Monday, June 10, 2013

Rose & Brooks on Racially Restrictive Covenants

Carol Rose (Arizona) & Richard Brooks (Yale) have posted an abstract to their book, Saving the Neighborhood: Racially Restrictive Covenants, Law, and Social Norms, on SSRN.  Here's the blurb:

This book examines the interactions between social and legal norms through the troubled story of racially restrictive covenants in American residential communities. Racial covenants emerged in new high-end new developments soon after 1900 and then spread to many middle- and some working-class white neighborhoods. The book argues that these covenants were particularly important in loose-knit urban white communities, which otherwise lacked the social cohesion to maintain segregation. Racial restrictions in those areas coordinated white resistance to integration while signaling minority entrants to keep out. "Norm entrepreneurs" - developers, brokers, and lenders - believed that racial covenants protected housing values, and these actors helped to turn racial restrictions into a general norm in white neighborhoods. In 1948 the Supreme Court ruled in Shelley v. Kraemer that racial covenants were unenforceable by courts, but their influence waned only gradually.

Legal norms shadowed racial restrictions on property from their origins onward. For several decades, proponents and courts steered around both Constitutional and property-law obstacles, but remaining legal weaknesses permitted “norm-busting” individuals and institutions to pick away at racial covenants, bolstering their case with an increasingly sympathetic anti-racist moral message. Even after Shelley and later antidiscrimination laws, however, racial covenants lived on in real estate documents, and for a considerable time they continued to send signals both to white residents and to outsiders. As a concluding coda, the book describes today’s legal efforts to renounce the now-discredited norms of racial covenants where they still lurk in property records.

Steve Clowney

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