Civil Rights Tour: Legal Campaigns - The Hundleys and Racially Restrictive Covenants

In 1942, the rowhouse at 2530 13th Street was at the center of a successful legal battle to open this section of Columbia Heights to Black residence.

Purchased by two educators, Mary and Frederick Hundley, this 1910 house was originally sold by developer Harry Wardman with a covenant in its deed that barred it from ever being sold to “any Negro or colored person.” Furthermore, in 1926-1928, white residents had signed legally binding agreements that effectively barred African Americans from living west of 13th Street. A few months after the Hundleys moved in, white neighbors sued them for violating these racial restrictions. The court agreed with the neighbors.

In his appeal for the Hundleys, attorney Charles Hamilton Houston argued that Blacks already filled blocks east of 13th Street and occupied another house (without a racial deed covenant) in the same row as the Hundleys. Houston also argued that covenants were depreciating values by limiting sales to white buyers in an area where Black people would pay far more for houses, due to pent-up demand.

In December 1942, the DC Court of Appeals ruled in the Hundleys’ favor, making this the first case in which a neighborhood’s racial makeup was successfully used as an argument for ending the use of restrictive housing covenants.

Two and half years earlier, another Black household that breached the 13th Street racial divide, survived a more violent response to the “invasion” of a white neighborhood. That house, at 1324 Harvard Street, was bombed. There was some speculation over whether the bombing was instigated by white business owners “to prevent other Negroes from buying in the neighborhood.” This speculation was supported by the fact that Edna Holland—a teacher at Armstrong High School who lived in the neighborhood with her family—faced intense pressure by a white citizens group to move out.