A bill in the Nassau County Legislature would create a searchable database of all the contracts that were once used in the county to prevent people of color from moving into certain neighborhoods.
Under these so-called restrictive covenants, which were often established by local real estate boards, property owners agreed not to sell or lease their property to Blacks. The Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional in 1949, but officials from ERASE Racism argued in a 2009 fair housing report that the covenants’ effects could still be seen today.
In Levittown, for example, where deeds forbade occupancy by “any person other than members of the Caucasian race,” for example, the population remained 94.1 percent white in 2009, with only 0.5 percent identifying as African-American. Many other Long Island towns were similar, the report notes.
But under the proposed bill, these documents would come to light. It asks the county’s Human Rights Commission to issue a Request for Proposals to educational and historic institutions to build the database, listing the locations of these restrictive covenants with an image of the document. Representatives from Molloy College and Adelphi University have already agreed to partner with the county to build and use the database.
By doing so, Legislators Carrié Solages and Arnold Drucker believe Nassau County residents can get a better understanding of the history of segregation on Long Island, and how it persists today.
“Those of us who have lived here on Long Island for decades know that this segregation exists, and has existed with impunity,” Drucker, a Democrat from Plainview, said at a news conference to gain support for the bill on July 13, recounting how his Jewish family was unable to move into certain neighborhoods when he was younger.
But, he said, “when you can overcome the segregation and discrimination in housing, you then foster equality” in services.
Solages, a Democrat from Valley Stream, added that the purpose of the database would not be to “point a finger, because of course when you point a finger, you point it back at yourself, ” but would instead be to create “an opportunity for us to learn from each other.”
“We would not be treating each other like aliens if we truly saw the humanity in each other,” he said. “We must understand why we’re not living together.”