house
A bucolic Buena Vista Street

Roeland Park, KS: The Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-KS) has called upon Kansas Democratic Governor Laura Kelly to issue an executive order for the removal of the vestigial racist covenants contained in property records across the state. The unenforceable covenants contain insulting, degrading and discriminatory language from a bygone era that are hurtful to many homeowners. The organization has taken issue particularly with the small eastern Kansas town of Roeland Park where such discriminatory language still resides in its property records.

Discrimination as delineated in property contracts, restrictions, deeds, plats, homeowner association documents and other official real estate instruments are nothing new in America. They are reflective of the Jim Crow era of the South when developers and municipalities enforced this brand of racial segregation and discrimination of housing to keep neighborhoods, towns and cities White. Racially restrictive covenants historically were used widely in newspaper ads to promote sales of real estate developments usually at a premium to prospective buyers, in assuring them of the “racial purity” of new neighborhoods.

The vitriolic language contained in some property documents recorded in Roeland Park in this lingering racist remnant state that the properties “shall never be conveyed, devised, leased, rented, used, owned or occupied by anyone of ‘Negro blood…’” A similar document from the Buena Vista Heights neighborhood of the city goes even further by expanding on those affected to include anyone “…more-than one fourth of the Semitic race, blood, origin, or extraction,” further describing those affected as “Armenians, Jews, Hebrews, Turks, Persians, Syrians and Arabians.”

Perhaps the most egregious effect of these types of restrictions along with “Redlining” areas in depriving residents of financial services has been the net effect it has had on people of color and low-income residents who have thus been circumscribed to only owning property in poorer and less desirable neighborhoods. Their inability to aggregate familial wealth through home ownership in wealthier and more desirable areas has diminished their capacity to pass that economic benefit on to future generations. These discriminatory factors combined have destined those affected to an endless cycle of poverty by limiting their potential of a fair opportunity to rise into a new socio-economic stratum that has been an upwardly fundamental in elevation to the American middle class.

Thankfully, the racially restrictive covenants were prohibited when Congress passed the 1968 Civil Rights Act that included Title VIII, The Fair Housing Act. Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson the legislation put the full weight of the federal government into its enforcement, even though the Supreme Court had decided in two earlier cases, Hansberry v. Lee in 1940 that overturned such covenants on a technicality, and later in the landmark 1948 case Shelley v. Kraemer, that racially restrictive covenants were unenforceable under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Although these decisions had little practical effect in the matter, the 1968 Civil Rights Act at last prohibited “…discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin in housing sales, rentals, or financing.” The act was further amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act in 1988 to expand upon and to eliminate other forms of discrimination. Nevertheless, the hateful and racist language of a bygone era is still present across the country in many older property records.

Roeland Park officials have established that under the law they are not able to expunge such language from public documents once they have been recorded and affirmed that the complexities of having to do so for its six affected neighborhoods would be both costly and time-consuming. CAIR’s call for an executive order from the governor in effect would allow a remedy to the myriad of complications statewide surrounding the many individual circumstances in these matters by allowing Register of Deeds to redact such language in one sweeping action. To date, more than 21 states have enacted such anti-covenant legislation in various forms for the removal of racially restrictive covenants from property documents.

CAIR-Kansas Board Chairman Moussa Elbayoumy told this reporter that the more preferential solution would be the universal removal process via an executive order being called for by the civil rights organization. “It is unacceptable that racist, discriminatory language continues to be present in property documents,” Elbayoumy said. “Governor Kelly should immediately issue an executive order allowing for the swift removal of such content from property documents in Roeland Park and statewide. Doing so would be a step toward ensuring equal housing opportunities for all citizens.”

Governor Laura Kelly responded to CAIR Kansas’ call for her issuance of an executive order during a NPR interview in February when she stated that she could not issue such an order and that, “The fastest, easiest, most cost-effective way to deal with this would be to have the legislature just do something blanket that would help all of our local communities.”

State Representative Rui Xu (D) whose district includes the city of Roeland Park told this reporter that, “A lot of the cities in my district still have these on the books, and I’m fully in support of whatever we can do to get them off.”

CAIR Chairman Elbayoumy recently disclosed that several members of the House and one Senator are now working on a bill that once the specific language is worked out would be introduced and hopefully passed in this legislative session before the end of the year.

Kansas property owners anxious to see an end to these racist covenants on their property deeds and records will have to wait patiently as the legislative process works its way to a final resolution for the long overdue change so vitally needed in putting an end to such outmoded remnants of a shameful past.

Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and Nuze.ink. He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.

This article first appeared in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January 2022 issue and Pakistan Link on April 15, 2022


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