Marin County has received an award for its Restrictive Covenant Project, which has redacted racist restrictions in real estate documents. Though the restrictions haven’t been lawful since the 1960s, their indelible mark on deeds, paperwork and the fabric of the county’s racial landscape has remained.

The California State Association of Counties bestowed the Challenge Award to Marin County’s Office of the Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk for the project.

“We’re extremely grateful to receive this award and want to extend appreciation to all those who got us on this path,” said County Assessor-Recorder-Clerk Shelly Scott.

Marin County took a cue from Hennepin County, Minnesota, which launched its own Mapping Prejudice Project in 2016 and began redacting the racist covenants in 2019.

“These covenants, combined with redlining and predatory lending practices, created long-reaching disparities for communities of color, limited opportunities for home ownership, restricted access to resources in employment, health, education and transportation, and exacerbated the racial wealth gap,” reads the Hennepin County website.

“Learning more about institutionalized racism and seeing Minnesota’s redlining map really moved me and I thought we needed to do it here,” said Scott in a statement released by Marin County.

About 4,500 homes have been identified by the county as containing paperwork with racial covenants.

When Americans think of our country’s distressing history with racial segregation, most people think of the South. Indeed, the lives of people living under Jim Crow led to the Great Migration, one of the nation’s largest movements of people from roughly 1910 through the 1970s. People of color left their homes in in the South and ventured north and west in search of more equitable housing and job opportunities.

But when Black people came to places like California, Illinois or Pennsylvania, they were met with many of the same barriers. Isabel Wilkerson outlined this part of U.S. history in her groundbreaking book “The Warmth of Other Suns,” in which she profiles a man who moved out west to California and was confronted with racial covenants and redlining despite the fact that he was a physician.

California’s redlining persisted up until 1968’s federal Fair Housing Act, though its impacts have had a lasting impact on communities of color to this day.

Broadly speaking, redlining dictated where Black families and other people of color could purchase or rent property. For example, West Oakland was at one time largely African American because residents there were barred from purchasing or renting homes in white neighborhoods.

Marin County created a video to educate the community about the history and significance of redlining and other barriers in the county and to describe the Restrictive Covenant Project.

YouTube video

“Racially restrictive covenants are the primary driver for why we see such residential and community segregation today,” says Supervisor Katie Rice in the video.

The video begins with an example of what a racial covenant looked like in Marin County.
“Hereafter no part of said property or any portion thereof shall be… occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race, it being intended hereby to restrict the use of said property… against occupancy as owners or tenants of any portion of said property for resident or other purposes by people of the Negro or Mongolian race.”

Marin City has the largest population of Black residents in the county and there’s a reason for that. During World War II, African Americans came from Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi to build war ships there. Like those featured in Wilkerson’s book, those men and women came to California for better lives but found themselves forced to live in one place — Marin City — through redlining and segregation.

Marin County continues to have disparities along racial lines. According to the Marin County Race Equity Planning Committee, as of 2022, the county came in second in California for being the most racially disparate across several indicators such as housing, health, economic opportunity and education. The committee found that people of color there have disproportionate negative outcomes for life expectancy, health, housing, wealth, graduation rates and incarceration rates.

Rice says it is important for residents to understand the roots of these inequities.
“We want residents today to have a much clearer understanding of how racially restrictive covenants impacted the color of our neighborhoods today and the fact that Marin County is one of the most segregated counties in the state, if not the nation,” she said.

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.