Racial Covenants on Real Estate Deeds

A person in a demonstration is holding a sign that says "Everybody vs. Racism"

More than a century ago, a large number of African-Americans began moving from the South to other parts of the country. Dubbed the Great Migration, this changed the makeup and history of the United States in many ways. While seeking an escape from Jim Crow, the migrating African-Americans ran up against other forms of discrimination in the North, Midwest, and West.

One such form was racial covenants on property deeds, forbidding the sale of a home to various groups, typically African-Americans but often other races and religious groups, such as Jews and Asians. In the 1930s, redlining developed throughout the country after the federal government categorized neighborhoods according to desirability.

After decades of court rulings that racist covenants were legal, the Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 1948 case that such racist exclusions violated the Fourteenth Amendment (Shelley v. Kraemer), making it possible to fight such discrimination in the courts. Despite this and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, however, discriminatory practices remain in housing, and many property deeds still contain such covenants.

It can be difficult or impossible to remove racial covenants from property deeds, but a handful of states have passed laws facilitating the removal of such racist covenants. One of those states is Washington, where you can apply to the county to have such language removed.

Russell Jones Real Estate encourages you to look up your property deed and remove any racist covenants that you find. Here are links to the King, Pierce, and Snohomish County webpages for that process:

For more about this topic, see “Institutional Racism” and “Asheville Resolution against Racism” on this blog. See also:

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