Race-re­lated covenants anger Tow­son res­i­dents

Though un­en­force­able, lan­guage still ex­ists in home deeds

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Ali­son Kneze­vich

Hiteshi Auburn liked the tree-lined streets and sturdy brick homes of Rodgers Forge. She loved how the chil­dren played out­side and walked to school.

But most of all, it was the sense of com­mu­nity that at­tracted her fam­ily to the Tow­son neigh­bor­hood — where, she says, you can’t live long with­out get­ting to know your neigh­bors. So Auburn was dis­turbed to dis­cover a piece of Rodgers Forge his­tory that re­mains in its le­gal records.

“No per­son of any race other than the white race shall use or oc­cupy any build­ing on any lot,” states a lo­cal hous­ing covenant, a doc­u­ment that is at­tached to the deeds of some homes in Rodgers Forge.

The form, from the late 1940s, pro­vides an ex­cep­tion: “This covenant shall not pre­vent oc­cu­pancy by do­mes­tic ser­vants of a dif­fer­ent race domi­ciled with an owner or ten­ant.”

Auburn, a fis­cal ad­min­is­tra­tor for Bal­ti­more County, is an Amer­i­can of In­dian de­scent. When she learned her neigh­bor­hood was built on such agree­ments — and that they’re still part of the le­gal pa­per­work of many of its homes — she was “shocked.”

“Why is it 2017 and this thing is still on the books?” she asked.

Racially re­stric­tive covenants were once

“Why is it 2017 and this thing is still on the books?”

Hiteshi Auburn, Rodgers Forge res­i­dent on racially re­stric­tive covenants

com­mon in Bal­ti­more and across the na­tion. They were used to keep mi­nori­ties from mov­ing into white neigh­bor­hoods.

The Jim Crow-era agree­ments, which barred home­own­ers from sell­ing their prop­er­ties to any­one but white buy­ers, pro­lif­er­ated dur­ing the first half of the 20th cen­tury. The Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that they were legally un­en­force­able. The prac­tice was fi­nally out­lawed by the fed­eral Fair Hous­ing Act of 1968.

But their im­pact per­sists: In many com­mu­ni­ties that re­lied on covenants, aca­demics say, much of the racial seg­re­ga­tion that they were in­tended to en­shrine con­tin­ues to to­day.

“That type of lan­guage shaped Bal­ti­more tremen­dously,” said Lawrence Brown, a pro­fes­sor at Mor­gan State Uni­ver­sity who stud­ies seg­re­ga­tion. “That legacy is still with us.”

Rodgers Forge was de­vel­oped be­gin­ning in the 1930s by the James Keelty Co., on land that was once owned by Johns Hop­kins, the uni­ver­sity and hos­pi­tal bene­fac­tor. The com­mu­nity just north of Bal­ti­more now has about 1,800 house­holds, with most res­i­dents liv­ing in brick rowhomes.

It was listed in 2009 on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places, where it is cited as a “pro­to­typ­i­cal ex­am­ple” of the re­gion’s sub­ur­ban rowhome de­vel­op­ment be­tween the late 1920s and 1950s.

Even though the covenants’ race re­stric­tions are un­en­force­able, Auburn said, they’re still of­fen­sive, and send the wrong mes­sage about her neigh­bor­hood. As vice pres­i­dent of the Rodgers Forge Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion — and the only per­son of color on its board — she plans to in­tro­duce a mo­tion at the as­so­ci­a­tion’s meet­ing Wed­nes­day to ex­plore how the neigh­bor­hood can re­move what she calls “hate speech” from its records.

Auburn and oth­ers say the con­ver­sa­tion is im­por­tant in light of the deadly white su­prem­a­cist rally last month in Char­lottesville, Va., and the con­tin­u­ing de­bate over Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments and im­ages in pub­lic spa­ces.

Ben More­land, 39, a Navy vet­eran who works in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, moved with his fam­ily to Rodgers Forge from New York two years ago. He sup­ports talk­ing about the covenants.

“I don’t see this as some­thing that is di­vi­sive,” he said. “I think it’s im­por­tant to have that di­a­logue.”

More­land and his wife chose Rodgers Forge in part be­cause it is close to the city, but still of­fers some sub­ur­ban ameni­ties. The area has good schools, and taxes are lower than in the city.

More­land learned of the covenants re­cently from Auburn. As an African-Amer­i­can, he said, “it’s like find­ing that we’re still con­sid­ered [three fifths] of a hu­man in the Con­sti­tu­tion. “For me to find out that that was still writ­ten in a covenant in this day and age was re­ally shock­ing.”

Howard Den­ney, a 41-year-old Marine who is black, finds it dif­fi­cult to work up any out­rage about the covenants.

“Maybe be­cause I’ve been through so many in­ci­dents of racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion, I’ve come to just say, ‘You know what? I don’t care,’ ” he said. “I re­ally don’t care about this covenant as much as other peo­ple think I should.”

“I just think he’s be­come numb to it,” said his wife, Sarah, 37, who is white. “To me, it’s very painful to hear my hus­band’s re­ac­tion.”


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