“These covenants are to run with the land:” the Hidden History of Housing Segregation in Muncie, Indiana

No matter your class, race, or age, your life has been affected by the explicitly racist housing policies of the 20th Century. Even if you were born long after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 put an end to policies that directly enforced segregation, the legacy of these policies still impact where you live, the value of your property, what schools you attend, and how much wealth you will acquire and pass on to your descendants. This is as true for major urban areas like Indianapolis and Chicago as it is for small cities like Muncie.

Racial Restrictions in Subdivision Covenants

For the last 100 years in the U.S., a new subdivision typically comes with a set of rules called “covenants” that govern how lots are used. These rules commonly include minimum building size, setback requirements, and restrictions against livestock, billboards, and commercial activity. From the early 1900s to the 1950s, it was also common for covenants to include restrictions against non-white people owning or renting lots in residential subdivisions. A typical restriction like this one from the Westmoor Addition (1941) in Muncie read as follows: “No lot or part thereof shall be occupied by any person of any race other than the White or Caucasian Race”. The rationale behind all covenants was to promote “stability” and “permanence” of the neighborhood to prospective buyers. According to MIT urban historian Robert Fogelson, developers, municipal governments, and (white) homeowners viewed racial covenants as an important legal tool to protect neighborhoods from what they regarded as undesirable change. To be clear, such changes also included industrial development on the land, multi-family housing, as well as non-white racial “infiltration”.

Muncie’s history of residential development follows these broader trends. The Ball Brothers’ built their original homes along the White River around the turn of the Century when much of the rest of Muncie, its downtown, industrial spaces and homes of its workers, were separated from their estate by the White River. In the first decades of the 20th Century, as the industrial sector and residential areas developed to the north side of the White River toward the original Ball homes, the Ball Brothers and the rest of the business elite needed new residences apart from urban, industrial Muncie. By the Teens, there were several established industrial concerns north of the river, such as the Muncie Wood Working Co. and Ontario Silver, as well as significant residential expansion of Normal City east of the college and stretching northeast from the river along Wheeling Avenue. The Balls’ choice of new location was recently annexed agricultural land to the north and west of a small, new public university, Indiana State Normal College. There, E. Arthur Ball and the Westwood Realty Company founded the Westwood subdivision in 1923, and members of the local business class moved in. Campus was effectively a shield between Westwood and the rest of Muncie at the time.

Westwood was a new kind of exclusive residential development for Muncie. It was the first subdivision in Delaware County to include any plat restrictions at all. The restrictions consisted of two pages of pedantic legalese in tiny typewritten font. The restriction on the race of residents is too long to reprint here, but reads in part “No negro, mulatto, Chinese, Japanese or person of any race, or mixture of races, other than the pure White race, shall acquire title to any lot or building or part of lot or building in this addition…” The description continues for 321 more words and provides one exception to the whites-only rule, “domestic servants” of any race were allowed. Ads for lots in Westwood in The Muncie Star at the time stated “Reasonable restrictions that insure permanent development tend to enhance the value,” but did not mention the restriction on race.

Ads for lots in other new subdivisions did directly mention the racial restrictions as an attractive selling point. Austin Heights (1927) was advertised as a “restricted development for white people only” where “ownership of property in Austin Heights is most desirable for home-making and investment purposes.” Interestingly, Austin Heights is located in what is now the east end of the majority African-American Whitely neighborhood. The racial integration of Austin Heights and Creston (1944), subdivisions founded with whites-only restrictions in what is now Whitely, is a story waiting to be told. But the integration of these subdivisions in the 1950s is the exception that proves the rule: for much of the 20th Century, racial restrictions lawfully forbid African-American people from buying new homes and thereby made it much more difficult for future generations of African-Americans to acquire wealth.

Rosemont (1920) and Burlington Heights (1920) subdivisions in the southwest part of Muncie were founded before racial restrictions in subdivision plats were a practice in Delaware County. However, for decades property owners and land title lawyers wrote similar restrictions into the deeds for individual properties. Most, if not all, individual deeds for lots within these two subdivisions prohibited the properties from being rented or sold “to an alien or a colored person.” Ads for these new subdivisions in the Muncie press stated clearly, “Lots sold to white people only” while trumpeting the vast benefits accrued when you own your home. An ad for the racially restricted Westmoor Addition (1941) did not mention this restriction directly, but it noted that a home in Westmoor is “a hedge against inflation, security for your investment and comfort for your family,” benefits apparently not available to everyone.

