Restrictive Covenants

Restrictive Covenants Underpin
Lexington's Segregation Pattern

A covenant is an agreement written into a deed or other legal contract. In a property deed, a covenant may restrict the ways in which a property can be used, or control the kinds of structures that can be built on a lot. Like other kinds of contracts, restrictive covenants are enforceable in court. 

Racially restrictive covenants restrict the race of people who can legally own, rent, or live on a given property. In Lexington and Fayette County, as well as throughout the country, it was most often African Americans who were excluded from buying or living in specific properties. This is the type of deed restriction described in the film Segregated by Design

Restrictive deed covenants were often written in such a way as to "run with the land," which meant that the restriction applied not only to the first buyer of the property, but to future buyers as well. 

To find restrictive covenants affecting homes in Lexington, we chose specific neighborhoods, selected addresses within those neighborhoods, and then read the deeds for those addresses. More information about our process can be found at the end of this page, in a section called "Finding Restrictive Covenants in Lexington." 

Please note: The deeds excerpted below are historical records that may contain harmful language reflecting attitudes and biases of their time. We have not altered, edited, or modified the records except to highlight relevant sections. 

Early Restrictive Covenants Existed in Lexington's Central Core

Both Black and White people lived in Lexington's central core during the late 1800s and early 1900s, but it was not a truly integrated community. One block might be White and the next block Black, or one side of a street might be Black and the other side White. Even on streets where there was some intermingling of housing, there was little social interaction. 

For reasons we explain at the end of this page, we did not search for restrictive deed covenants in the central core. Through our reading, however, we have found references to such covenants in what is now considered downtown. Two are described below. 

 Many of Lexington's Early- to Mid-Century Subdivisions
Restricted Buyers to Whites only

Restrictive covenants were already in use in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but began to be used most aggressively when suburbanization got underway in the 1910s and 1920s. The deeds set out restrictions for individual lots, but we found evidence to convince us that in many cases racial restrictions applied to entire subdivisions

The next section below presents examples of restrictive covenants in Lexington in multiple areas:

All property deeds and subdivision plats shown below are from the Land Records department of the Fayette County Clerk's Office. 

Kenwick Area

Many of the neighborhoods familiar to Lexingtonians today formed from the merger of several earlier subdivisions, some of which were as small as one street. The area known today as Kenwick is an example of this type of formation. 

One of the many smaller subdivisions that later made up Kenwick was the Wickliffe Land Company Subdivision. Created around 1909, Wickliffe extended from East Main Street north to the railroad tracks, and included Lincoln, Preston, Bassett and Sherman Streets. Below is a copy of the developer's plat, showing the planned streets and lots in the subdivision.  

Map labeled Wickliffe Land Company Subdivision, showing the streets divided into individual numbered lots.

We found deeds with restrictive covenants for lots on each of the Wickliffe Subdivision streets, with similar language in each. Here is an example from Sherman Street—lots 436 and 437 of the subdivision. The highlighted section includes the racially restrictive covenant. Note the language requiring the home buyer to include similar restrictions in any future deed they might make for this property.

Photocopy of deed paragraph that includes the language shall not be leased or sold to any colored person or negro.
Another page from the same deed, showing requirement than any house built on the lots would cost no less than fifteen hundred dollars and be set back no less than twenty feet from the street.

Notice also the cost and setback restrictions highlighted near the bottom of the deed page. These were probably intended to maintain the neighborhoods' status.

Belldale Addition was a 1915 revision of Wickliffe Subdivision, adding 106 lots on parts of Robertson, Sherman, Bassett, Lincoln, Owsley and Menifee. When a tract of Belldale was sold by Realty Associates to a new buyer in December 1921, the deed specified: 

Deed paragraph with language saying the property shall never be leased, sold, or conveyed to any colored person or negro.

The plat for Beechland Subdivision was filed in 1920, and lots were sold in 1921. As the plat shows, Beechland consisted of Victory Avenue, which is also now part of Kenwick. 

Map labeled Beechland subdivision, showing Victory Avenue divided into Blocks A through G. Each block is divided into individual numbered lots.

Below are sections from the deed for Lots 5 & 6 of Beechland Block B.  Note that the purchaser was a church. 

Deed section showing that the purchasers were the trustees of Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church of Lexington.

This deed only conveyed two lots, but the language in the section below, setting out the minimum cost of lots in various parts of the subdivision, makes it clear that the restrictive language applies to the whole subdivisionall of Victory Avenueand not just two lots.  We also looked at another deed for Beechland subdivision, and it contained the same language.

