Washington Law Review


Yi-Seng Kiang


On May 3, 1948 the Supreme Court of the United States handed down two decisions prohibiting judicial enforcement of racial restrictive covenants on real property. It has been a peculiar feature of American life that residential segregation of designated minority groups from certain prescribed areas is a common practice in all major cities. This policy of racial discrimination at first was enforced by municipal ordinance, beginmng with that of Baltimore in 1910, and quickly followed by Atlanta, Richmond, Louisville, and other cities, until it was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1917. Thereafter restrictive covenants became the principal weapon of enforcing segregation through judicial tribunals. Thirty-two years elapsed before the Supreme Court was finally prepared to take up the constitutional issue of their enforceability by the courts. in this period the racial covenant had been skillfully developed into an insuperable barrier against minorities m their attempt to obtain decent living quarters. At present when the postwar shortage of housing is most acute, it became at once clear how desperate has been the plight of the excluded groups. Now that these private agreements have been denied their force of judicial sanction, it is the purpose of this article to discuss their nature and scope, their legal status before the recent decisions, the reasons for these decisions and their general effects on minorities, and finally certain international aspects of the issues involved.

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