Racist deed restrictions expose the dark and sinister methods Whites have used to disenfranchise Black people for decades.
Quick question for any of you homeowners out there. Do you know if you are really wanted in the neighborhood where you purchased your current home and now reside?
This is NOT a trick question, but a real one, so let’s get right to it.
Based off of explicit language that may be found in the deed restrictions for your home, if you are a certain race, the home you purchased could very well be located in a neighborhood where those deed restrictions were in place at a time that forbid you from living there.
These racist and segregated deed restrictions are still alive and well all across this country, across the state of Texas, and right here, locally, in Harris County, Texas.
According to Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth, who was recently elected as the first African American woman to hold this office, the issue regarding these racist and segregated deed restrictions are prevalent all across Harris County as well as the state of Texas. As Harris County Clerk, her office records and maintains property documents which includes deed restrictions.
Hudspeth became aware of an issue in her own backyard regarding an Oak Forest neighborhood homeowner named Nathan Bledsoe who found deed restriction language relative to his home stating that no home in the Oak Forest neighborhood can be owned or occupied “by any person not of the white race” except servants living with their employers.
In other words, Blacks were not allowed in that community, along with any other person of color. Now, in order to change those deed restrictions in the Oak Forest community, at least 75 percent of the homeowners in each section must provide their notarized signature agreeing to any change. Who knows if Bledsoe or any other resident in that community would get the support to make that change happen, considering the fact that many of the homeowners in that community may have been around when these deed restrictions were originally enacted?
Hudspeth says she became deeply aware of how prevalent this issue was across the state of Texas as a whole, when she began monitoring legislation in the Texas State Legislature pertaining to the racist language found in deed restrictions.
Hudspeth is referring to legislation right here in Texas, authored by State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) during the current 87th Legislative Session to address this racist and discriminatory language and to make it easier to remove them from existing deeds. The language in the bill (Senate Bill 30) relates “to the removal of certain discriminatory restrictions and provisions from certain real property records” and all 31 of West’s colleagues in the Senate have supported the bill and it was unanimously passed out of committee recently.
Even Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has made this bill one of his top legislative priorities. But, these racist deed restrictions that have been a part of housing and land discrimination for decades, shine a bright light on a bigger issue that has led to many issues that have negatively impacted the Black community for decades such as redlining, disparities in property values between Black and predominately White and/or affluent neighborhoods, a lack of resources in traditional Black neighborhoods, median net worth, and much more.
One must better understand the history of this form of housing and land discrimination to know how it has negatively impacted Black people in this country for over a century.
According to the research group, Mapping Prejudice, the first racially-restrictive deed surfaced in Minneapolis, MN in 1910, with the deed being conveyed in that transaction by the seller stating what would eventually become a common deed restriction, which was that the “premises shall not at any time be conveyed, mortgaged or leased to any person or persons of Chinese, Japanese, Moorish, Turkish, Negro, Mongolian or African blood or descent.”
The person who sold that house with those deed restrictions, Henry Scott, went on to become the first president of the Seven Oaks Corporation, which was a real estate development company that put that exact same language into thousands of real estate deeds across the city of Minneapolis, thus creating a segregated city and forcing Blacks to live in residentially segregated parts of the city with lesser resources and property values.
Incorporating this discriminatory language into deed restrictions became commonplace and was quickly supported by White public officials. During the 1930s, even federal housing administrators required this language for federally-financed projects and eventually, banks and lenders began to use these deed restrictions to justify their decisions to provide or deny loans to certain neighborhoods, particularly as it related to Black and/or racially-mixed neighborhoods.
In 1948, the Supreme Court made these types of deed restrictions containing racially-centered language unenforceable in 1948, and then in 1968, the U.S. Congress passed the Fair Housing Act to completely ban racial discrimination in deed restrictions.
Sadly, however, the damage has been done and Black people have suffered a great price as a result of the racist language in these deed restrictions and the discriminatory actions that have, for decades, impacted Black people even worse.
Prior to her taking on her role as Harris County Clerk, Hudspeth states that the issue regarding dealing with this racist language in deed restrictions in Texas was addressed legislatively 37 years ago, but those who came before her didn’t go far enough to demand further change.
“An amendment to the Texas Property Code voided discriminatory language on property records and made it legally unenforceable,” said Hudspeth. “As a result, the County Clerk places a seal/notice on all purchased certified copies of property records stating that discriminatory language is voided and unenforceable. I don’t know why my predecessors didn’t ask the legislature for the authority to do more. I just know I’m taking the extra step and supporting legislation that will provide a process to redact the discriminatory language upon formal request from property documents.”
Hudspeth states that Harris County, like all 254 counties in Texas, is a branch of the state and is bound by the Texas Property Code, so addressing the discriminatory language on property records is a statewide issue, which is why her office has met with State leadership and other County Clerk’s to ensure that Senate Bill 30 moves forward and passes.
“I am currently researching what the process will consist of if the law gets passed,” said Hudspeth. “The process that the law addresses seems fairly simple, however the law will present challenges to County Clerk’s Office’s across the state due to the large number of property documents. I’m committed to doing what’s right, so whatever it entails, addressing this matter is long overdue.”
In her role as Harris County Clerk, Hudspeth states that she is continually assessing the work that her office conducts with the goal of providing services in an equitable manner to all the constituents of Harris County. If and when they identify instances where a process needs to be addressed or improved, similar to the discovery of these racist deed restrictions, she states that she is committed to doing what she can within the bounds of her charge to fix it.
“It is disturbing that we are still having to deal with these issues in 2021,” said Hudspeth. “As a citizen and homeowner, I understand the discriminatory provisions on property records are unconstitutional and unenforceable. Still, I believe there is no place for such discriminatory language on documents that are recorded by government agencies or anywhere else in our society. This must change immediately.”
As Americans and as Texans, one can only hope that Sen. West’s bill passes and that more will be done to right the wrongs of the past regarding the disparate impact that these actions and this language has had on Black people across the country and right here in the state of Texas.