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Utah’s Black History includes legalized housing discrimination

Posted at 9:29 AM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 13:03:54-05

SALT LAKE CITY — In 1919, the developers of a sprawling new east side neighborhood known as Highland Park placed an advertisement in the Salt Lake Tribune declaring in bold letters “Only Members of the Caucasian Race”.

The smaller print provided more details: “You will forever be assured of desirable neighbors. Only members of the white race can buy a residence in this beautiful restricted residence park.”

The developers, Kimball and Richards, had placed previous newspaper advertisements, mostly focusing on the appeal of tasteful home designs and private yards.

“In 1919, every title in the subdivision was amended to say that you could not sell to anyone that was not Caucasian”, said Polly Hart, a historian whose research on Highland Park led to its designation as a National Historic District.

While the Tribune advertisement is shocking by today’s standards, Hart says it is in line with what developers around the country were doing at the time.

“This was part of a larger national trend,” said Hart.

A trend which was promoted by the Federal Housing Association.

“They recommended that when subdivisions were platted, they exclude people of color,” said Hart.

The motivation for doing so stemmed from fears that loans offered to developers could go into default if property values dropped due to the presence of minorities.

“Between 1898 and 1916 the population of Salt Lake City almost tripled, and it was mostly new immigrants taking unskilled jobs,” said Hart.

Highland Park wasn’t the only neighborhood or development in Utah with legalized racial discrimination, but it was likely the largest.

“And that went on until 1948 when a Supreme Court case said ‘you know what folks, this is not legal, is not in our social best interest’, and all restrictive covenants having to do with race were removed nationally,” said Hart.

Today Highland Park is relatively diverse by Utah standards.

Black Lives Matter signs are a fairly common sight.

“Being people of color its great to know our neighborhood supports us, our neighborhood has an eye out for us, said Vanessa Ripley.

Upon seeing the advertisement from 1919, her roommate Elizabeth Brandley said “I’m not surprised. I think if you talked to some of the people that lived here for years and years and years they would see no problem with this.”

Brandley says she’s never feared for her safety in Highland Park, but hears ignorant comments and questions from time to time.

A few houses away, a woman of Native American descent named Tiani is raising two daughters. She also says racism or bias is subtle when experienced. Tiani’s husband is Caucasian and her daughters have light skin tones.

“Especially when they were young, people used to ask me if I was the nanny a lot. No one was being rude, but there’s just a lot of assumptions people make,” Tiani said.