Deed paragraph including the language no lot in said subdivision shall ever be sold or leased to a negro or any person of African descent.

Morningside Addition, another subdivision that became part of Kenwick, included Aurora Avenue and one side of Bullock (now Cramer) from Walton Avenue to just past Mentelle Park. (We did not learn the history of the streets' name changes.)

The deed we looked at from Morningside Addition, dated August 1, 1921, conveyed lots 33 and 34, and contained this language: 

Deed paragraph stating that as a covenant running with the land that the property shall never be sold, conveyed, or leased to a colored person or negro.

The map section below is from the Home Owners' Loan Corporation map for Lexington. The subdivisions we discussed above correspond fairly closely with area C7 (yellow) and the eastern portion of area B4 (blue) on the map shown below. The western portion of the B4 area is Bell Court, for which we did not review the deeds. For more about HOLC, its maps, and redlining, see the Redlining section of this website.

Map section showing a small area of Lexington bounded on the west by Midland Avenue, on the south by Richmond Road, on the east by Sherman Avenue, and on the north by railroad tracks. The northern section is colored blue and the southern section is colored yellow.

An advertisement in The Lexington Herald, May 17, 1907, that specifies that newly developed Mentelle Park will be all White. The same language appears in a printed brochure, below.

Transcription of the brochure panel above: 

Mentelle Park is the only perfectly appointed and finished residence Park ever attempted in Lexington. Its planning, execution and completion is the result of a careful study of the residence parks in all the well known park cities of the United States. The double driveways known as "The Esplanade" are model macadam roads, with beautiful ornamental parks between. The streets are curbed with Bedford Stone. The parks are also curbed. Concrete sidewalks, sewer mains and water mains are laid on both sides, thus preventing tearing up the street. Splendid forest and shade trees are found on every lot. There is just one broad, open street, with no short streets or cross streets or alleys. Every lot fronts on the park and they are all of the same high class, thus assuring desirable residents. Every building erected must cost not less than three times the cost of the lot, thus assuring nothing but high-class residences. No Negroes can ever own property or live in the park. No business house can be erected within its limits. No adjacent or near by Negro settlements. No near by steam railroads. Two squares from street car line at present. Remember, this park is opposite the McDowell estate, the most magnificent property around Lexington and owned by the most elegant people, and the future of which is self-assuring to every one knowing the place and the people. The property shows for itself. It needs no booming or boosting. You have only to see it for verification of the plain facts set forth above.  

D. F. Frazee, President; M. C. Alford, Vice-President.                 THE MENTELLE COMPANY, Incorporated             
          Offices:—Hernando Building and at the Park

Mentelle Park advertising brochure courtesy of Lexington Public Library.    

Hollywood Terrace

Map labeled Hollywood Terrace, showing the streets divided into individual numbered lots.
Colored map showing a small section of Lexington, including the streets of Hollywood Terrace subdivision. Part of the map is colored blue. The letter B and number 3 are superimposed over the blue section, enclosed in a circle.

Lexington's Hollywood Terrace subdivision is at the intersection where Tates Creek Road becomes High Street. It includes Sunset Drive, Melrose, Beaumont, and Tremont Avenues, and short sections of Ashland Avenue and East High Street/Tates Creek. 

Hollywood Terrace is the area just below and to the right of the circled B3 on the HOLC map, the map with sections colored in just above. (The other B3 streets shown are in other subdivisions we did not review.)

We reviewed two deeds covering four lots in Hollywood Terrace. These properties were sold by Security Trust Company in 1923, and both deeds included the same restrictive language, which applies to all of "said Hollywood Terrace."

Deed paragraph stating that for 20 years no lot in Hollywood Terrace could be sold or leased to quote any negro or organization or association of negroes nor shall any negro be permitted to occupy any lot, except that any owner or lessee of any lot may have negro servants remain or reside on the premises, end quote..

Forest Park, Suburban Court, Goodrich 

Present day map bordered in red, showing the Forest Park area, including the streets Forest and Floral Park, Westwood Court and Drive, Dantzler Court, Sioux Road, and Audobon Avenue.

Forest Park areaOn August 15, 1919, Bettie P. Rodes, widow of J. W. Rodes, conveyed 76.5 acres of undeveloped land with the stipulation that "no part of said property shall ever be sold or leased to a negro or a person of African descent."  

The deed describes the property as bounded by Nicholasville Road and the Cincinnati Southern Railroad on the east and west, Waller Avenue on the north, and "Thompson's"  property on the south. We feel confident that the area outlined in red to the left (which measures 76.9 acres) is very close to the correct boundary. (Map courtesy of LFUCG GIS MapIt!)

