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Spokane Historian, Attorney Work To Remove Discriminatory Covenants From Deeds

Washington State Archives, Eastern Region Branch/Logan Camporeale

A few thousand Spokane residents celebrated Martin Luther King Day with speeches and a downtown march. Others marked the day at Gonzaga University with a look back at Spokane’s racial past. That includes a history of housing covenants from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s designed to keep blacks and other non-whites from living in certain neighborhoods.

When historian and activist Logan Camporeale was a graduate student at Eastern Washington University, he worked at the Eastern Regional Branch of the state Archives in Cheney. It was there, while working on a request from a patron, that he stumbled upon some old Spokane city and county housing covenants.

“A covenant is a property document that is often attached to a deed or a plat that sets specific rules that are permanent and run with the land. They are usually for a group of homes, often an entire addition or a neighborhood,” Camporeale said.

He says covenants were often used as mechanisms to ensure that cities and neighborhoods remained segregated. He says he found three dozen such documents filed in Spokane County between 1939 and 1955.

In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such covenants were illegal. But, to this day, he says, many of the covenants are still attached to the deeds to homes in some Spokane neighborhoods. This despite the Washington legislature voting to void and remove those covenants, first in 1969, then in 1987.

Now Spokane attorney Rick Eichstaedt and a trio of Gonzaga Law School students have filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Spokane homeowner. That man wants to remove from his deed provisions of a old covenant.

“We are actually fighting with the county over whether that language should be literally removed from the public record, despite how clear the language is,” Eichstaedt said.

Last year, the Washington legislature approved a bill designed to make it easier for landowners to remove old covenant provisions from their deeds. Eichstaedt says the hope is that that will allow people to do this work themselves, without having to hire attorneys to help them.