Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Racially Restrictive Covenants in Ypsilanti

Many neighborhoods, especially those with HOAs, have deeds with restrictive covenants that govern the use of the property. Such covenants may, e.g., specify a certain setback as an easement for public utilities, define what constitutes a forbidden nuisance to neighbors, or describe the types of structures that may (or may not) be built on or added to the property.

In 1926 the Supreme Court allowed the explicit use of racially restrictive covenants in land deeds. Subdivisions all over Southeastern Michigan (and elsewhere) wrote such covenants into their deeds, and Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti were no exception. One such example for Ypsilanti may be seen in the 1941 deed for the subdivision of College Heights, just north of Washtenaw and west of the EMU campus. Below is a map of the original development.

The deed to the property contains a number of restrictive covenants. One stipulates that the value of the house built upon a given piece of property must be from $4,000-$6,000 [$59,000 to $88,000 in today's dollars], with specific minimum values for certain sizes of lots. Another forbids all farm animals. One forbids the removal of any earth, sand, or gravel from any lot. The erection of any house, garage, fence, or wall had to be approved by the Subdivision Committee. Restriction #7 pertains to race:

The College Heights deed is dated 1941. Seven years later the Supreme Court in Shelley vs. Kraemer forbade racially restrictive covenants in land deeds. However, there were other means, both widespread and local, of segregating neighborhoods, such as redlining or denying home loans to black Ypsilanti residents. Both practices are related in oral histories of black residents collected by A. P. Marshall and stored in the Ypsilanti Archives.

Such aspects of Ypsilanti history as this restrictive covenant are painful to acknowledge. However, it is important to preserve and be aware of items like these for an honest portrayal of the past.


Dusty D said...

Note: I have not conducted a thorough search of all land deeds in Ypsi to find how widespread this practice was; this College Heights deed is one example. There may or may not be others.

Building Place said...

Washtenaw Club View Subdivision just east of the former Washtenaw Country Club golf course (now "The Polo Fields - Washtenaw") and south of Packard Rd. is another subdivision with similar restrictive covenants in the deeds.

Dusty D said...

Building place, that is very interesting and rang a little bell. Now that you mention it I do recall seeing some sort of old newspaper advertisement for the sub when it was new, and there was some language about it (I don't remember exactly) concerning race. I'll have to find it again in the Archives. Thank you for the information.

cmadler said...

This is a little off topic, but do you have any information about when, or more interestingly, why Virginia Road was renamed Cornell Road and Ainsworth Lane became Oakwood?

Dusty D said...

Hi cmadler, thanks for reading---looked for my "street names" file but I must have misplaced it. I do know where the answer might be in the Archives and will check when I work there this coming Saturday. now I'm curious too!

If I had to guess at gunpoint I'd say that given the squabbles the sub had with the city (was outside city lines but wanted city services, sewer, &c.) the sub named the streets and the city said fuggedaboutit--name whatever you want IN your sub but WE will name our CITY thoroughfares.

Erika said...

Dusty, I am the current president of the College Heights neighborhood association and we are trying to develop a website for the neighborhood. We would like to include a "history" section, but the two of us working on it are rather new to the area. Any suggestions on how to find this info? Thanks. - Erika

Dusty D said...

Hi Erika, thank you for visiting! Probably the best way to begin a history of the sub would be to stop by the Archives in the basement of the Ypsilanti Historical Museum on North Huron and check for any materials there--the folks working there are quite helpful.

One question that I myself have been unable to resolve is why Candy Cane Park is named Candy Cane Park. I think the park creation was an effort by the Kiwanis but that's as far as I've been able to get. I'd love it if you could suss this out!

Are there any old-timers in the neighborhood or neighborhood association that would know about the sub? Do you have an email mailing list for them? They may have other good stories to add to your history (I'm curious now, to hear those stories!)

The county deeds office in AA also has all land deeds filed in the county, but that may be more than you want to wade through.

The sub appears to have been formed in 1941, so a peek at microfilm newspapers from that year (also available at the archives, or at Halle library, second floor) might be helpful.

Best of luck!