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Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

Whatcom County restricted subdivisions

These maps show neighborhoods where racial restrictive covenants were imposed in the decades when they were legal. Most restrictions in Bellingham and Whatcom County date from 1928 to 1955 and covered a large percentage of subdivisions developed in that period. We have documented more than 1,600 restricted properties in 26 subdivisions. Do not assume that areas without circles were unrestricted. Neighborhoods without covenants often practiced racial exclusion by other means. In 1940, Whatcom's population included only 34 Black people and 772 Asian and Indigenous Americans. Thirty years later not much had changed. The 1970 census counted only 201 Black residents. Asians numbered only 543, while the Lummi reservation remained home to 1,949. Exclusionary practices had ensured that the county remained 96.7% white.

Here we highlight subdivisions. For a more complete view of individual properties go to our Whatcom parcels map


Explanatory notes:

These are preliminary findings and subject to revision. We are still adding and confirming data. We are grateful to the Whatcom County Auditor office for making it possible for us to search digital property records using a computer program written by Nicholas Boren with help from Michael Corey at Mapping Prejudice. Suspected restrictions were confirmed by Sophia Dowling who managed data entry and geocoding. Maps by James Gregory.

Data caveat: On the map above, do not assume that areas without circles were not restricted. Restrictive covenants were only one of the mechanisms of segregation. Neighborhoods without covenants often practiced racial exclusion by other means.

There is a logic to the geography. Areas platted (subdivided) between 1925 and 1948 were most likely to be restricted. Realtors and developers wrote racial exclusions into the initial documents subdividing a future neighborhood. All properties in the subdivision were thus legally restricted. It was more complicated to restrict older areas. Neighborhood associations sometimes organized petition drives and convinced white homeowners to add racial restriction clauses to their properties.

Look at the language of restriction in these deeds. Some specify that neighborhoods are reserved for "Whites," while others enumerate the prohibited racial groups. And the wording is curious. In the terminology of the 1920s-1940s "Hebrews" meant Jews; "Ethiopians" meant African ancestry; "Malays" meant Filipinos; "Mongolians" meant all east Asians; "Hindus" meant all south Asians.