47-49 Monmouth Street, Brookline
Ivory Bean was a mason. In 1855, he purchased a piece of land at what is today 47-49 Monmouth Street in Brookline’s Longwood neighborhood for the price of $11,400. The person from whom Bean bought the property was Amos A. Lawrence, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist. It is thought that Bean might have worked for the Lawrence family.
Noteworthy is the restrictive language contained in the property deed. In addition to banning various forms of economic activity—including that of a soap boiler brewer, tanner, distiller, sugar baker, or brick maker—it also forbade the property’s “occupation by any negro or negroes” and “by any native or natives of Ireland.”
That Amos Lawrence had antipathy toward people of Irish descent is not especially remarkable as such sentiment was common among non-Catholic Greater Bostonians during the time. His hostility toward Black people, however, is somewhat striking as Lawrence was a prominent abolitionist. This seeming contradiction manifests, in addition to his own idiosyncrasies, the complexities of the society in which the textile merchant lived and his position with it.
As historian Catherine Devlin explains, Lawrence criticized “slavery without recognizing his own dependence on it.” He also “[opposed] its spread on political grounds rather than championing the end to an unethical practice.” As such, Lawrence “was both culpable for profiting from slavery and admirable for trying to prevent its spread, a man who was both racist and a self-proclaimed abolitionist.”
Also noteworthy about the racially restrictive covenant associated with the Ivory Bean property is its date. Historians typically trace the origins of racial covenants in the United States to the late 1800s. The 1920s marked a period of intense growth in their use—an outgrowth of a combination of factors: the Great Migration of Blacks from the U.S. South; a U.S. Supreme Court decision (in 1917) that outlawed the use of racial zoning by municipalities; and anti-Black race riots in many cities in the years 1917-1921. On the national level, racial covenants usually targeted Blacks, but, depending on the part of the country, also people of Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, and Mexican backgrounds. In Massachusetts, covenants barred people identified as Black, Irish, Italian, Polish, and the non-white broadly.
One cannot say with certainty when the first racially restrictive covenant came to be in the United States. (Many have mistakenly attributed the first racial covenant to a Brookline subdivision—“The Lindens”—created by Thomas Aspinwall Davis in 1843.*) But it is safe to say that the one Amos Lawrence imposed on the property of Ivory Bean is the earliest known instance of a racist property deed in Greater Boston and in the United States as a whole.
In approximately 1857, Ivory Bean built the house that now stands on the property. Today it is a private, multi-unit dwelling.
Green Line (D Branch) to Longwood station (0.3 miles, about a 6-minute walk), or Green Line (B Branch) to St. Mary’s Street (0.2 miles, about a 4-minute walk).
To learn more:
Michael Jones-Correa, “The origins and diffusion of racial restrictive covenants,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 115, No. 4, 2000: 541-568.
Ronald Dale Karr, Between City and Country: Brookline, Massachusetts, and the Origins of Suburbia, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2018.
Anne Wardwell, “’Longwood’ and ‘Cottage Farm’ in Brookline,” in Pauline Chase Harrell and Margaret Supplee Smith (editors), Victorian Boston Today: Ten Walking Tours, Boston: New England Chapter, Victorian Society in America, 1975: 58-69.
Nearby site of interest:
Longwood Mall, Kent and Beech Streets. The mall is a two-and-a-half-acre linear park linear park with historic beech trees. It is thought to contain the oldest grove of European Beech trees in the United States.
Anne Wardwell (see above) is the first author known to have written about the restrictive covenant associated with the Ivory Bean house. A history Ph.D. dissertation completed at Boston University in 1981 was the first scholarly source to do so. The author, Ronald Dale Karr, wrote:
“Before zoning, the primary protection against attempts to lower the class status of a development was the restrictive covenant. Restrictive covenants were written into deeds at the time of the original sale, enforceable in court by other landowners. Nearly every Brookline subdivision aimed at the upper-middle-class market employed these controls. For example, the deeds received by buyers at Linden Place in 1843 required that all buildings be erected at least thirty feet away from the street and ‘that the only buildings to be erected or placed upon said parcels shall be dwelling houses and their appurtenances exclusive of all yards, shops, or other conveniences for manufacturing or mechanical purposes.’ In Longwood, deeds from the Sears and Lawrence families commonly forbade commercial uses of the land for twenty years from the time of sale, and some varied detailed restrictions on the type of buildings that could be constructed. One even prohibited buildings to be occupied ‘by any negro or native of Ireland.'”
In the footnote associated with this text, Karr said that “This is the only example I uncovered of a restrictive covenant aimed at a racial, ethnic, or religious group.”
Historian Kenneth Jackson drew on Karr’s dissertation in his award-winning book Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). Here’s the relevant excerpt:
“Meanwhile, the use of uniform setback lines and the preference for centering a house to equalize both side yards created a homogeneous statement that enabled residents to eradicate many vestiges of the heterogeneity that characterized the cities they had fled. For example, in 1843, deeds for the lots in the Linden Place subdivision in Brookline, Massachusetts, included the provision that houses be erected at least 30 feet from the street and ‘that the only buildings to be erected and placed upon said parcels shall be dwelling houses.’ As the century progressed, deeds forbade sales to ‘any negro or native of Ireland.’”
Note that the excerpt implies that the racially restrictive covenant was associated with the Linden Place subdivision and also suggests that such covenants were multiple in number (i.e. “deeds forbade sales”). Jackson’s work thus distorts what Karr wrote in his dissertation. (Karr turned the dissertation into a book in 2018–see above.)
Subsequent authors have drawn on Jackson’s influential book regarding the origins of the racial covenant and have thus reproduced the original misrepresentation.
Finally, it is important to note that racial covenants stand out because of their formal nature. There were (and are), of course, all sorts of other, less formal means, by which homeowners, neighborhoods, and real estate interests have excluded negatively racialized individuals to maintain relative homogeneity in particular locales. (See, for example, here and James Loewen’s Sundown Towns.)
Thanks to Jesus MacLean and Camille Arbogast, curators at the Brookline Historical Society, and to Ken Liss, President of the Brookline Historical Society, for their assistance. Thanks as well to Stephanie Call, the Associate Director of Archives and Education, Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.