with an owner or tenant.” (This restriction appeared in a deed of the Crawford Realty Company in the office of the Register of Deeds for Cuyahoga County, Cleveland, Ohio. )

The deed restriction above is typical of thousands which are still part of property records in the United States, including Chicago despite the fact that none can be honored by either federal or a state court. Racially restrictive covenants refer to contractual agreements that prohibit the purchase, lease, or occupation of a piece of property by a particular group of people, usually African Americans, Latinos and Asians. Racially restrictive covenants were not only mutual agreements between property owners in a neighborhood not to sell to certain people, but were also agreements enforced through the cooperation of real estate boards and neighborhood associations.These restrictive covenants became common after 1926 after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Corrigan v. Buckley, which validated their use (W. Arnold Jolly, Restrictive Covenants Affecting Land, 2010).

Owners who violated the terms of the covenant risk forfeiting the property. Most covenants “ran with the land” and were legally enforceable on future buyers of the property. In 1948, in four cases where neighbors sought to enjoin sale to and occupancy by non-Caucasians, the Supreme Court ruled that such covenants are not enforceable, and in 1953 the Supreme Court emphasized this ruling by holding that money damages could not be collected from a seller who violated a covenant. (C.H.S. Preston, Restrictive Covenants Affecting Freehold Land, 1976).

Despite the fact that DuSable, a black man, founded the city in the 1780s and fugitive slaves and freedmen established the city’s first black community in the 1840s racial segregation through the use of restrictive covenants well existed in Chicago (Encyclopedia of Chicago). From 1916 (the first wave of the Black migration from southern States) until 1948 (the second wave), racially restrictive covenants were used to keep Chicago’s neighborhoods white.