Albuquerque’s dirty little secret

Larry Barker

A 7 Month KRQE News 13 Investigation

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Behind the well-manicured facades of many Albuquerque tree-lined neighborhoods lurks a dirty little secret unbelievably offensive. One State Senator calls it “shameful.” 

The evidence is stashed away in a non-descript government warehouse in Southeast Albuquerque. Inside the secure facility, a cache of dusty documents hidden away for decades will forever shatter the perception of Albuquerque as a racially tolerant community.

Restrictive Covenants

Today, discrimination and segregation are not only wrong; it’s illegal. But some 70 years ago, bigotry and prejudice was an accepted practice in Albuquerque. “I’ve seen the documents you’ve showed me. They’re very disturbing,” says New Mexico State Historian Rob Martinez.

“This is distasteful. It’s offensive, it’s inflammatory, and it’s racist,” says NAACP Albuquerque Chapter President Harold Bailey.

As an example, there’s nothing seemingly unusual about a non-descript North Valley home on Tyler Road. But when you dig up real estate papers filed 74 years ago you’ll find a provision in the property’s restrictive covenant that does not allow the premises to “… be sold, leased or occupied by any person of Oriental or African descent.”

Real estate documents filed in 1945 for a home on Cypress Drive in the Owens Addition prohibits the sale, rental, or occupancy by anyone “… not of the white or Caucasian race.”

In Northeast Albuquerque’s McDuffie Place neighborhood, 1946 property restrictions dictate “…no person of any race other than the Caucasian race shall own, use or occupy any building … of this subdivision.” The 74-year-old restrictive covenant provided an exception for “domestic servants.”


Images of Original Deeds with Racially Restricted Language (story continues below)


It’s a historical chapter you won’t find in the history books. But, the facts are clear. Albuquerque was once as racially segregated as any place in the deep South. “To be honest with you, I was shocked. The city was essentially racially restricted in virtually the entire city,” says academic researcher Stephon Scott. Albuquerque’s ‘dirty little secret’ was the subject of Scott’s 2007 UNM Master’s Thesis.

“Based on the research … about eighty-five percent of the city was racially restricted. It was to the benefit of whites only, every single part of the city. Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest,” Scott said.

Real Estate Racial Restrictions

In 1940 Albuquerque was a town of 35,000. After the war, the city experienced a building boom, and by 1950 the population had tripled. But Albuquerque’s growth and prosperity was overshadowed by the stain of blatant racism. Beginning in the 1920’s and continuing for another 30 years, scores of newly developed neighborhoods, from the West Mesa to the Sandia foothills, were designated ‘whites only.’ Some of the city’s most fashionable addresses specifically excluded minority ownership and included homes in Nob Hill, the UNM area, the Albuquerque Country Club neighborhood (Huning Castle), and Ridgecrest.



And it wasn’t just Albuquerque. Flagrant racial segregation surged nationwide after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1926 (Corrigan v. Buckley) that the use of racially restrictive real estate contracts were lawful. So, when a home on Smith Avenue in Southeast Albuquerque was sold in 1926, the deed listed just one restriction: No ownership by “…any person of oriental or African descent.”

“Racial Covenants were designed to maintain the homogeneity of neighborhoods … to exclude people who were deemed undesirable,” says University of Pennsylvania Professor Michael Jones-Correa. Dr. Jones-Correa teaches racial and ethnic politics and is Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Immigration. “At that time period, buyers and sellers were being encouraged by their real estate agents only to sell to people of the same race,” Dr. Jones-Correa says. “The realtors are kind of the villain of this whole thing. They play a role at every step of the way in enforcing (and) policing these neighborhood boundaries,” according to Jones-Correa.

“National and local real estate boards, along with neighborhood and homeowner’s associations … played a central role in creating racially restrictive covenants,” Stephon Scott wrote in his UNM Master’s Thesis. 

Developing the Divide

In the late 1920’s Albuquerque real estate developer William Leverette peddled homesites in the Monte Vista Addition just east of UNM. According to covenants drafted by Leverette’s Monte Vista Company, none of the homes in the neighborhood could be occupied, leased, or sold to “…any person of Oriental or African descent.” Monte Vista Addition property deeds routinely excluded minority ownership up until 1947.

