Those “dreaded 1941 covenants”
Several years ago, the Local History Collection acquired a copy of pages from an early Norgate-at-Roslyn deed. It was received from Howard Kroplick, current co-president of the Roslyn Landmark Society and former Historian of the Town of North Hempstead, who described it as “the dreaded 1941 covenants.”
The document contains an extensive list of restrictions for the brand new residential subdivision being developed on land that had belonged to the Taber and Willets families. Designed to govern property use, the covenants enforce general regulations on lot size, building type and set backs, as well as limitations on the height of fences and hedges and the use of backyard clotheslines.
However, these restrictions are not the reason the document is viewed with such disdain. It is the clear, explicit statement of its “Eighteenth” clause that turns a practical document into a chilling expression of hatred and fear:
This discriminatory language was part of the initial “Declaration of Restrictions” filed by Norgate’s developer, Homeguard Realty Company, in the Nassau County Clerk’s Office on June 19, 1941. According to the undated brochure “Uniform Restrictions and By-Laws, Norgate-at-Roslyn” the racially restrictive covenant was reaffirmed in a subsequent filing on September 25, 1947 that covered homes in sections of Norgate constructed following World War II:
Inclusion of deed covenants restricting who could live where based on race and religion was common on Long Island and throughout the United States throughout much of the twentieth century. They were advocated nationally by the National Association of Real Estate Boards beginning in the late 1920s and supported by the Federal Housing Administration and other agencies created in response to the federal Housing Act of 1934.
In 1948, the US Supreme Court ruled that such restrictive covenants could not be legally enforced. However, they continued to be written and socially enforced in suburban neighborhoods throughout the country. Further research will be needed to determine if other Roslyn area subdivisions contained a similar clause in their deed. Not until passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 did deed restrictions based on race or religion become illegal.
Today, many restrictive covenants like this one are seen merely as a somewhat embarrassing relic of the past. Yet, the impact of this and other historically discriminatory housing practices is visible all around, not only on Long Island but around the country. These practices created the housing patterns on Long Island that continue to place it among the top ten most segregated metropolitan areas in the United States. In fact, over the past several years, both Nassau and Suffolk counties have recognized the prevalence of racially discriminatory language and passed legislation providing residents with a process to more easily remove such language from their deeds.
For many Black people on Long Island, explicitly discriminatory housing practices exemplified by the “dreaded” 1941 Norgate covenant, continues to have a real and lasting impact. This is especially true for the descendants of families who had called Roslyn home for generations, such as the Pearsall's, Peters, Bryant's and Townsends among others. E. Arrell and Marion Pearsall are only one example of the young Black couples who, precluded from buying a house in the community of their birth based only on the color of their skin, were forced to achieve their dream of homeownership in other communities.