Muncie Evening Press, May 26, 1923

Social Change and the Suburbanization of Muncie

These racist housing policies in Muncie, and in northern cities generally, were a response to the Great Migration of black families from the South. The demographic changes in Muncie reflected the broader social change taking place in the U.S. after the turn of the Century. Between 1910 and 1920, Muncie’s population as a whole grew by half (24,005 to 36,524) as the black population more than doubled (1,005 to 2,054). While the South had Jim Crow laws to segregate and subjugate the black population, city leaders in the North instituted subdivision restrictions as well as a variety of less official means, such as unequal policing, lynching, and the violent threats of “sundown town” decrees.

W. A. Swift Photographs Collection, BSU Digital Media Repository

Another response to the Great Migration was the revival of the Ku Klux Klan which made effective inroads in northern states, especially Indiana, in the Teens and 1920s. In Muncie and surrounding towns, the Delaware Klan №4 played a prominent role in Muncie civic life starting in the early 1920s. Their public relations campaigns included displays of charity, donations to churches, presence at funerals for prominent individuals, accusations against public figures for corruption, and public gatherings like parades. The local press reported on the KKK’s national and local activities almost every day during the early to mid-1920s. There were certainly detractors of the Klan’s activities, such as the Post-Democrat newspaper editor George Dale. Muncie elected Dale mayor seven years after he was jailed for accusing a Delaware County Circuit Court judge of being a Klan member. However, based on the news reporting of the time, much of the white, Protestant public regarded the KKK as a legitimate, if controversial, organization in the region. Within this context, the practice of legal, mandated segregation in new housing developed and became increasingly widespread.

Muncie Evening Press, December 27, 1945

Reflecting national trends, the residential housing boom in Muncie occurred after World War II. Returning soldiers easily secured housing assistance by way of the GI Bill, that is, except for those veterans who were not white. Nationwide, non-white soldiers took out 0.1% of the total mortgages insured by the GI Bill. And even if an African-American family was able to secure the funds to buy a house, racial restrictions would have greatly limited that family’s options. This was especially the case after WWII in Muncie. In 1946 there were 21 restricted subdivisions platted in Delaware County, all but five within Muncie. Every single one of these new developments included restrictions against non-white owners and tenants.

These 21 subdivisions include Southboro, Rolling Oaks, Kenmore Section B, and Ludingwood. Just to take one example, the 1946 restrictions for University Heights state, “The ownership and occupancy of the lots in said addition shall be forever restricted to members of the Caucasian race, and if any person not a member of the Caucasian race shall occupy or attempt to occupy a part of the addition, such occupancy may be enjoined by any court of competent jurisdiction on petition of any person residing in the addition […] The restrictions are intended to be covenants running with the land.” During the housing shortage and subsequent suburban boom in 1946, The Muncie Evening Press reported that real estate agents marketed University Heights homes to veterans who could finance their mortgage through the GI Bill. “Muncie wanted houses, and Muncie is getting them — plenty,” the article gushes. But it is left unstated who is excluded from such benefits by force of the law.

Overall, from 1923–1954, there were 137 new subdivisions in Delaware County which included restrictions of any kind. Two-thirds of these subdivisions included racial restrictions against non-white people. Between 1923 and 1950, that number is nine out of ten. About one out of every seven 7 of Muncie’s current residences are within a subdivision founded for white people only. Many of these are concentrated in the upper-income northwest area of the city west of Ball State University. Other clusters of these exclusive subdivisions exist in the Cowing Park neighborhood off of Wheeling and the Northview neighborhood north of McGalliard. Many other racially restricted subdivisions are scattered across the east and south sides of town. See the following web map to explore these subdivisions and associated documents for yourself: tinyurl.com/muncieracialcovenants.

