this section, I use the term Indigenous to refer to the first inhabitants of what is now considered the US. Some of the quotes included use the terms Natives or Indias. You may wonder which one is correct. The answer? All of them. From Native Knowledge 360:
“All of these terms are acceptable. The consensus, however, is that whenever possible, Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name. In the United States, Native American has been widely used but is falling out of favor with some groups, and the terms American Indian or indigenous American are preferred by many Native people.”
In her poem, The Speed of Darkness, Muriel Rukeyser writes:
The universe is made of stories,
not of atoms.
Whenever I think of stories, I think of their value, and I also think of whose stories are being told, being silenced, being honored, being denied. With that in mind, we first turn our attention to the first storytellers of our three cities of focus, including the Monacan, the Anishinaabe, the Choctaw, and the Iroquois. As you read, think about displacement, home, belonging, and how the development of cities is deeply intertwined with a deep, deep history of oppression.
“They used our beliefs against us. And I had an elder one time tell me that we were conquered by our own love. And I believe that.”
“While the death toll varies widely, some experts have suggested that the total Native American population size plummeted by more than 90 percent through war, enslavement, societal disruption and especially widespread epidemic disease, including smallpox and measles.” -Source
You may be wondering: how does the genocide and displacement of Indigenous people relate to urban sociology? It’s about the ways we conceptualize and relate to the land, to place. It’s about how cities were ultimately formed, and who first lived there, first had claim to those places:
“How do we think about the land that we live on? When we think about land, we often see it as a large body that exists to host our needs as people, animals, and plants. It provides us resources that give us nourishment, and in turn we create our own ecosystems that revolve around it. In the ever-evolving conversation on environmentalism, the land is seen as something that must be protected and cared for; otherwise, there will be no more resources left. In Indigenous teachings, the relationship between humans and the land has always been discussed, as Indigenous people hold the land up as both a living being and as a teacher. Living lightly on the land has always been emphasized as a means of minimizing environmental impact and ensuring a continued quality of life for future generations to come.
Looking at the land from an Indigenous perspective means understanding that the land is a living being; this understanding both gives us insight into and increases our awareness of how we treat and interact with the land. From a classroom perspective, using the land as a teacher allows us to breathe life into the maps that we look at, as well as imagine the land that we live on in new and creative ways.” -From The Land You Live On: An Education Guide by Native Land (link provided, not assigned)
Place matters. How land is defined and our very relationship to that land matters–deeply. Ideas of who the land belongs to and who “belongs” is a fundamental aspect how cities have developed and which residents have been most supported in living lives of their choosing.
Who Were the Natives of Detroit? (ERT-5:00 +7:00 podcast–which is really important to listen to because it includes indigenous voices.)
In the last 30 years, more than one million Native people have moved to metropolitan areas. Currently, almost seven out of every 10 US American Indians and Alaska Natives2.8 million peoplelive in or near cities. That number continues to grow. Urban Indians are those indigenous people living in urban centers. As the Annie E. Casey Foundation points out: ” ‘Urban’ is not a kind of Indian. It is an experience, one that most Indian people today have had.” Between 1952 and 1972, 100,000 Indigenous people were recruited (under false pretenses) to participate in the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Voluntary Relocation Program.
To learn more about this program, read the article excerpt: Uprooted-The 1950’s Plan to Erase Indian Country (ERT 10:00)
Part 2. Racially Restrictive Covenants
“During the first half of the twentieth century, real estate developers and public officials used covenants to build what amounted to a hidden system of American apartheid. Unlike segregated bathrooms or watering fountains, racial covenants were largely hidden from the public eye in bound volumes at the county.” -Kirsten Delegard and Kevin Ehrman-Solberg
“By the time that covenants were abolished, the damage was done. And it wasn’t enough simply to ban this kind of discrimination. We needed, as a nation, to address the harm that it did. We needed to acknowledge how racism was embedded in structures and institutions. But we didn’t. So we are still living with the legacies of these discriminatory deeds today in the United States.” -from Mapping Prejudice
What are restrictive covenants?
