SPOKANE — Language that once prevented people of color from buying homes in Spokane, Washington, remains in property deeds and county officials say they don’t have authority to remove it, despite homeowner requests.
Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said she is prohibited from removing racist provisions included in deeds, The Spokesman-Review reported .
“Those clauses are absolutely offensive, but the reality is they are our history and they need to remain part of the public record,” Dalton said. “That is what happened. People were hurt. People were damaged. People were restrained from where they had to live. And people really had to fight to nullify those clauses.”
Two homeowners disagree and have asked a local judge to rule that Dalton and the county are wrong in their interpretation of the law. Alex and Sasha May want their deed stripped of language that barred anyone who was not white from buying or living in the home.
Federal and state laws have long made the provision unenforceable but similar covenants remain part of the legal paperwork for thousands of Spokane homes.
“I’m not trying to erase the history of it,” Alex May said. “That’s not my motivation. But if you’re buying a house and that language is there — ‘Oh yeah, that’s just in there don’t worry about it’ — that doesn’t really square with me. If it’s a document we’re using currently, we should remove it.”
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1948 ruled that the racist covenants could not be enforced. Congress in 1968 passed the Fair Housing Act, which outlawed housing discrimination based on “race, color, religion, or national origin.” In 1969, Washington state passed a version of the law.
Dalton said numerous state laws define her authority.
“One of them is we cannot alter a record. I am specifically prohibited from going in and deleting records or text from those records,” she said. “My job is, ensure that those records are maintained in history. We are guaranteeing the preservation of these records.”
Kurtis Robinson, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, said racist covenants should stay part of the historical record.
“We have to embrace that uncomfortable, ugly and yet, at the same time, liberating truth,” he said. “Instead of covering it up, when we take ownership of what we’ve done and where we’ve been, it gives us a platform to own where we’ve been.”
Remembering and explaining injustices is an important part of the “moving forward process,” he said. Stripping home deeds of their “historical truth” buries and ignores the racism of America, Robinson said.
Leaving the covenants in the record and having a community discussion about them will help the country move beyond the injustices people of color have experienced since the country’s founding, Robinson said.