Subdivisions with racially restrictive covenants, Delaware County, Indiana

In 1948 the Supreme Court decision Shelley v. Kraemer struck down the legality of enforcing racially restrictive covenants. The unanimous decision stated that while racial covenants themselves do not violate equal protection under the 14th Amendment, enforcement of such covenants in court is a violation. This decision did not make it illegal for private parties, including developers, to include racial restrictions in a private contract. It simply made such agreements unenforceable in court. Locally, this Supreme Court decision may have had a significant, if delayed, effect. The number of new subdivisions that featured racial restrictions in their covenants decreased after 1948 in Muncie and was almost non-existent after 1954. Between 1949 and 1959, there were 22 subdivisions approved in Delaware County that included racially restrictive covenants. Only one of those appeared after 1954, East Lanewood Section A in 1959.

Segregation Today

The legality of racially restrictive covenants was finally disposed of with the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, a major victory for the Civil Rights Movement which improved the legal status for millions. However, any familiarity with the social geography of Muncie will show that we continue to live in a persistently segregated city, Whitely and Industry being the two African-American majority neighborhoods. According to 2010 Census numbers, these two neighborhoods’ combined population is 25% white. Outside of those two neighborhoods, Muncie is 88% white. Neighboring areas of these traditionally African-American neighborhoods put the strict “redlining” boundaries on display. The south side of Muncie, here defined as south of Memorial and east of Walnut, shares a border with Industry and features a dozen subdivisions with racial restrictions. Today the south side is 89% white. Bordering Whitely are the Morningside (95% white) and Eastside (89% white) neighborhoods. Both of these areas also feature several subdivisions with racial restrictions.

While these restrictions have been formally unenforceable in court since 1948, informally quite a bit more recently than that, it is revealing that there also seems to be a disparity in the historical memory of racially restrictive covenants. Some (white) local historians I spoke with about such covenants were not aware that these policies had been in effect in Muncie. Meanwhile, the local African-American homeowners, young and old, non-historians, who I spoke with were well-informed about such restrictions and the attendant injustices and historical legacies. Who is permitted to forget about such policies? And who has no choice but to remember?

Understanding the role of racially restrictive covenants in the development of Muncie’s neighborhoods isn’t just a discussion of a historical curiosity, an embarrassment safely set in the past. These policies have directly shaped today’s existing racial geography and housing inequalities in Muncie and throughout the country. White property owners benefited from several generations of home equity gains, while black residents were almost entirely denied access of this wealth. To mention just one clear local measure of the legacy of racial restrictions: the highest residential assessed value areas overlaps with the concentration of subdivisions in the northwest founded with racially restrictive covenants. Once you consider the effects of racial restrictions on where families were able to live, which homes they were permitted to own, and the overall pattern of residential property values, it becomes impossible to ignore the story behind the social inequalities we live with today.

Wealth Inequalities

The Pew Research Center found in 2014 that the median net worth of white households is 13 times greater than that of black households. That’s $141,900 vs. $11,000. Housing policy researcher Richard Rothstein attributes this wealth gap almost entirely to the explicitly racist and inequitable federal housing policy of the 20th Century. Contemporary federal housing and family assistance policies have done little to narrow this disparity. In fact, this gap has significantly widened since the 2008 collapse of the housing market.

According to Rothstein’s 2017 book The Color of Law, the major source of wealth and economic stability for middle-class families in the US was not accrued directly from income, but from home equity. Over the last century, housing policies have played a major part in creating, enforcing, and perpetuating an extremely unequal distribution of home equity. The Federal Housing Authority (FHA), the prime architect of the U.S. middle class, operated from 1934 to 1968 with policies that specifically favored mortgage loans in exclusively white suburban neighborhoods. In 1934 the FHA stated clearly that “the more important among the adverse influential factors” that affect mortgage rating is the presence of “undesirable racial or nationality groups.” The FHA allowed cheap and easy financing for the development of these exclusive suburbs. The 1934 Underwriting Handbook produced by the FHA provided maps that showed banks which neighborhoods should be approved for mortgage loans, and which shouldn’t be approved. Poor white neighborhoods and any neighborhood with black or immigrant residents received the lowest rating. These recommendations essentially made it impossible for poor residents, and specifically black residents, to access the credit that enabled home ownership. In other words, generations of black families were not allowed to accrue property wealth to pass along to their descendants. Take a look at the “residential security map” and associated neighborhood surveys for Muncie here: tinyurl.com/muncieHOLC.

