How a discriminatory housing rule is still printed in Mecklenburg County’s books

Discriminatory rules on deeds no longer enforceable, but still on the books

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - As she was working on a home project, Michael Yeary’s neighbor found something that startled her within Mecklenburg County regulations.

“I initially thought it was a joke,” Yeary says.

A deed restriction, still on the books, reads that no one of any race, other than Caucasian, can use or occupy any building, unless they’re a domestic servant.

Yeary lives in Dilworth and isn’t Caucasian. He’s Mexican-American.

“That law is not reflective of the feelings the people on this street have and that’s a luxury,” he says. “But at the same time, I’m not unaware there are places in this very county that that’s not the case.”

To be clear, back in 1948, a judge deemed restrictions like this to be unenforceable. But because of the way county deeds work, and how hard it is to remove lines like this, they’re still there.

“They are still in the deed,” Historian Tom Hanchett says. “And that is a chilling thing.”

Hanchett says despite how bad it looks, all Center City neighborhoods built between 1900 and 1950 have phrasing like this.

“That language is still around,” he says. “It’s not a good thing, but the possibility of changing is very much a part of the history that we make today.”

Hanchett says this rule came after the economic downturn of the 1890’s, and political leaders looking for someone to blame.

“So much of the world around us has been shaped by laws,” he says. “Policies that were intended to advantage some people and disadvantage other people. It’s not something you just get over.”

It’s not easy, he says, to remove this phrasing.

“I think it would require some sort of high-level legislation.”

For Yeary, it’s less about the fact it’s still there, and more about how recently it was an enforceable rule.

“It was not that long ago,” he says. “Anyone in my generation’s grandparents were very much alive during this period.”

He’s hoping talking about it can lead to a step in the right direction.

“Let it upset us,” he says. “But then have that end, and transfer that energy to actually doing something positive, and this will have been for good.”

WBTV contacted the county about this Thursday. They issued a statement in response Friday.

"Regarding the discriminatory language reflected in the Deed Restrictions recorded in Deed Book 1072, Page 583, it is unfortunate that this form of racial discrimination was incorporated in subdivision covenants and are a part of the history of this community. It is a painful fact and an ugly truth of the past . Typically, these racial restrictions can be found in the deed out of a developer from many years ago and include some of our older, well established and popular neighborhoods. However, it is important to be aware that racial restrictive covenants were ruled unconstitutional many years ago.

It is documented that discriminatory deed restrictions were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948 in the case of Shelley v. Kraemer. Subsequently, 20 years later, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 passed. This prohibited the “discrimination of sale, rental, and financing of dwellings and other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, etc. This law officially made the use of racial covenants in housing illegal. The 1968 law went a step further and filled in the gap that Shelley v. Kraemer left, and prohibited restrictive covenants from being upheld both privately and judicially."

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