Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

Own a house in Seattle? It might have a racist past

A 1936 map that shows how banks prevented residents in the Central District from accessing loans to buy homes.
A 1936 map that shows where banks prevented residents in the Central District from accessing loans to buy homes.

In 1965, Ralph and Elaine Hayes tried to put a down payment on a friend's home in Ravenna.

"And in April of '66 the United Federal Savings Bank, I think it was called, sent our check back," Elaine Hayes said. She and her husband didn't find out why for 15 years.

A neighbor had circulated a petition against the Hayeses moving in: Elaine was Japanese-American and Ralph was black.

Their case, which Elaine Hayes told me about in 2008, was far from isolated. Back in the 1960s, people of color who wanted to buy a house outside the Central District often needed to wait until white friends were ready to sell. 

Several attempts to pass an open housing ordinance failed in the '60s. The debates were often heated.

Here's how one white apartment building owner argued against an ordinance in a 1963 City Council hearing:

"If we are forced to rent to a non–Caucasian family, and consequently the other units are vacated and perhaps stand idle, no one but the property owner himself is faced with the mortgage payment, the water bills, taxes, insurance, maintenance, repairs and so forth."

[asset-images[{"caption": "A racial restriction in a deed for property in Ballard.", "fid": "144088", "style": "placed_full", "uri": "public://201804/20180419-deed-racism.PNG", "attribution": "Credit Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project"}]]

A Presbyterian minister also argued that the ordinance would violate religious freedom. He was challenged by City Councilmember Wing Luke, a Chinese-American.

"Are you for that provision which prohibits discrimination because of race?” Luke asked Thomas W. Miller.

“No, I'm not in favor of that on another basis,” Miller said. “On the basis that it violates the Eighth Commandment of the decalogue: Thou Shalt Not Steal. This is an unjust usurpation of property rights."

"You are, of course, a minister,” Luke replied, “and I don't it have it available, but what chapter and verse is it in the Bible, in the New Testament, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself?'"

Miller: "Um ... I don't know the exact verse right offhand."

Luke: "Thank you."

When the measure finally went to the ballot in 1964, voters rejected it by 3-1.

But 50 years ago today, on April 19, 1968, two weeks after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Seattle City Council finally made that kind of discrimination illegal.

The remains of that institutional racism might live on, though, in the deed to your own property in Seattle.

Deeds from the pre-1968 era may actually stipulate that your house can't be sold or rented to anyone black, Jewish or Asian.

Year started with KUOW: 2008