The Chicago Defender
Saturday, November 16, 1940

 

Hansberry Decision Opens 500 New Homes to Race

Court Holds Covenants Non Existent

Four-Year Old Fight is Settled by Decree of U.S. Tribunal

by Enoc P. Waters Jr.

The iron band of restrictive covenants which has checked the eastward movement of the Race on Chicago's South side was pierced at one point by a decision handed down by the United States Supreme Court Tuesday.

The ruling upheld the contention of Carl Hansberry, prominent South Side [realtor?], and others, that the property owners agreements barring Negroes from residing in an area bounded by Sixtieth and Sixty-third streets, South Parkway and Cottage Grove avenue, are non-existent. The decision makes available to Negroes approximately 300 additional parcels of property.

State Court Overruled

In its action, the national tribunal overruled the Illinois supreme court which has sustained the restrictive covenants. The decision, according to Atty. Earl B. Dickerson, second ward alderman, who represented Hansberry before the federal body, is monumental and has historic significance.

The original suit, insituted in June 1937 was brought by Anna M. Lee, Edward L. Govanus, Esther Govanus, Louise G. Anderson and Kathryn Luttrell against Hansberry and his wife, Nannie, who had purchased property at 6140 Rhodes avenue as a home. Previously, they had been forced to vacate a property at 549 E. Sixtieth street which was protected by a restrictive covenant.

Named with the Hansberrys as defendants were Harry Pace, and the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance company of which he is president; Israel B. Katz, Jay B. Crook, and James J. Burke.

Five Lawyers in Case

In the suit, Hansberry and the others were charged with conspiracy to violate a property owners agreement restricting the transfer of property within the areas to whites only.

A formidable array of attorneys, representing some of the keenest legal minds of the Race, were assembled to defend the case.

They were Attys. C. Francis [Page 3] Stradford, Truman K. Gibson, Jr., Loring B. Moore, Irving C. Mollison and Alderman Dickerson who pleaded the case before both the state and federal supreme courts.

In their defense of the suit, they contended that the agreement was not binding because it failed to fulfill its own requirements that it became effective when signed by 95 per cent of the property holders in the area. They declared that only 54 per cent of the owners had signed the agreement.

Cites Burke vs. Kleiman Case

Realizing the weakness of their position, the plaintiffs shifted ground and cited a decision handed down by Judge Robert Gentzel the validity of the covenants in the Burke vs. Kleiman case which involved a piece of property at 417 East Sixtieth street.

In answer, attorneys representing Hansberry and others, held that the decision of Judge Gentzel had not effect upon subsequent litigation involving other property in the area, but was applicable only to the case under consideration at the time the decision was handed down.

The defendants, however, failed to win substantiation of this contention in subsequent hearings before the circuit court and the state supreme court.

Decision Upholds Defense

In its decision, the United States Supreme Court upheld the arguments of the defendants by declaring that each suit brought against Negroes who mve into restricted areas must be decided on its own merits and that decisions handed down in previous litigation, wuch as the Burke-Kleiman decree in this instance, cannot be cited as an authority.

Little or no opposition to Negroes moving into the area is expected in view of the prohibitive expense in protecting the agreement which it is doubtful can be upheld in a court of law.

Significance of the decision can best be understood, acording [sic] to the defense attorneys when it is understood what would have been the result had the Supreme Court ruled differently.

Tells Significance

Had the Burke vs. Kleiman decision been recognized as binding in this and other similar suits, it would have "been quite easy for so called property owners improvement associations all over the city and elsewhere to bring and file fraudulent and collusive suits, obtain decrees and judgments by stipulation and agreement as was done in the Burke vs. Kleiman case and then four or five years later, after Negroes had commenced to buy property in the neighborhood, come along and plead that the question of the execution and validity of the covenant was res judicata -- that is already decided and incontestable."

Continuing they pointed out that "colored people by this decision have escaped the awful fate of having the courts make judicial legislation for an entire neighborhood by the intricate, complicated and little understood device of res judicata behind which any partial judge may hide with the feeling that the damage being done may not be clearly understood.

"Furthermore, the decision has a broad social significance in that will aid in relieving the housing congestion on the South side of Chicago where most of the colored people reside."


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