Description of Hansberry v. Lee from PURSUIT OF FREEDOM

"Early in 1937, Carl A. Hansberry, a Negro business man, defied the Woodlawn Property Owners' Association by successfully negotiating the purchase of a building at 6140 Rhodes Avenue. At about the same time Harry H. Pace, a prominent Negro attorney and president of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company, purchased a building just east of South Park Way on Sixtieth Street. Anna M. Lee, a white signatory of the restrictive covenant, filed suit against Hansberry and Pace for $100,000. When the circuit court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs for want of equity, the defendants carried their fight to the Supreme Court of Illinois, which also upheld the legality of the restrictive covenant, by a vote of six to one, and ordered confiscation of Hansberry's property.

"In November, 1940, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the decision but did not hold that restrictive covenants are void. It ruled for Hansberry on a legal technicality, that an agreement between two property owners respecting the number of signatories to the restrictive covenant agreement is fraudulent. In outlining the cases, Attorney Irving A. Mollison, who with a group of other lawyers representing the Negro, said, 'The verdict which dismissed the complaint is gratifying, since it was feared that Circuit Judge George F. Bristow, who rendered the original decision, must give the plaintiffs a new trial. This would have required carrying the case to the Supreme Court a second time.

"The Chicago Title and Trust Company still refuses to give a title without a restrictive clause declaring that Negroes are not to live in or use property in the area concerned except as servants; yet, it is estimated that fully one-third of the area now is occupied by Negro tenants." (101-102)

Source: Edgar Bernhard, Ira Latimer, & Harvey O'Connor, (Chicago: Chicago Civil Liberties Committee, 1942).

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------This WWW page was created by Wendy Plotkin ( in 1998 and updated on 1 September 2003.