- A new law in Illinois lets residents request the removal of racist language from their deeds.
- Racial covenants were common in the 20th century as a means to resist integration.
- Though outlawed decades ago, they can be found on deeds throughout the US, NPR found.
Homeowners in Illinois can now have racist language removed from their property deeds thanks to a new law that took effect January 1.
The law, Public Act 102-0110, addresses restrictive covenants that explicitly barred minority groups from buying or renting a property. The covenants were common in the 20th century as some sought to prevent integration by keeping Black Americans from moving into traditionally white neighborhoods.
In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that such covenants violated the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment and in 1968 they were explicitly made illegal under the Fair Housing Act.
Despite being outlawed decades ago, racial covenants remain on property deeds throughout the US, an NPR investigation published in November found. But altering such records can be incredibly difficult or impossible, which prompted states like Illinois to pass laws to make the process easier.
One of the first people to begin the process under the new Illinois law was Nicole Sullivan, a white mother of four and resident of Mundelein. Sullivan has been trying to remove racist language from her deed since 2011, The New York Times reported.
Sullivan noticed the deed for her home included the following clause: "Said premises shall never be sold, transferred or leased to any person or persons of the African or Negro, Japanese, Chinese, Jewish or Hebrew races, or their descendants, or allowed to be occupied by any such person or persons."
The deed provided an exception for servants of the owner or lessee.
"This is a document that continues to harm people, it continues to psychologically damage people and damage relationships and trust in our community," Sullivan told WBEZ.
After she hit roadblocks while trying to change her own deed, Sullivan and a neighbor teamed up to lobby lawmakers to pass legislation to address the issue. Governor JB Pritzker signed the bill in July.
Eric Rinehart, the state's attorney in Lake County working on Sullivan's case, told WBEZ: "I'm happy to begin cleansing these legal documents of very immoral and illegal language."
According to The Times, at least 13 states have passed similar laws since 2018, with one currently awaiting action in the New York state legislature.
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