1948 May 3

Court Invalidates Restrictive Racial Housing Covenants


A traditional form of housing discrimination was to include restrictive covenants in home sale agreements that barred resale of the property to members of certain groups. The practice was widely used against African-Americans and Jews. In Shelley v. Kraemer, decided on this day, the Supreme Court ruled that while the private real estate transaction was not a state action under the Fourteenth Amendment, judicial enforcement of the agreement was, and therefore the covenants could not be enforced. (See the first steps in the case, October 9, 1945.)

Congress finally passed a federal Fair Housing law on April 11, 1968, just a week after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, on April 4, 1968. The Supreme Court affirmed and strengthened the 1968 Fair Housing Act in a crucial decision on June 25, 2015.

The Covenant: “This property shall not be used or occupied by any person or persons except those of the Caucasian race.”

The Court: “The short of the matter is that from the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment until the present, it has been the consistent ruling of this Court that the action of the States to which the Amendment has reference, includes action of state courts and state judicial officials.”

Learn more: John Yinger, Closed Doors, Opportunities Lost: The Continuing Costs of Housing Discrimination (1995)

Learn more about the history of restrictive housing covenants: http://www.bostonfairhousing.org/timeline/1920s1948-Restrictive-Covenants.html

Learn about housing discrimination at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights:

Learn about the history of restrictive covenants in the state of Washington: http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/covenants.htm

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