According to a 1946 Civic Unity Committee publication, racially restrictive covenants were agreements entered into by a group of property owners, sub-division developers, or real estate operators in a given neighborhood, binding them not to sell, lease, rent or otherwise convoy their property to specified groups because of race, creed or color for a definite period unless all agree to the transaction. This means that by law, owners were legally prohibited from selling their home to members of the specific racial group or groups listed in the covenant.
What are examples of the language of restrictive covenants?
hereafter no part of said property or any portion thereof shall beoccupied by ay person not of the Caucasian race, it being intended hereby to restrict the use of said propertyagainst occupancy as owners or tenants of any portion of said property for resident or other purposes by people of the Negro or Mongolian race.
“No lot in said tract shall at any time be lived upon by a person whose blood is not entirely that of the Caucasian race, and for the purpose of this paragraph, no Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Hindu, or any person of the Ethiopian, Indian, or Mongolian races shall be deemed to be Caucasian.”
Hold on. So you are saying that this kind of language was in housing deeds?
A covenant is a legally enforceable contract imposed in a deed upon the buyer of property. Owners who violate the terms of the covenant risk forfeiting the property. Most covenants run with the land and are legally enforceable on future buyers of the property.
Racially restrictive covenants refer to contractual agreements that prohibit the purchase, lease, or occupation of a piece of property by a particular group of people, usually African Americans. Racially restrictive covenants were not only mutual agreements between property owners in a neighborhood not to sell to certain people, but were also agreements enforced through the cooperation of real estate boards and neighborhood associations. Racially restrictive covenants became common after 1926 after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Corrigan v. Buckley, which validated their use. (Source, provided, not assigned)
Wait. You mean the US government knew about this?
Restrictive covenants proved so effective in segregating neighborhoods and stabilizing the property values of white families that they soon became an integral part of the federal governments discriminatory housing practices.
If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes, stated the Federal Housing Administrations influential Underwriting Manual. From 1934 on, the FHA recommended the inclusion of restrictive covenants in the deeds of homes it insured, and instituted a policy known as redlining, refusing to insure homes in African-American neighborhoods.” (Source, provided, not assigned)
How widespread was this?
“The practice of using racial covenants became so socially acceptable that in 1937 a leading magazine of nationwide circulation awarded 10 communities a shield of honor for an umbrella of restrictions against the wrong kind of people. The practice was so widespread that by 1940, 80% of property in Chicago and Los Angeles carried restrictive covenants barring black families.” (Source, provided, not assigned)
This is a lot to take in. What can I read to watch to bring it all together?
* From the South to Compton (6:00)
* This is about LA — but it breaks down what’s happened nationally.
* City Rising (16:00)
* This documentary is part 1 of a 5 part series. It talks about the covenants — and about a range of other forms of housing inequality/exclusion. Pay careful attention to this historical overview for restrictive covenants and other forms of housing discrimination.
* Mapping Segregation in Washington DC (ERT 10:00)
* This is an excellent interactive map — called a story map As you read the story of racially restrictive covenants in DC, the map changes. This a powerful, interactive, visual way of telling this story.
Part 3. Research
To conclude Module 10, we look at land from the perspective of its original inhabitants as well as land from an affordability perspective.
“…using the land as a teacher allows us to breathe life into the maps that we look at, as well as imagine the land that we live on in new and creative ways.”
Spend a little time on this map. What story does it tell about our 3 cities? If you arent quite sure where our cities are on a US map, thats a great first activity. Then explore what you can learn from this map and then reflect on the experience. What stories does this map help to tell? What is not told? What questions does this map bring up for you?
How Much do you Need to Earn to Afford a Modest Apartment in Your State?
This data can be determined by zip code, by county, by state. Check out information for each of our four cities, using the county level data.
1. Imagine you are talking to someone you know and care about — this person has never heard of racially restrictive covenants. Tell them — in your own words — what racially restrictive covenants are, how they impacted communities of color, and conclude by telling this person what you think about racially restrictive covenants. Be sure to include one quotes and one additional source from this module in your answer.
2. Using Native Land and other assigned material: What did you learn about the first inhabitants of the land we live on? Why do you think this material was included in this module? How is the story of genocide and displacement part of urban sociology?