Restrictive Covenants


In addition to extolling the numerous virtues of houses in Glover Park, developers of the new neighborhood reassured prospective buyers that “restrictive standards are steadfastly maintained.”



Promotional brochure, circa 1930



Promotional brochure, circa 1930


While restrictive standards were generally understood to refer to an obligation imposed on the buyer of real estate, and enforceable on subsequent buyers, to refrain from certain actions,––such as keeping or slaughtering livestock, operating a junkyard, or selling liquor––that might threaten property values of his neighbors, the particular restrictive standard alluded to in early Glover Park promotional material––and in similar literature in countless other American municipalities––was racial.

And while it might have been couched in euphemisms like “undesirable encroachment” in that literature, it was only too plainly stated in the paperwork that accompanied the transaction, which stipulated that the property “shall never be rented, leased, sold, transferred or conveyed unto” one or more categories of person––most often, as in the document below, “any negro or colored person or any person of colored extraction”.



Restrictive covenant, title insurance policy, 1964.Certification of title insurance (1964), for 2318 Huidekoper Place NW.  (Contributed by Robert and Virginia Mead, 1994.)


Information at indicates that 2400 Tunlaw Road, 2411 and 2242 Observatory Place, all contained racial restrictions, and suggests that such restrictions were part of all transactions in the original Observatory Heights subdivision of 1909.

(Prior to that there are more likely to have been tacit understandings with the same effect as explicit racial covenants. “Moreover, fragmentary and incomplete evidence does seem to indicate that a variety of groups, ranging from white property-owners and neighborhood associations to real estate agents and bankers, conspired to limit certain neighborhoods to white residents on the last twenty years of the nineteenth century.”  James Borchert, Alley Life in Washington: Family, Community, Religion, and Folklife in the City, 1850- 1970 (1980), p.7, citing Thomas Johnson, “City on the Hill”, and Constance Green, Secret City.)

That this subdivision––later subdivided by the developers of Glover Park––was when and where the racial covenant was introduced appears to be confirmed in a later news item. “Charles E. Cooley and William O. Cooley’s subdivision of lots in square numbered thirteen hundred and one (1301)…said lot [1029]…shall never be sold, rented, leased, transferred or conveyed to, nor shall the same be occupied by any negro or colored person or person of negro blood; said covenant to run for fifty years from October 31, 1909.” (“Trustee’s Sale of Valuable Improved Real Estate Known As Premises No. 3735 Benton Street Northwest”, Evening Star, June 2, 1931, p.36).



Post Script

The Glover Park Citizens Association was incorporated in 1932; that its membership was entirely white may be taken as a given. Nonetheless, in 1952 it was deemed prudent to augment the standard language of the GPCA’s Articles of Incorporation, restricting membership to “Caucasians”, with an additional restriction against “any person who is a member of any organization designated as “subversive” by the Attorney General of the United States, or who refuses to answer in the negative the question, “Are you a Communist?” “
(In 1967 the Articles of Incorporation were revised, and both the longstanding racial restriction––and the more recent political restrictions––to membership quietly disappeared.)



Articles of Incorporation, Glover Park Citizens Association, 1952.  (Contributed by Robert and Virginia Mead, 1994.)


Although the Supreme Court ruled them unenforceable in 1948, racial covenants persisted in the record of land transactions, and remained effective deterrents to integration until 1972, when the U.S. Court of Appeals held that the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited the recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia from accepting documents that contained them.


“Covenants incorporated in private conveyances of real estate in the District of Columbia which forbid the rental, lease, sale, transfer, or conveyance of the land to any Negro are valid, but their enforcement by the courts of the District of Columbia is prohibited by R.S. § 1978 guaranteeing to all citizens of the United States equal rights to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.” (Hurd v. Hodge, 1948)


“Appellants, a group of District of Columbia residents representing the class of homeowners whose property is burdened by racial covenants, instituted this suit to enjoin the Recorder of Deeds from accepting such covenants for filing in the future and to require the Recorder to affix a sticker on each existing liber volume stating that restrictive covenants found therein are null and void. They also asked for an injunction preventing the Recorder from providing copies of instruments on file unless a similar notice is attached to the copies.” (Mayers v. S. Ridley, 1972)



For a detailed account of racial covenants in a typical Washington neighborhood:Mara Cherkasky, “For Sale to Colored: Racial Change on S Street, NW,” Washington History 8, no.2 (1996-97)

Sarah Jane Shoenfeld and Mara Cherkasky, “A Strictly White Residential Section: The Rise and Demise of Racially Restrictive Covenants in Bloomingdale”, Washington History, Spring 2017, Volume 29, Number 1, pp. 24-41





Carlton Fletcher

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