"Iron Ring in Housing"

From The Crisis (NAACP Magazine) 47:7 (July, 1940), 205, 210.

"There is no right more elemental, nor any liberty more fundamental in a democracy than freedom to move where and when you please. It is for this right that the Chicago branch of the N.A.A.C.P is waging a relentless fight for 300,000 colored citizens of the City of Chicago. An immediate barrier to the achievement of this end is the restrictive covenant which, though assuming many forms, has been held legal by the courts on several occasions.

"These covenants, familiar to Negroes in nearly all large cities, are binding agreements among white property owners and real estate operators not to sell, rent, lease or transfer property to Negroes, usually under no circumstances, but especially for purposes of occupancy. In Chicago, it has been estimated that 80 per cent of the city is covered by such agreements and consequently the Negro population has been herded into an area which should contain only one-fourth its number, and families are piled one upon another because of the perilous lack of adquate housing facilities.

"For many years the N.A.A.C.P. has struggled to abolish these unconscionable, yet effective, instruments through the courts, the legislature and through the pressure of mass protest. Today, after much and hard fought litigation in the courts of Illinois, the Chicago branch and a corps of capable attorneys have succeeded in bringing the issue before the supreme court of the United States. There, it is hoped that a clear-cut decision may be rendered on the constitutional question involved (violation of the Fourteenth Amendment) which will render null and void any and all such agreements which are directed against any group because of race, creed or color.

"The medium is the case of Lee vs. Hansberry, et al.. Carl A. Hansberry, former treasurer of the Chicago branch, N.A.A.C.P., bought and occupied a residence which was alleged to be covered by a restrictive covenant. Action was taken against him and the lower courts ousted Hansberry. Though he paid for the property, the court ruled it was to revert back to a former owner and with no compensation for the investment.

"The corps of attorneys are: Irvin C. Mollison, president of the Illinois State Conference, N.A.A.C.P.; Earl B. Dickerson, president of the Cook County Bar Association and Alderman of Chicago's Second ward; Loring B. Moore, assistant attorney general of Illinois; C. Francis Stradford and Truman K. Gibson, Jr. The Branch, under the leadership of President Ira W. Williams, is conducting a drive to meet the necessary financial obligations that are involved in the supreme court case.

"In Chicago, the lack of housing facilities has caused an aggravation of discontent which students have warned is approaching a crisis. The iron ring of restrictive covenants which surrounds the Negro community has prevented its normal expansion in spite of the fact that the colored population has more than doubled in the last two decades. Within the community practically no living units have been built * and few new residences have been made available during the past twelve years."

Rentals Up 50%

"Since the demand so greatly exceeds the supply, rentals for Negroes have steadily jumped upward and today they pay from 25 to 50 per cent higher rent than do whites for comparable residences. This in spite of the fact that Negroes on the whole are in the lowest income group in the city. Unscrupulous landlords have taken supreme advantage of the situation and 'kitchenettes' (one room apartments) are becoming the rule.

"Under conditions such as these it is little wonder that the death rate and the morbidity rate of Negroes is higher than those of whites. Illegitimacy, delinquency and crime find fertile beds for growth. If the restrictive covenants can be lifted a great step will have been made in relieving these dissolute circumstances. Further, a decision based on the constitutional question will affect the practice throughout the country--an important victory indeed." (205)

This WWW page was created by Wendy Plotkin (wendy.plotkin@asu.edu) in 1998 and updated on 1 September 2003.