1948 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that covenants prohibiting the sale of real estate to blacks and other minorities were legally unenforceable … things to remember


by Catherine Silva

This sign at the entrance of Innis Arden advertised to all entering the Shoreline subdivision that it was a “restricted community.”

The Communist Party Newspaper, New World, published articles attacking racial restrictive covenants in 1948.

[click to enlarge images]

New World Map Shows Seattle’s “Ghetto,” 1948.

A January 22, 1948 New World column addresses the 1948 court struggles against racial restrictive covenants.

In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 0 that agreements to bar racial minorities from residential areas are discriminatory and cannot be enforced by the courts.


The Ornstein Case

Fact Sheet on Ornstein’s Residential Discrimination and Proposed Plan of action, January 30, 1953.

The questionnaire developed by the Sand Point Methodist Community Church, to reveal resident’s attitudes towards racial restrictive covenants.

Civic Unity Committee Memo summarizing the Ornstein family’s situation.


Housing restriction was publically condoned and enforced.

A Victory Heights plat map in the North Seattle area.

Database of Seattle Restrictive Covenants
Click above to browse nearly 500restrictive covenants and see King County neighborhoods affected by restrictive covenants

W.E. Boeing Neighborhood Developments

A pamphlet cover advertizing the Blue Ridge “restricted” neighborhood as “a beautiful place to build and own your home.” Blue Ridge was one of several neighborhoods developed by Bill and Bertha Boeing.

This Blue Ridge list of “protective restrictions” is included in the same pamphlet that described the Blue Ridge area as “a beautiful place to build and own your home.”


Lake Ridge was developed by the Goodwin Company and sold to the public as a “restricted” community. Click above to see the 1930 promotional brochure for the south Lake Washington neighborhood.

Restrictive covenants were a source of big profits for powerful real estate interests.


Capitol Hill Covenant Campaign

Capitol Hill Racial Restrictive Covenant.

27 property owners signed this 1927 petition to restrict property use on their block.

Plat map of Capitol Hill showing some of the blocks covered by the restrictive covenants filed by homeowners after 1927.

A letter from the Capitol Hill Community Club petitioning Capitol Hill residents to donate the funds necessary to protect Capitol Hill’s racial restrictive covenants.


The Campaign Against Racial Restrictive Covenant

The Christian Friends for Racial Equality (CFRE) Committee Against Discrimination appointed a cemetery committee to combat the problem of cemetery discrimination.

The Civic Unity Committee (CUC) issued this fact sheet on racial restrictive covenants in 1948 to educate others about the abuses of restrictive housing covenants.

This Christian Friends for Racial Equality (CFRE) Resolution to condemn Restrictive Covenants.

Carl Brooks, an outspoken civil rights activist, labor leader, and member of the Communist Party (CP), speaks out against racial restrictive covenants.

Civic Unity Committee (CUC) Meeting minutes from one of several meetings organized to combat racial restrictive covenants.

This January 1948 article from the New World argues that the race bans in Seattle’s restricted housing areas created the “ghetto” in the city.

Katharine I. Grant Pankey’s Report, “Restrictive Covenants in Seattle: A study in Race Relations.”


Windermere racial restrictive covenant.

Because restrictive covenants often pushed black people out of restricted communities, the National Association of Real Estate Boards issued this 1944 report about housing options for “Negroes.”

Realtors sometimes advertised housing developments to Black and Japanese families only to reject them when they applied, as revealed in this 1949 Civic Unity Committee letter.

With the help of the Seattle Urban League, one residential community sought to prevent an elderly Black woman from purchasing a home, all in the name of democracy.

Albert Balch, developer of View Ridge, Wedgwood, and several other areas was notorius for advertising them as “restricted neighborhoods.

Broadmoor: Developed by the Puget Mill Company, Broadmoor banned Jews along with Blacks and Asians. In this 1934 brochure it is called a “Restricted Residential Park”

Laurelhurst plat map.

Richard Ornstein, a Jewish refugee from Austria, contracted to purchase a home for his family in the Sand Point Country Club area of Seattle in late 1952.  Unknown to both Ornstein and the seller, the property’s deed contained a neighborhood-wide restrictive covenant barring the sale or rental of the home to non-Whites and people of Jewish descent.  In spite of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed racial restrictive covenants unenforceable in 1948, Ornstein’s case reveals that this ruling yielded little power over the application of these restrictions on the individual level. Daniel Boone Allison, Head of the Sand Point Country Club Commission, approached the realtor negotiating the sale and announced:  “the community will not have Jews as residents.”1 Over the next several weeks Allison campaigned to stop the sale by both citing the covenant barring the sale of homes to Jews  and by threatening Ornstein with a list of ways intolerant area residents “could” respond to the presence of the Ornstein family in the neighborhood.  Despite the willingness on the part of the home seller, despite the support of civil rights activists, and despite the 1948 court ruling, Ornstein eventually became a victim of Allison’s threats and “made it clear that he [had] no intention of moving” into an area that did not accept his presence. 2

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