According to academic researcher Stephon Scott, “The (Real Estate Board of Albuquerque) was … responsible for introducing the vast majority of racially restrictive covenants to Albuquerque.”

When homesites in Southeast Albuquerque’s Skyline Heights neighborhood were sold by Berger and Briggs in the 1940’s, the real estate contracts specifically excluded ownership by “…any person that has 1/8 or more of the blood (of individuals) commonly known as Negro or Oriental.”

And it’s not just real estate firms. Developers, bankers, lenders, lawyers, community leaders all actively participated in blatant discrimination by allowing homeowners to do practically anything with their property, except sell to minorities.

Even cemeteries were segregated. According to records filed with the Bernalillo County Clerk, in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Sunset Memorial Park sold cemetery plots only for “…the burial of the human dead of the white race.”

Blacks and Asians were not the only minorities that were targets of racial discrimination. In 1932, property deed covenants in Northwest Albuquerque’s Navajo Addition excluded “…Negros (and) Mexicans or so-called Spanish occupants.”



In 1948 the U.S. Supreme Court (Shelley v. Kraemer) ruled racial restrictions in housing were unconstitutional. However, a KRQE News 13 investigation finds the practice continued in Albuquerque and Santa Fe for another decade. With the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, neighborhood racially restrictive covenants were deemed illegal.

KRQE News 13 shared the results of its investigation with New Mexico’s State Historian Rob Martinez. “I was shocked. I know it happened in other places, but that doesn’t happen here in my hometown,” Martinez says. “It was discrimination. It was racism, blatant laid down in documents that people were typing.”

“Anyone who would read that should feel offended,” says the NAACP’s Dr. Harold Bailey. “You have to just wonder what were they thinking? What was in their hearts and what was in their minds to just go along with something like that,” Dr. Bailey says.

“As an African-American, I’m pretty aware of what happened in the past, and we can’t erase it,” says United South Broadway Corporation’s Diana Dorn-Jones. “We’ve always been indoctrinated in this country that the minute people of color begin to move in, your property values go down,” Dorn-Jones said.

Today, 60 Years Later

Today, thousands of Albuquerque residents live in homes that once excluded minorities. In fact, Mayor Tim Keller says he was appalled to learn a 1928 deed to his own residence contains a racial restriction. “I think it’s really a reflection of how explicitly racist everything was,” Mayor Keller said.

If you look at a map of Albuquerque today, you will see a community littered with vast enclaves of a bygone era in which bigotry and prejudice was an unwritten rule. And even though racial restrictions in housing are offensive and unenforceable, they remain on the books in Bernalillo County. Original property deeds going back to Statehood are stored at a county warehouse on South Broadway.



Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover says she was shocked to find it was a common practice to restrict home ownership to ‘whites only.’ “Oh, my gosh, it was hurtful,” Stover said.

Even though racial covenants are today illegal, County Clerks cannot remove offensive language. “I’m not a lawyer. I don’t have authority to change a legally binding document that’s been recorded. So it needs to be done legislatively,” Stover said.

“The facts are unavoidable. It really is a history in which rampant, blatant discrimination was practiced,” says Albuquerque State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino. “When you read those covenants, they are clearly part of Albuquerque’s history. This was part of the way we thought about things in the 30s and 40s. And it’s a complete scandal, an embarrassment,” Senator Ortiz y Pino said. He plans to address the issue when the State Legislature convenes in January.

“It is really a very, very sad chapter of our country’s history, of our city’s history,” State Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto says. “It’s supremely offensive if we allow that language to continue on in the documents that describe the property that people are selling and buying in New Mexico,” Senator Ivey-Soto said.

Senator Ivey-Soto, who is an attorney, has prepared an affidavit that any impacted homeowner can sign and file with the County Clerk renouncing racially offensive wording in real estate documents. A copy of the affidavit will be available at the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office.

The last racial covenant in Albuquerque was written 62 years ago.

“We can never forget the history… It’s important for us to remember how we got to this place so that we never, ever find a way to go back,” State Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto said.

“We’ve got to understand that we have a very troubled, appalling racial history, just like everywhere else in the country,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller says.

“They always say you can learn from history. Well, this is it, folks. This is our chance to learn from history,” says State Historian Rob Martinez.



MORE LARRY BARKER INVESTIGATIONS

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