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.