Recently, the Washington Court of Appeals refused a request from a Spokane owner to strike out racist language from the act of his house. This language specifies that “[n]o race or nationality other than white must use or occupy this property (except those employed as personal by the owner). The purpose of this “racially restrictive pact” was to prevent people of color from owning homes in the Comstock neighborhood and other areas of Spokane with similar restrictions.
Even though this racist restriction has long been illegal, a coalition of Spokane supporters rallied to the lawsuit to suppress the language. They see these outdated racial pacts as “monuments” to American racism and white supremacy. This effort to change property deeds sounds laudable, but it risks overshadowing the broader historical significance of racial pacts and their consequences, which still shape Spokane today.
When developers William Cowles and John McKinley included this language in the deeds of their new residential complex in Comstock in 1953, they most likely knew that the United States Supreme Court had struck down the racial restrictive covenants. just like these five years earlier, in 1948. But Cowles and McKinley included illegal terms in the deeds to send a clear signal to potential buyers: that this neighborhood valued racial segregation and the higher dollar value of homes in white-only neighborhoods. .
When people of color tried to settle in these illegal neighborhoods “only for whites”, neighbors let them know they were not welcome, using verbal hostility and even violence to prevent them. to enter. In 1961, for example, shortly after Frank Hopkins bought a house in northern Spokane (outside areas recognized for African Americans), someone smashed all the windows. Hopkins was deterred and the value of the surrounding houses was maintained.
When people of color tried to settle in these illegal neighborhoods “only for whites”, neighbors let them know they were not welcome, using verbal hostility and even violence to prevent them. to enter.
This coercion represents a pillar of segregation and discrimination that aimed not only to separate, denigrate or even deny civil rights, but also to accumulate and maintain generational wealth in white families. We see further evidence of this in job postings that specified the race (and gender) of applicants, relegating people of color to more arduous, lower paying jobs. Employers claimed this was appropriate given the educational level of non-white applicants who had attended poorly funded schools and also struggled to gain admission to colleges and universities that did not discriminate on the basis of race. or sex.
Even the bans on interracial marriage are a testament to efforts to conserve wealth in white families. Ophelia Paquet, a woman from Tillamook, Oregon, was her family’s main breadwinner. But Paquet lost it all in 1920 when her white husband passed away and the state of Oregon, which prohibited white-native marriages, ceded her marital property to her late husband’s brother. Although Washington has never passed interracial marriage bans, the state’s racial restrictive housing covenants have had a similar effect. And where racial pacts failed, discrimination in lending continued to prevent people of color from purchasing homes that would diversify neighborhoods and allow non-white families to accumulate generational wealth.
This is why the civil rights movements in the 1960s mobilized around the dismantling of the economic inequalities established in multiple areas, including employment, education, credit and housing. Many of us do not remember that the 1963 march on Washington was a march “for Works and Justice. In these areas of economic reform, however, white allies have often become more timid. For them, economic reforms like well-funded public education (including post-secondary education), employment opportunities with fair wages and equal access to home ownership represented changes that could erode their own economic well-being. , including the economic benefits they had inherited.
The effort to remove racist language from housing acts represents a radical change underway in Spokane society since the 1950s, as it firmly rejects the racism of segregation and identifies value in various neighborhoods. But removing this language alone will not change the demographics of Comstock, Rockwood, High Drive, Glenwood, Mount Pleasant, Audubon Terrace and other areas of Spokane.
The real monuments to Cowles and McKinley’s efforts are not found in inert language buried in property deeds but in these neighborhoods, which remain exclusively expensive and white. Spokane must do more than suppress the language of racial alliances. We must actively diversify housing in these neighborhoods, help first-generation homebuyers, and provide credit that will begin to undermine the enduring legacy of American apartheid.
Veta Schlimgen is a historian who lives and works in Spokane.