African American Resilience 

Documenting Exclusion & Resilience examines the racial dynamics among property owners in Northern Virginia. In this portion of the website, we locate the experiences of African American property owners in the region within the restrictive context of Northern Virginia’s discriminatory land practices. By geolocating recorded land deeds containing racially restrictive covenants relative to those properties owned by Black residents, this project documents the resilience demonstrated by African American communities across the region.

This project reframes the history of segregation to make visible the ways in which both Black and white residents negotiated housing and place during the suburbanization of Northern Virginia (NOVA).

  • While real estate developers, politicians, and community leaders used federal and local policies such as restrictive covenants, land use zoning, public housing construction, urban renewal, and redlining to bar African Americans from certain neighborhoods, historical documentation reveals Black community members played an active role in shaping their neighborhoods when navigating this discriminatory housing market.

  • Given the slow and uneven process of removing exclusionary barriers, African Americans leveraged available resources to assure housing access well into the late 1960s when the Fair Housing Act (1968) provided some redress.

Mapping Black property ownership relative to racially restrictive covenants creates a “usable past”  that can inform current conversations about housing access. 

  • Historical amnesia about the actual choices of Black homeowners has often led to uninformed debates about housing patterns and accessibility that obscure how larger structural obstacles of the past shape present opportunities.

  • Reframing the conversation on the history of housing moves discussions beyond the realm of memory, which plays to priorities in contemporary debates, including what is considered important and what is forgotten or overlooked.

  • Although the past provides a context for the present, covenants are just one of many tools that restricted the options available to marginalized communities. As such, it is important not to simply assert a causal relationship between past racist practices and current housing problems.