Recent local home value numbers provide a stark picture of the effects of legally mandated housing segregation of last century. In Muncie the median assessed value for residential properties in white majority census blocks is $54,900; for properties in non-white majority census blocks the median is $26,600. Basically, residential property value in Muncie is typically less than half in black neighborhoods than it is in white neighborhoods. In addition, according to 2016 Census estimates, the median income for white households in Muncie is $33,312, while for black households it’s $22,293. In other words, the typical black household earns a full one-third less income compared to a white household in Muncie. (These numbers for Indiana as a whole are only slightly less extreme, $55,435 vs. $32,052.) These inequalities along racial divisions deprive non-white people of opportunities and generational wealth today as a direct result of housing policies of the past. These policies have also drawn deep divisions between working class whites and working class blacks, groups that would otherwise share many economic priorities in common.

History is Today

While the historical legacies of legalized racism and mandated segregation persist into our present, there is a parallel legacy of caring residents of this city who have sought to recognize and address these inequalities. The storied history of local civil rights activism in Muncie is too expansive to summarize here other than to mention a few names: Roy Buley, Hurley and Fredine Goodall, J.C. Williams, Aamir Shabazz, Vivian Conley, Mary and Cornelius Dollison. Two neighborhoods, Linden Park 2nd Addition (in 1960) and Westwood (in 2001) have taken the legal steps to revise their subdivision covenants to remove racial restrictions. In the present, a couple other neighborhood associations, including Ludingwood, are actively working toward revising their covenants in this way. Several churches, notably Urban Light Community Church in South Central, have made racial reconciliation central to their work. The community group Reconciliation Achieved Through Community Engagement (RACE) organizes events and discussion about race, gender, reconciliation, and justice. There is a burgeoning community of political action groups that make it part of their work to confront issues around race and social inequities. Several such groups formed just within the past few years include the Muncie Democratic Socialists, Muncie Resists, Neighbors for Public Justice, Progressive Student Alliance, Delaware County Green Party, and the Muncie Literary Justice Initiative. If you want to add your voice and ideas to addressing social inequalities, pick one of the many local groups and share your thoughts and talents.

Most of the subdivision documents that contain the racial restrictions ominously punctuate the legalese with the phrase “and these covenants are to run with the land,” in an attempt to mark their rules onto the land itself forever. And, in a very real way, this generations old legal structure has inscribed deep marks–wounds–on our maps, our minds, and the land we stand upon. Seventy years have passed, a lifetime, after the Supreme Court ruled racial restrictions to be unenforceable, yet wealth and housing inequalities persist along stark racial divisions. We live as if history is in the past, yet it is alive in our social structure today. While we take a clear look at this past, we can not only better understand our present but more attentively devise our future.

Maps to explore:

tinyurl.com/muncieracialcovenants
tinyurl.com/muncieHOLC

— — — — — — — -

Sources and other readings

Abrams, Charles.
www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/homes-for-aryans-onlythe-restrictive-covenant-spreads-legal-racism-in-america/

Blocker, Jr, Jack S. “Black Migration to Muncie, 1860–1930.” scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/11558/16825

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

Fogelson, Robert. Bourgeois Nightmares: Suburbia 1870–1930.

Goodall, Hurley and J. Paul Mitchell. A History of Negroes in Muncie.

Kochhar, Rakesh and Richard Fry. www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/12/racial-wealth-gaps-great-recession/

Smith, Ron. “The Klan’s Retribution Against an Indiana Editor: A Reconsideration.” 2010. Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 106, Issue 4, pp 381–400.
https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/12574/18818

Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.

Rothstein, Richard. www.epi.org/publication/making-ferguson/

The Star Press archives, www.newspapers.com.

Sugrue, Thomas. “Crabgrass-Roots Politics: Race, Rights, and the Reaction against Liberalism in the Urban North, 1940–1964.” The Journal of American History, Vol. 82, №2, (Sep 1995), pp. 551–578.
http://mark.levengood.people.cpcc.edu/HIS132/LessonDocs/SugrueCrabgrassRootsPolitics.pdf

Winling, LaDale. “The Gravity of Capital: Spatial and Economic Transformation in Muncie, Indiana, 1917–1940,” After the Factory: Reinventing America’s Industrial Small Cities, James Connolly ed.