Friday, April 12, 2013

Brooks and Rose's "Saving the Neighborhood"

Richard R. W. Brooks and Carol M. Rose have published Saving the Neighborhood: Racially Restrictive Covenants, Law, and Social Norms, with Harvard University Press.  According to HUP,
Saving the Neighborhood tells the charged, still controversial story of the rise and fall of racially restrictive covenants in America, and offers rare insight into the ways legal and social norms reinforce one another, acting with pernicious efficacy to codify and perpetuate intolerance.

The early 1900s saw an unprecedented migration of African Americans leaving the rural South in search of better work and equal citizenship. In reaction, many white communities instituted property agreements—covenants—designed to limit ownership and residency according to race. Restrictive covenants quickly became a powerful legal guarantor of segregation, their authority facing serious challenge only in 1948, when the Supreme Court declared them legally unenforceable in Shelley v. Kraemer. Although the ruling was a shock to courts that had upheld covenants for decades, it failed to end their influence. In this incisive study, Richard Brooks and Carol Rose unpack why.

At root, covenants were social signals. Their greatest use lay in reassuring the white residents that they shared the same goal, while sending a warning to would-be minority entrants: keep out. The authors uncover how loosely knit urban and suburban communities, fearing ethnic mixing or even “tipping,” were fair game to a new class of entrepreneurs who catered to their fears while exacerbating the message encoded in covenants: that black residents threatened white property values. Legal racial covenants expressed and bestowed an aura of legitimacy upon the wish of many white neighborhoods to exclude minorities. Sadly for American race relations, their legacy still lingers.
Blurbs from Robert W. Gordon and Daniel Sharfstein are here; table of contents, here.  Also, Professor Rose has posted an article based on the book, Property Law and the Rise, Life, and Demise of Racially Restrictive Covenants, which appears in Powell on Real Property, ed. Michael Allan Wolf and Richard R. Powell (2013).   Here is the abstract:
The article outlines the ways in which constitutional law and property law engaged in a dialog about white-only racial covenants from their early twentieth-century origins to the middle of the twentieth century and beyond. After a shaky beginning, both constitutional law and property law became relatively permissive about racial covenants by the 1920s. But proponents of racial covenants had to work around property law doctrines — including seemingly arcane doctrines like the Rule Against Perpetuities, disfavor to restraints on alienation, "horizontal privity," and "touch and concern." Moreover, property law weaknesses gave leverage to civil rights opponents of covenants, long before Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), the major constitutional case that made these covenants unenforceable in courts. Even after Shelley's constitutional decision, property law continued to be a contested area for racial covenants, with echoes even today.

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