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BookList: Racially Restrictive Covenants

February 15, 2022

Photograph shows a procession of African Americans carrying signs for equal rights, integrated schools, decent housing, and an end to bias.
Photograph shows a procession of African Americans carrying signs for equal rights, integrated schools, decent housing, and an end to bias.
February’s featured book list highlights works on racially restrictive covenants and the Shelley v. Kraemer case.

Author: Mary Shelly

Racially restrictive covenants were contracts in deeds to property used to segregate neighborhoods and prevent individuals from being able to buy property because of their race or ethnicity.

Seventy-four years ago, in the case Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948), the U.S. Supreme Court held that using the courts to enforce racially restrictive covenants constitutes state action that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Despite being legally unenforceable (and prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968), many of these restrictive covenants persist in the deeds of homes throughout the country.

Fair housing protest, Seattle, Washington, 1964.  Photograph of Black men, seated on steps of rea... Credit: Seattle Municipal ArchivesSeveral news outlets - including the New York Times and NPR - have recently reported on this issue and have highlighted various community-based projects around the country that are working to find and eliminate or disavow this discriminatory language and educate their communities about the ongoing harms of systemic racism. These projects include Mapping Prejudice at the University of Minnesota, Justice InDeed in Washtenaw County in Michigan, and Segregated Seattle, part of The Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.

In recognition of the work still to be done and to reflect upon the hard work that went into fighting these restrictive covenants in the Shelley v. Kraemer case, we have chosen to highlight a few books from our collection that discuss the Shelley v. Kraemer case and/or racially restrictive covenants more broadly, as well as a few books about Thurgood Marshall who, before serving on the Court himself, served as counsel on one of the cases consolidated in Shelley v. Kraemer.

Books on Restrictive Covenants

Selected Books

Saving the Neighborhood: Racially Restrictive Covenants, Laws, and Social (2013)

Unjust Deeds: The Restrictive Covenant Cases and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement  (2015)

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America (2017)

Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility (2013)

The Truman Court: Law and the Limits of Loyalty (2021) 

Chapter 15: “Shelley v. Kraemer: The Judicial Revolution Begins”

Civil Rights Stories (2008)

Chapter 1: “Shelley v. Kraemer: Racial Liberalism and the U.S. Supreme Court”

Thurgood Marshall: Race, Rights, and the Struggle for a More Perfect Union (2013)

Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1936-1961 (1994)

Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary (1998)