Racially Restrictive Covenants in Webster Groves


In the first half of the 20th century, in response to the influx of African Americans from the South, racially restrictive covenants became a tool to enforce segregation in Northern cities and towns, including Webster Groves. Lenders, landlords, and realtors openly discriminated against African Americans seeking housing opportunities.  But the most important mechanism of segregation in this era—employed by local realtors, developers, and white homeowners—was the race-restrictive deed covenant or racially restrictive covenant.

To both recognize and repudiate our history of discriminating against African-Americans by recognizing and enabling racially restrictive covenants, community members, local clergy and City leadership are activity engaged in disavowing these racist acts of our past by educating the community on their existence and helping homeowners who wish to record their opposition to the racist restriction still attached to their property deed.

Please continue reading to learn more about these covenants, their use in Webster Groves, how to learn which properties continue to have these covenants attached to their deed and how you can act.

If you do act to amend your deed, please be sure to register that action with the City of Webster Groves by visiting this link and filling out the form. We want to keep track of and recognize those who are acknowledging our history and making our community more welcoming to all.

What is a restrictive deed covenant?

Restrictive covenants are clauses inserted into property deeds that prohibit the purchase, lease, or occupation of a property based on race, color, religion, or national origin. These covenants were most frequently used to prevent people who were not White from buying or occupying land. In many cases, racial covenants were created by developers when building on a particular tract of land and preserved by home owners’ associations to exclude Black people from moving in.

Are racially restrictive covenants attached to properties in Webster Groves today?

Yes. More than 30 subdivisions in Webster Groves, with more that 1000 houses, have racially restrictive covenants as a part of their property deeds. These subdivisions are in all areas of our community. While some retain home owners’ associations, many no longer function as subdivisions. In each case, the builder of the subdivision inserted the racial language into the deed.  

Are racial covenants enforceable today?

No. These covenants are no longer enforceable. In Shelley vs. Kraemer (1948), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that state enforcement of these covenants violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. In addition, Congress subsequently codified this decision in the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  Despite these legal actions, racial covenants remain attached to some deeds and demonstrate a history of racist policies in Webster Groves

Why act now?

As we strive to make Webster Groves a fully inclusive community, even symbolic actions matter. By disavowing your racially restrictive covenant, you are both acknowledging the racism in our history and stating that you believe Webster Groves is a community that welcomes everyone.

In addition, the state has made it much easier to act. Effective August 28, 2022, no deed to be recorded in Missouri may contain a reference to a restrictive covenant based upon race, color, religion, or national origin. A Recorder of Deeds may refuse to accept any such deed submitted for recording. HB 1662 also provides a voluntary procedure by which any illegal racial covenant may be released by completing and recording a “certificate of release.”

How can I find out if a racial covenant is attached to the deed of my house? 

You may review the list of subdivisions with racial covenants here. You may also review a map of our area that identifies properties with racial covenants here  or consult a list of addresses organized alphabetically by street address here.

How do I disavow the restrict covenant attached to the deed of my house?

  1. Get a Certificate of Release of Prohibited Covenants form. A fillable form is available online through the Realtors of St. Louis here.
  2. The St. Louis County Recorder of Deeds staff is available by appointment to help you research your deed and collect the appropriate information. Be sure to bring the Certificate of Release of Prohibited Covenants to fill out and submit on site. There is no fee. Appointments may be made here
  3. Submit the release form to Recorder of Deeds, 41 S Central Ave, Clayton, MO 63105. No fee needs to be included.

Will I be charged to have this change made on my deed?

No. Missouri state law does not allow a Recorder of Deeds to charge you for making this change.

Don’t forget to add your name to the list of residents who have disavowed their covenants here.