BLACK AND WHITE IN BROOKLAND: This is What a Racial Housing Covenant Looks Like.

When I was researching my last post on the oldest remaining pre-subdivision homes in the Brookland area, I came across something I want to share. One of those old homes was 1525 Kearny Street NE. I went to the DC Recorder of Deeds website to research the address and discovered that in 1933 almost every house on that block of Kearny between 15th and 16th had signed a housing covenant to keep out African American residents.


I’ve posted about racially-restrictive housing covenants before, but hadn’t read the full text of one in all its cold, legalistic phraseology. Covenants were a blatantly discriminatory practice, a tool of de facto segregation, used primarily against African Americans, but also against Jews, Armenians, Mexicans and others who didn’t fit the white vision of the nation’s capital. There were two types of covenants, those written into a home's deed by the builders/developers, and those that used petitions, where neighbors gathered signatures to restrict an entire block, or multiple blocks. That’s what was used on the 1500 block of Kearny Street. 

All the petition covenants I’ve looked at use the same wording for a rationale. Keeping non-whites out was for the “mutual benefit” of the neighbors and the “best interests” of the community, and was a way to “improve and…further the interests” of the neighborhood. The covenants often ran for 25 years, sometimes less, and made it very clear what was not allowed: “No part of the land…shall ever be used or occupied by, or sold, conveyed, leased, rented, or given to negroes or any person or persons of the negro race or blood.” 

© Robert Malesky 2017