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From the Archives: Race restrictions in Golden Hill block outlawed 75 years ago

Seventy-five years ago, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled on Dec. 3, 1947 against restrictive racial covenants in the Golden Hill area.

The ruling invalidated restrictions forbidding the use of property by non-Caucasians in the Charles Hensley Subdivision. It was San Diego’s first successful legal challenge of such restrictive racial covenants.

The Golden Hill case was brought by a group of property owners against two Black families — Marshall F. and June Dickens Lewis and Harry M. and Florinda Dickens — who owned homes within a subdivision that had banned non-Caucasians since 1939.

The judge emphasized that his ruling covered only the block with the Lewis-Dickens property. However, he said, a growing Black population “has so changed conditions that it is inequitable to longer enforce the restrictions.”

Golden Hill was not the only neighborhood in San Diego which had restrictive covenants in real estate deeds banning the sale or lease of homes or land to non-Whites.

Similar restrictions existed in Kensington, Point Loma, La Jolla, Ocean Beach Linda Vista, Rancho Sante Fe, College Grove, La Mesa, Del Mar, Encinitas and downtown San Diego along Market Street. By some estimates, 70 percent of all county land www.rakyatpintar.com subdivided before 1940 carried these restrictions.

On May 3, 1948, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 0 that agreements to bar racial minorities from residential areas were discriminatory and could not be enforced by the courts.

This article uses dated racial language that may offend some readers.

From The San Diego Union, Thursday, Dec. 4, 1947.

Realty Racial Ban Outlawed

By Melvin Mayne

Racial restrictions forbidding use of property in a block bounded by K, L, Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Sts. by non-Caucasians, yesterday were held by Superior Judge L. N. Turrentine to no longer exist.

His decision was give in a suit brought by J.C. Loftus and others in the Golden Hill area against Marshall F. Lewis and his father-in-law, Harry M. Dickens, Negroes, owning and occupying proper at 2040 K St., and in the block upon which the restrictive covenant had been placed in 1939.

NEW RULING SOUGHT

Attorneys for Loftus and his group announced they would move for a new trial, and, if their plea were not granted, appeal the decision.

Judge Turrentine stressed that his ruling involved only the restrictive covenant covering the particular block on which the Lewis-Dickens property is located, and that block by block covenants prevalent along the border between Golden Hill and Logan Height were not considered in deciding the case. He described each black as “an empire unto itself”

The judge said, in delivering his decision orally before a crowded courtroom, that he was ruling on the equitable sides of the case and was interested in :whether changes in conditions in the neighborhood had been such as to make maintenance of the restrictions inequitable.”

CONDITIONS CHANGE

Growth of the Negro population, he said “has so changed conditions that it is inequitable to longer enforce the restrictions.”

“If the city’s non-Caucasians are to have one cultural center, it must expand,” he contended , after quoting evidence to show that the Negro population in Logan Heights, abutting Golden Hill on the south, has increased from 4000 before the war to 8000 now, and that, in addition, San Diego has a new Negro population of no less than 10,000 in Federal housing projects.

He said that accommodations for the Negroes are “bulging at the seams” and that the only alternative to expansion in the area that the Negroes already have occupied, is the setting up of new centers. He said he believed the Negroes would rather have their own sphere than to “dissipate throughout the city.”

BLOCK HELD ‘OUTPOST’

The block in which Lewis and his family reside was described by Judge Turrentine as a “citadel or outpost by itself,” an island surrounded by blocks in every direction which have Negro inhabitants.

Testimony had shown, he said, that the restrictions have depreciated value of the land in the block, Non-Caucasians, witnesses had said, would not buy because a purchase was only an invitation to a lawsuit, and Caucasians had lost interest because of congestion and concentration of other races in the vicinity. If the restrictions were held valid, he said, the effect would be to “freeze” the land and prevent its sale.

WIDE INTEREST SHOWN

While the suit involved ownership of only two lots in one block, it held the attention of large groups. On the one side was the Golden Hill Improvement Association, interested in the preservation of racial restrictions contained in block by block covenants covering about 148 blocks in the 225-block area commonly and unofficially described as Golden Hill.

On the other side was the Race Relations Association, led by its president, Dennis Allen. Witnesses mustered by this group told of the heavy wartime growth of San Diego’s Negro population and of the need for expansion, especially into borderline areas between Golden Hill, settled since early days by Caucasians, and Logan Heights, now occupied generally by non-Caucasians.

OTHER SUITS PENDING

The suit is one of several brought in recent months in an attempt to enforce restrictions along the borderline between the two districts, by asking the courts to enjoin use and occupancy of covenanted lands by other than Caucasians, and to collect damages for breaching of the pacts.

Two of the suits, it was stated yesterday, involve properties in the same block as that in which the Lewis family lives. Those in other blocks, Judge Turrentine indicated, will have to be tried on their merits.