New Website Maps Out History of Housing Segregation in DC

Articles | November 15 2018

By Lilah Burke

A new website, Mapping Segregation, seeks to illuminate DC’s history of racially restrictive housing covenants from the last century that continue to define the city’s segregation patterns today.

The site is the brainchild of DC historians Mara Cherkasky and Sarah Shoenfeld, founders of Prologue DC, a private historical research firm. They started the mapping project in 2014, and officially debuted their website at an Oct. 24 event at The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum.

Cherkasky and Shoenfeld believe that DC’s modern segregation — a few years ago, FiveThirtyEight found the city to be the nation’s sixth most segregated — can be traced back clearly to the restrictive covenants that real estate developers and white citizens groups used to control neighborhood demographics in first half of the 1900s.

Before they were rendered unenforceable by the Supreme Court in 1948 and illegal in 1968 by the Fair Housing Act, deed covenants between property sellers and buyers specified who was allowed to buy a house the next time it was for sale, generally prohibiting black ownership but sometimes barring Jews as well. For example, when then-Sen. John F. Kennedy bought a house in Georgetown in 1957, a provision in the deed, though unenforceable, specified that the house should not “ever be used or occupied or sold, conveyed, leased, rented, or given to Negroes or any person or persons of the Negro race or blood.” (Read more)