Within a few years the property was subdivided and sold to developers, who laid out streets and sold lots and/or homes. To confirm that the original restrictive covenant did indeed continue, we reviewed deeds for homes on Forest Park, Floral Park, and Westwood, and found restrictive covenants—which appeared to apply to the entire subdivision—on all of them. In the covenant below, for a property on Forest Park, the wording was changed from "not ever" in the original deed to "thirty years."   

Deed paragraph stating that for thirty years the property could not be sold or leased to quote any negro or organization or association of negroes, nor shall any negro be permitted to occupy said property, provided that this stipulation shall not forbid any owners or leases from having their negro servants remain or reside on the premises, end quote.
Present day map showing Suburban Court and Goodrich Avenue.

Suburban Court and Goodrich.  

Suburban Court, highlighted in green at the upper part of the map to the left, is south of the Forest Park area, and separated from that neighborhood by Arcadia and Cherokee Parks (which we did not review for restrictive covenants).

Goodrich is highlighted in green at the lower part of the map.    

Forest Park, Suburban Court, and Goodrich maps courtesy of LFUCG GIS MapIt!  

The deed we reviewed for Suburban Court, dated May 1, 1923 (not pictured), sets out minimum dwelling costs for various sections of the subdivision, leading us to believe the restrictive language applies to the entire subdivision. In addition to the racially restrictive language we have seen so often, this deed also prohibits selling or leasing the property "to any corporation having negroes as stockholders."

The document below, concerning Goodrich Avenue, is a bit unusual in that it is not exactly a deed but rather an agreement among all owners of lots on Goodrich.

First paragraph of a 1927 agreement among all the owners of property on Goodrich Avenue, stating that they desire to place certain restrictions on the properties quote so as to enhance the value of said property, end quote.
Second page of the 1927 Goodrich property owners agreement, setting out one of the restrictions they agreed to. Quote that said property or any portion of same shall never be sold or leased to any negro or any association of negroes nor shall any negro or association of negroes be permitted to occupy said property, but this shall not inhibit any owner or lessee from having their negro servants remain on said property.

Liberty Heights

The plat for Liberty Heights subdivision was recorded in April 1921. The subdivision was off East Third Street (now Winchester Road) and Liberty Pike, and included Delaware, Dayton, Detroit, and Dallas Avenues: the area outlined in teal below shows the area in the present day.

Present day map with a teal border showing a small section of Lexington. The section is bounded in part by Winchester and Liberty Roads, and includes Detroit, Dayton, Delaware, and Dallas Avenues.

Map courtesy of LFUCG GIS MapIt!

We looked at the deed for a lot on Dayton Avenue, sold by S.P McCormick Lumber Company. As we found so often, the deed mentioned various restrictions that applied to all of the lots, leading us to believe the restrictive covenants likely applied to the entire subdivision. Here we found this language:

Paragraph from a deed, stating, quote, none of this property to be

Rosemill Subdivision

Current map of a section of Lexington, bordered on the east by Clays Mill Road, on the north by Rosemont Garden and Southland Drive, on the west by Southview Drive, and on the south by Stratford Drive.

We did not study plats or deeds from Rosemill Subdivision, but learned about it from an op-ed piece in the Lexington Herald-Leader on August 1, 2021. In the article, Chris Green, Director of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College, discusses his research into the history of this south Lexington neighborhood where he grew up. The neighborhood is highlighted in green on the map to the left. Not only was the entire neighborhood subject to restrictive racial covenants but, Green discovered, had been built on land where enslaved people had once toiled.  (Green, 2021)

Map courtesy of LFUCG GIS MapIt!  with highligting added.

Do Restrictive Covenants Still Exist?

In May 1948, the US Supreme Court ruled that racial deed covenants could no longer be enforced by state courts (Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 US 1 (1948)).

Even after that ruling, some developers and home sellers continued to write restrictive covenants into their property deeds (Belson, Dawkins, and Sanchez, 2004). The restrictive covenants, even though unenforceable, continued to achieve their segregating purpose, serving as "signals to realtors (who directed blacks to non-covenanted neighborhoods), lenders (who would not grant mortgages to blacks in covenanted neighborhoods), federal housing agencies (that would not guarantee mortgages granted to blacks in covenanted neighborhoods), and insurers (who would not insure blacks in covenanted neighborhoods)" (Brooks 2011, 361). Thus older restrictive covenants, even though not enforceable, helped maintain segregation.

Finding Restrictive Covenants in Lexington

Racially restrictive covenants are clauses within deeds, so one has to read the deed for a particular property in order to learn if there is any restrictive covenant affecting that property. 

