Civil Rights Tour: Raphael G. Urciolo Residence

4215 Argyle Terrace NW

“I would prefer to sell to the colored man because he has a so much harder time getting a house.”

Raphael Urciolo, who gave this testimony in Urciolo v. Hodge (U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, 1945) contributed to one of DC’s and the nation’s most significant civil rights victories of the 20th century: the Supreme Court’s 1948 ruling in Hurd v. Hodge and Shelley v. Kraemer.  This landmark Supreme Court case ruled that enforcing racially restrictive covenants, which barred white homeowners from selling or renting to African Americans, was unconstitutional.

Urciolo was an attorney and real estate broker who regularly purchased houses with covenants, and then sold them to Black clients. This practice took advantage of a market in which Black homeseekers, facing a scarce supply of decent housing, paid significantly more for houses than White buyers did. Urciolo also stood firmly against racial discrimination, and represented himself in the DC courts when he was sued for breaking covenants. (Charles Hamilton Houston, the attorney for Urciolo’s clients James and Mary Hurd, represented Urciolo as well as the Hurds before the Supreme Court.)

Support for Black economic advancement also led Urciolo and his brother Joseph, a partner in the real estate business that they inherited from their father, to teach real estate law at Howard University.

In 1952, Urciolo commissioned architect Howard Mackey, a founder and longtime chair of the Howard University School of Architecture, to design this house on Argyle Terrace for his family. Urciolo was a scholar of linguistics, and the home’s large basement was created to hold his extensive library.