in Washington DC
in Washington DC
From Restrictive Covenants
to Racial Steering
A Special Exhibit on
the Fight for Fair Housing in Washington DC
Legal Challenges to Racially Restrictive Covenants
Race and Real Estate in Mid-Century DC: The Neighbors Inc. Records
This exhibit was launched in 2018 to mark the anniversaries of several milestones in the history of
June 1958. DC residents organized Neighbors, Inc. to combat racial steering and white flight.
This special exhibit has three components.
The Campaign Against Covenants: A Tour of Bloomingdale’s Racial Divide is a guide to key sites in the history of black homeseekers’ efforts to purchase housing restricted to whites. Discover why Bloomingdale’s premier architectural corridor was also a racial barrier, and how civil rights attorneys chipped away at this dividing line in the 1920s–40's. The tour is available in the DC Historic Sites mobile app, which can be downloaded for iOS and Android.
Legal Challenges to Racially Restrictive Covenants maps more than 40 properties that were the subject of lawsuits over the right to freely buy, rent, or convey property. Learn why DC's Bloomingdale neighborhood was central to the NAACP’s national campaign to abolish racial covenants.
Race and Real Estate in Mid-Century DC: The Neighbors, Inc. Records offers a selection of documents that pointedly illustrate how real estate practices combined with other discriminatory policies to facilitate DC’s racial transformation in the 1950s and ‘60s. Most of these come from the DC Public Library.
Restricted Housing and Racial Change, 1940-1970
Please note: Covenants mapped since May 2021 are not yet visible above, but are shown here.
(Note that the absence of a covenant on a lot does not necessarily mean there wasn’t one. If some
lots in a square had covenants, it is likely that most or all lots had them, but the deeds with those covenants have yet to be found. In addition, a square that shows no covenants at all may be among the many that remain to be surveyed.)
About the Project
Mapping Segregation in Washington DC reveals the profound role of race in shaping the nation's capital during the first half of the 20th century.
Racially restrictive covenants—which barred the conveyance of property to African Americans—were used by real estate developers and White citizens associations to create and maintain racial barriers. Upheld by the courts, covenants assigned value to housing and to entire neighborhoods based on the race of their occupants, and made residential segregation the norm. Federal policy and local zoning codes served to institutionalize segregation and the displacement of Black residents. As shown in this project’s story maps, segregated housing projects, schools, and playgrounds also helped create exclusively White neighborhoods and concentrate Black residents in areas that were older and overcrowded or remote and less developed.
Although eventually outlawed, racial covenants had a lasting imprint on the city. Their association of Whiteness with higher property values led to decades of disinvestment in areas where most Black residents lived. Their legacy remains visible in the unequal distribution and quality of public resources such as parks, hospitals, and grocery stores and in the persistence of segregated neighborhoods and schools. Finally, by barring Black access to wealth-building through real estate, covenants are behind today’s vast racial wealth gap in DC. By revealing the deliberate harm inflicted on Black Washingtonians via the use and enforcement of racial covenants and racist land use policies, this project is meant, in part, to serve as a resource for redress.
Mapping Segregation is a resource for historians, activists, educators, students, and journalists, and provides essential context for conversations around race and gentrification in DC. The project's maps unveil historical patterns that would otherwise remain invisible and largely unknown. The ongoing, lot-by-lot documentation of racial covenants is set in the context of DC's demographic transformation over the course of several decades. Primary documents, archival news clippings, photographs, and oral testimony also contribute to the stories these maps tell.
(Note that the absence of a covenant on the maps does not necessarily mean there wasn’t one. If some lots in a square had covenants, chances are that most or all lots had them but the deeds containing them have yet to be found. In addition, a square that shows no covenants at all may be one of the many that remain to be surveyed.)
Conceived by historians Mara Cherkasky and Sarah Jane Shoenfeld, of Prologue DC, and GIS specialist Brian Kraft, this project has received funding from Humanities DC, the DC Preservation League, and the National Park Service. Kevin Ehrman-Solberg, Michael Corey and Bliss Cartwright provided GIS and data support. Other supporters include the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., All Souls Housing Corporation, the Military Road School Preservation Trust, George Washington University's Center for Washington Area Studies, and Neighbors, Inc.
This website was produced with assistance from the Historic Preservation Fund, administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.