A pact through which realtors, developers, and homeowners associations inserted clauses into the deeds of neighborhoods or subdivisions that prohibited the renting or selling of housing to certain races and ethnicities. Covenants helped create and maintain all-white communities across the country

Key Takeaways:


  • Racially restrictive covenants became the most popular method of enforcing segregation after the demise of racial zoning. In Chicago, nearly half of all neighborhoods not already occupied by Black residents were protected by racially restrictive covenants by the 1940s. One estimate states that vietually all new homes built from roughly 1930 onward were protected by racially restrictive covenants.


  • Racially restrictive covenants formed the backbone of federal redlining policies.

Racially restrictive covenants, or private agreements to not lease or sell homes to people of certain ethnic or racial backgrounds, actually predated racial zoning. They appeared in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries in places ranging from California cities to Kansas City, Missouri, to Boston. The pioneering figures behind some of the first developments entirely backed by covenants were Jesse Nichols in Kansas City and E.H. Bouton, developer of the Roland Park neighborhood in Baltimore. Nichols was a prominent member of his local real estate board and the National Association of Real Estate Boards, while Bouton served as the chairman of the NAR’s city planning committee in the late 1910s

Restrictive covenants quickly escalated in popularity during the 1920s for three key reasons. First was the Supreme Court’s decision that ruled racial zoning unconstitutional. Second was the Corrigan v. Buckley (1926) case that ruled racially restrictive covenants were constitutional because they did not violate the 13th or 14th Amendments (they neither enforced servitude nor represented “state action”). The year following Corrigan, MacChesney drafted the NAR’s model restrictive covenant in Chicago for use by developers and realtors across the U.S., and the use of racially restrictive covenants exploded.

Realtors did not stand alone in promoting real estate restrictions. Many banks and levels of government also got on board with them for the first few decades of their existence. However, NAR did stand singularly alone in its defense of covenants when even the U.S. Justice Department filed an amicus brief against them in the Shelley v. Kramer (1948) case that declared covenants illegal. NAR, to the contrary, filed a brief that argued for covenants’ continuation for the sake of maintaining property rights and property values.