The Origins of Segregated Neighborhoods in Spokane

It Started in the Cemeteries

By the mid-20th century, racially segregated neighborhoods became common in Spokane. Some were segregated by the force of law.

Discrimination and segregation were common in Spokane much of the early-mid 20th Century. Segregated neighborhoods and even cemeteries existed as early as the 1920s. De jure segregation (government sponsored) supported racially restrictive property covenants in the city and across the United States at the time. Many believe de facto segregation (natural segregation) was the cause of such segregation and de jure segregation is a myth, however, scholars have proven the existence of de jure segregation. The period following the Reconstruction saw the prevalence of racial covenants across the country swell. Eventually Spokane followed suit with the rest of the nation.

African Americans have been in Spokane since the days of the Washington Territory. As their numbers grew in the early 1900s, so did racial discrimination against them, including property covenants limiting where they could live. The first were established in cemeteries. For instance, in January 1920 the “Inland Mausoleum Company” instituted a deed for a local crypt placed in the “Fairmont Cemetery” which included a racial covenant that stated the crypt could “be used only for the interment of the dead of the Caucasian race.” The Inland Mausoleum Company and Fairmont Cemetery established many more of these racial covenants in deeds for numerous other crypts in the cemetery throughout the 1920s and 30s. Segregated cemeteries paved the way for de jure segregation to be implemented in a number of Spokane’s residential neighborhoods.

East Audubon Park Addition was the first of Spokane’s neighborhoods to use racial covenants. In August 1928, a warranty deed was created by the “Union Trust Company of Spokane” for a new property in the addition for the homebuyer, Susan Smith. This property is located on “Lot Four (4) Block One (1)” of the addition plat map according to the deed. The document later states, “No part of said property shall ever be used or occupied by any person of the Ethiopian, Malay, or any Asiatic race.” East Audubon Park was the first of several prominent Spokane neighborhoods that had enforced racially restrictive covenants from the 1920s to 1960s.

The 1940s was the height of neighborhood segregation and racial covenants in Spokane. Several other Spokane neighborhoods such as the Rockwood Pines Addition and the Sunset View Addition implemented many racial covenants during this decade. Segregated neighborhoods were developed in nearby Airway Heights, WA around this time as well. The 1940s saw more racial covenants emplaced in neighborhoods across Spokane (and the country) than any other decade. The people of color affected by these restrictive property covenants were stripped of many opportunities such as where there could live and go to school. Despite popular belief, the federal government encouraged this practice.

The most disturbing part of Spokane’s history regarding racial covenants is that these covenants were supported by the federal government through organizations such as the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The FHA discriminated against people of color at the time in Spokane and across the nation by rejecting many of their loan requests, burdening them with higher interest rates, conducting fraudulent tax appraisals on their properties, etc. Even after racial covenants were struck down as unenforceable by the Supreme Court in 1948, people of color in Spokane still had difficulties securing home loans, obtaining fair interest rates, and more.
Redlining was used in Spokane to determine the demographics and other attributes of their neighborhoods and ultimately generate a rating for each neighborhood. The ratings, created by the FHA, were developed on a scale from A to D (A was the best, D was the worst); these ratings played a significant role in determining property values. Ratings were generally best for newer, white neighborhoods and they were the worst for low-quality, colored neighborhoods. The FHA is partially responsible for the racial covenants that existed in Spokane.

As Jim Kershner explains in his article entitled “Breaking Down The Barriers Segregation Is An Ugly, Not-So-Well-Known Part Of Spokane’s History”, the history of segregation and racial covenants in Spokane is largely unknown to many and it must be brought to the light. The magnitude of the racial atrocities that occurred in the city’s past must be acknowledged and recognized by its people. However, one must remember that most neighborhoods and other areas of Spokane never had property documents that contained racial covenants. Although this is true, the effects of the racial covenants that existed in the city wreaked havoc on the people of color in Spokane and the wrongs of the past should not be overlooked. Only after the JFK administration and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 did racial covenants and segregation in Spokane finally abate.