The practice of private, racially restrictive covenants in Chicago evolved as a reaction to the Great Migration of Southern blacks and in response to the 1917 Court ruling (Buchanan v. Warley) which declared municipally mandated racial zoning unconstitutional. Buchanan v. Warley was brought forth by a white real estate agent after a black civil rights activist, William Warley, refused to pay full price for the property he had purchased. Warley claimed that the ordinance prohibiting blacks from moving into white neighborhoods made the lot less valuable because he could not actually occupy the property as a resident. In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court found that Louisville’s racial zoning ordinance violated the 14th Amendment’s due protection clause and marked an infringement of contractual freedom because it interfered with private property sales between whites and blacks. While the Buchanan decision marked a victory in the battle against racial segregation, it focused on upholding property rights, not affirming equal protection under the law. Buchanan only applied to legal statues, not private agreements and as a result, racially-restrictive covenants became a common practice (Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60 (1917).

The Great Migration from 1910 to 1960 brought hundreds of thousands of blacks from the southern states (Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, etc.) to Chicago, where we became an urban population. My fore parents created churches, community organizations, important businesses, and great music and literature. African Americans of all classes built community on the South Side of Chicago for decades before the Civil Rights Movements. Their goal was to build a community where blacks could pursue life with the same rights as whites ( Allen H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto (1890-1920).

A typical covenant included the following:

“…hereafter no part of said property or any portion thereof shall be…occupied by ay person not of the Caucasian race, it being intended hereby to restrict the use of said property…against occupancy as owners or tenants of any portion of said property for resident or other purposes by people of the Negro or Mongolian race.” (Sabey, Donald L. Sabey. The Restrictive Covenant in the Control of Land Use. 1999).

The practice of using racial covenants became so socially acceptable that in “1937 a leading magazine of nationwide circulation awarded 10 communities a ‘shield of honor’ for an umbrella of restrictions against the ‘wrong kind of people’. (Understanding Fair Housing,” U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Clearinghouse Publication 42, February 1973). The practice was so widespread that by 1940, 80% of property in Chicago and Los Angeles carried restrictive covenants barring black families (Alexander Kamerling, Restrictive Covenants Under Common and Competition Law. 2007).