“None of the above tract of land is to be ever sold to colored people.”
That is the text of a covenant recorded on a deed dated Nov. 6, 1912 for some land located at the northwest corner of 17th Street and College Avenue in Bloomington, Indiana.
A point in time that lies over a century in the past might seem like ancient history.
But the same parcel is part of a plat that is dated just 77 years ago—June 16, 1946.
The covenant on the plat reads: “The ownership and occupancy of lots and buildings or parts thereof in this addition are forever restricted to members of the white race, except that domestic help, not of the white race may occupy a room in said dwelling during the period of employment.”
Information on racially restrictive covenants on deeds and plats in Monroe County is now within easy reach of anyone with an internet connection.
This past week, Monroe County recorder Amy Swain released a project that maps out racially restrictive covenants on deeds and plats, which the county recorder’s office has unearthed, scanned and made accessible on a web page.
The map is embedded in an explainer website, but can also be accessed through a direct link.
Swain is the newly elected recorder, sworn into office just about six weeks ago. Her statement announcing the release of the map gave credit to the office led by the previous recorder, Eric Schmitz: “[O]f course, the bulk of the work was done during former recorder Eric Schmitz’s administration.”
Schmitz is now deputy recorder for Swain. At the time when most of the work on the mapping project was completed, Ashley Cranor served as deputy recorder, and pushed the project forward. In 2022, Swain prevailed over Cranor in a close Democratic Party primary.
Reached by The B Square late last week, Cranor had this on seeing the finished map: “All I have to say is: Brilliant! Hats off!”
Cranor continued, “I’m pretty confident that I know which staff person really busted his tail there, and that’s Jason Funk. I won’t be surprised someday if he writes a book about it.”
Swain’s statement also singled out Funk for praise, along with the county’s GIS staff: “Jason Funk, Deputy Recorder, and John Baeten, Ph.D., Monroe County GIS Coordinator, have been instrumental in bringing this project to completion.”
The 1946 date on the plat at 17th and College is not the most recent one on a Monroe County deed that has a racially restrictive covenant.
There’s one dated 1965—even though the Shelley v. Kraemer U.S. Supreme Court decision was handed down in 1948. Shelley v. Kraemer held that restrictive covenants in deeds, which prohibit the sale of property to non-Caucasians, violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
The backgrounder the recorder’s office has put together notes that a “repudiation statement” can be filed with the recorder’s office about any piece of property, which would just say that that the restrictive covenant is no longer enforceable and is illegal.
The land at 17th and College is also interesting because of whose names appear on the 1912 transaction—Jacob W. Miller as grantor (seller) and Showers Brother Furniture Factory as grantee (purchaser). Those are the two names that give the nearby park its moniker: Miller-Showers Park.
The explainer that the recorder’s office has put together does not point to the names on the documents as the people who necessarily authored a covenant—it’s a kind of restriction that runs with the land and gets passed along with each property transfer over time.
But the background material provided by the recorder’s office does point out: “Many of these folks were lawyers, businessmen, teachers, state representatives, administrators, quarrymen, lumbermen, and long-established residents of the county.”
Listed as grantor in 14 of the records on the map is Carl Eigenmann, professor of zoology at Indiana University in the 1880s through he early 1910s. The dormitory on the east side of campus is named after him.
In 8 of the 14 records with Eigenmann’s name as grantor,
the grantee is listed as William Lowe Bryan, who was named Indiana University president in 1902. Bryan Park is named after him.
4 thoughts on “Map of racially restrictive covenants released by Monroe County recorder”
Eigenmann, Bryan and Ernest Hiram Lindley are grantor for the original sale of Outlook Addition Lot 1 (corner of Second St. and Ballantine) which also includes a racial covenant.
When Alfred Kinsey sold his first Bloomington house (Lawndale Addition Lot 18/ 615 S. Park) and an unimproved acre of land on East First Street (part of Seminary Lot 102, informally referred to as Fair Acres Lot 2) there were no racial covenants. When he purchased a lot in Sheridan Place from Eigenmann, Schuyler Davidson and William Moenkhaus (all IU professors) the deed included a racial covenant.
The Kinseys bought the lot for their First Street home shortly before the plat for Sheridan Place was approved. The web site linked above presents the data in a sort of odd way. The lot with the KInsey house doesn’t show the transaction, but the irregular shaped parcel to the south (part of the southwest quarter of section 3 range 8 north township 1 west) does.
The transaction for the lot that includes the house is on Page 516 of Book 76. It contains the same exclusion as the irregular plot, which was a subsequent transaction recorded on page 442 of Book 77.
“There’s one dated 1965—even though the Shelley v. Kraemer U.S. Supreme Court decision was handed down in 1948. Shelley v. Kraemer held that restrictive covenants in deeds, which prohibit the sale of property to non-Caucasians, violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.”
As with all things legal, it’s not that straightforward. Richard Rothstein in ‘The Color of Law’: “In 1948 the Court repudiated its 1926 endorsement of restrictive covenants and acknowledged that enforcement by state courts was unconstitutional. It was one thing, the court ruled in Shelley vs. Kraemer, for private individuals to discriminate. But deeds that barred sales to African Americans could be effective only if state courts enforced them by ordering black families to vacate homes purchased in white neighborhoods. Racial covenants’ power depended upon the collaboration of the judicial system and as such violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits state governments from participating in segregation.”
Racial covenants continued to be used nonetheless, and not until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and a subsequent federal appeals court ruling in 1972 was the act of recording these clauses determined to be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.