Racial Restriction and Housing Discrimination in the Chicagoland Area

Restrictive Covenants

Racial restrictive covenants are an official legal tactic used across the nation to prevent African Americans and other minoritized racial/ethnic groups from purchasing homes and/or living in residential areas designated as white communities.

In the context of the U.S. legal framework for real estate and property development, a covenant is a legally binding and officially enforceable contract agreed to by property owners and residents. Such covenants are attached to parcels of land (and all properties therein) with varying sizes, from city blocks to whole subdivisions. Covenants are enshrined in the deed of properties in the designated area and imposed on all property buyers, prohibiting the use of such properties for purposes other than those detailed in the covenant.

Racial restrictive covenants (RRCs) therefore, explicitly forbid the sale, transfer, or use of a property to/by a person of a specific racial/ethnic group. From the early twentieth century, RRCs were used to prevent mostly African Americans (but also Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, and Middle-easterners) from purchasing or living in homes located in white neighborhoods or subdivisions covered by the covenants. While the earliest reported RRC dates to 1916, the first RRC in Cook County documented in this study appeared in Evanston in 1923, at the peak of the Great Migration.

By the late 1940s, over 220 subdivisions in Cook County had created or adopted racial restrictive covenants using language suggested by the Chicago Real Estate Board (now called Chicago Association of Realtors). A 1947 RRC map of Chicago shows a widespread use of racial restrictions and zoning for nonresidential purposes to restrict the African American residential districts on the south side of the city, cutting off corridors of expansion and deepening racial/ethnic isolation. While the enforcement of this strategy was legally challenged in 1948 in the Shelley v. Kraemer Supreme Court case, racial restrictive covenants continued for decades, and some did not expire until the 1980s.

African Americans eventually moved into neighborhoods and subdivisions previously encumbered by racial restrictive covenants. The overlapping impact of RRCs and other race-based housing discrimination strategies, such as redlining and blockbusting, remain entrenched in the present-day racial/ethnic segregation in Cook County.

Below is a list of Cook County subdivisions with racial restrictive covenants. Clicking on the image will take you to each subdivision’s page with more information, including the full text of the racial restrictive covenant, demographic data, and recent images