Sources documenting the existence of restrictive covenants (or just racially discriminatory housing contracts) in the United States (particularly in the North West) during the 1870s?

I'm conducting research about the Black community following the 1874 Chicago fire. Primary sources document significant residential shifts after the city's destruction. To be sure, it seems the beginnings of the "Black Belt" emerged shortly after the '74 fire. Currently, I'm trying to determine whether something similar to restrictive covenants perhaps restricted where Black Chicagoans could or did live at the time. I've looked over Du Bois's 1896 Philadelphia study and a few other Progressive-era texts, but haven't found anything yet. Does anyone have advice about where to start/find sources? Or was there no such contract in existence until the 1920s?

Thank you in advance for your help!

  • Hello Alizarami,

    On the Federal level, there will not be anything in the records for that time period regarding restrictive covenants or other such restrictions. The Federal government did not become involved in housing issues until the First World War and didn't get involved in "red-lining" policies against African Americans until the Great Depression in the 1930s.

    I would suggest a couple of avenues for potential sources of information. Local court records would be one, as it is possible lawsuits over the legality of things like restrictive covenants would have made their way into the legal system. Another avenue are newspapers, especially the African American press. The African American press regularly covered all aspects of illegal and legal injustices against the communities they wrote about. I suspect this matter came up there. Even the white-owned press may cover the matter, especially if lawsuits were filed. Local community newspapers also might cover this when it came up, it might even be mentioned in advertisements for homes being built or sold in newly built communities.

    I hope that this assists you with your research.

    Ray Bottorff Jr
    Research Services Subject Matter Expert (SME) - Civil Rights