BLACK AND WHITE IN BROOKLAND: Mapping Segregation in the Neighborhood

Check the map to see if your house was once restricted.

I’ve written before about the role of racially-restrictive housing covenants in shaping the racial geography of our city. In the early 1900s, Washington DC was still a largely white metropolis. Whites could buy houses and live in any neighborhood they chose. African Americans, on the other hand, were restricted to just a few neighborhoods -- Anacostia, Shaw, and some other enclaves primarily in the NE and SE quadrants. Racially-restrictive housing covenants were one of the tools designed to keep white neighborhoods white and keep others out. 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.

Much of what I know about the history of covenants in this city I gleaned from Prologue DC’s website, Mapping Segregation. It is their long-term public history project that provides a great deal of valuable information  on housing segregation in the city. But it primarily deals with areas to the west of us, so I talked to historian Sarah Shoenfeld about including Brookland in their interactive map. She was willing to include the information, if I did the research. So, using the District’s Recorder of Deeds website, I went through every square in Brookland, noting all the instances of petition covenants. The boundaries I used were Michigan Avenue, 18th Street, Rhode Island Avenue, and the railroad tracks.

© Robert Malesky 2017