Two hands holding a large red deed book, in front of a shelf containing other large deed books.

The Fayette County property deeds are in huge books at the Fayette County Clerk's Office.

Dedicated computers at the Clerk's office, linked to the Property Valuation Administrator's website, help identify the deeds for a given property by deed book and page number. The property deed will usually identify the plat number for the property's subdivision; the helpful staff people in the County Clerk's office make copies of plats and deed pages. 

Every time a property changes hands a new deed is drafted, incorporating most of the language from the previous deed. If the property has changed ownership since 1948 (when Shelley v. Kraemer was decided), any previous racially restrictive covenant may not be restated in the newer deed or deeds. If the property has changed hands since 1968 (when the Fair Housing Act was passed), the newer deeds will almost certainly leave out any previous racially restrictive language. In either case the researcher must go back to the previous deed, or the one before that, back to when restrictive language first appears. Often, as in the case of most examples we cited above, that language appeared either the first time the land was subdivided or the first time the subdivided land was sold. 

This process can be quite time-consuming. Organizations with paid staff in some other communities have been able to map restrictive covenants for the entire community; in several other communities the work is in progress. Here are two examples:

Mapping Prejudice in Minneapolis, a project of the University of Minnesota libraries, has a several-person staff and enlisted the help of over 3,000 volunteers who spent 14,000 hours in researching deeds and creating the map of racial covenants in Hennepin County. They used character recognition software to search out racial language; then volunteers read the text flagged by the computer. You can see the results of their work at this website:

Segregated Seattle, a project of the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project at the University of Washington, has four staff people, as well as numerous university students who do the research as part of their coursework. Since 2005 they have found restrictive covenants affecting 1520,000 properties. The Washington legislature recently approved funding for the project, and the work is nearing completion. The relevant section of their website can be found at

Not having the resources of projects like those in Minneapolis and Seattle, we knew we could not study the deeds for all of Fayette County. We chose a small sample, selecting specific subdivisions for review, and choosing addresses within those subdivisions more or less randomly. 

Map of Lexington from 1938. Various sections of town are colored in red, yellow, blue, or green.

We used the HOLC map to help us choose the subdivisions where we would focus our research. We were looking for neighborhoods that we thought would have been appealing to working families of all races, and that may have been affordable to at least some African American families if not for restrictive covenants. 

The HOLC map was not actually used for redlining in Lexington*, but it still represents the way Lexington neighborhoods were viewed by the realtors and government officials who studied the community and made the map. The blue-colored neighborhoods were deemed "still desirable" by the map-makers, and we are knew these sections to have modest but sturdy houses that might have filled the needs of first-time homebuyers, so we thought these areas would meet our criteria. All of the neighborhoods we chose for deed research were in the blue areas, but time did not allow us to cover every blue area.  

*For information about the HOLC maps and FHA redlining, see this website's Redlining page.

Once we had identified the neighborhoods where we wanted to search, we selected individual addresses more or less at random. We then found and read the deeds, as described above, and often found that the restrictive covenants applied not just to the specific address but to the entire subdivision.   

We did not search for deeds in the city's central core because, given the quasi-integrated nature of Lexington's late-19th and early-20th century settlement, and as explained earlier, identifying the White and Black blocks would have been too time-consuming. We hope the central core will be included in future research.

Searching Your Own Deed

If you are a homeowner, it is possible to find out whether your own deed includes unsavory and illegal restrictions. It may take more research than simply reading your deed, which may refer to but not spell out older restrictions. A visit to the County Clerk's office, and good help from people who work there, is worth a try. As we noted above, you are most likely to find restrictive covenants if your neighborhood was developed before 1948, although some covenants might exist for areas developed up to 1968. We did not find any, but we did not search in neighborhoods developed after 1948.

For properties that were initially subject to restrictive covenants, newer deeds that don't repeat the offensive racial language may still incorporate it by reference. For example, in a 1970 deed for one of the Hollywood Terrace properties the following language is found: "...this conveyance is made subject to... all restrictions conditions and easements affecting the said property which appear of record in the Fayette County Clerk's office" (Deed Book 1001 p. 353). Even when such language is present, however, racially restrictive covenants can no longer be enforced in court. 

As described here and elsewhere, getting a restriction removed from one's own homeowner's deed can be arduous to impossible, even when the restriction itself is no longer legal. Recently change has begun in a few places to make removal less difficult. State legislatures in some states, including Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, and California, have passed legislation making it easier for homeowners to remove race-based restrictions from their deeds.