Letter: Residents Repudiate Neighborhood's Racially Restrictive Origins
To the Editor:
Residents repudiate neighborhood's racially restrictive origins in a commitment to inclusion.
In July of 2020, residents of the Williamstown neighborhood comprising Berkshire Drive, Colonial Avenue and Orchard Lane came together to address, in a united way, the racially restrictive covenant which was filed on the land records by the subdivision founder in 1939, and subsequently referenced in many of their property deeds. Though the racially restrictive clause had been deemed legally unenforceable (1948 Supreme Court Shelley vs. Kraemer), unlawful (Civil Rights Act of 1968 ), and void (1969 Massachusetts General Laws), a range of voices expressed the ongoing pain caused by the presence of the covenant.
To acknowledge and directly confront this racist history, its associated harm, and continued impact, and to clearly express this neighborhood's commitment to inclusion, both now and in the future, the neighborhood has taken the following actions:
The neighborhood initiated a legal process resulting in the recording, on Sept. 9, 2020, of a "Condemnation, Revocation and Striking of Racist Covenant; Replacement thereof with Statement of Inclusivity" in the Northern Berkshire Registry of Deeds, in Book 1724, page 737. This document formally condemns, revokes and strikes the legally null and void racist covenant clause referenced in many deeds in the neighborhood. Furthermore, it replaces the clause with the following statement: "This subdivision is rededicated as welcoming in word and deed to all people without regard to their race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sex, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression."
Due to the association of the harmful covenant clause with the name Colonial Village, the neighborhood has also decided to no longer use this name to reference the subdivision and asks others also to discontinue its use. The neighborhood has elected not to adopt a new name at this time.
As an additional initiative, some residents of the neighborhood asked state legislators Rep. John Barrett III and Sen. Adam Hinds to initiate legislation that would streamline an otherwise complex legal process for expunging racist language from restrictive covenants by homeowners in the Commonwealth. At the time of writing, John Barrett's legislation H.4944 has 50 co-sponsors and is moving through the legislative process.
Neighborhood residents acknowledge the harmful racist history of the restrictive clause and hope that these modest actions contribute to a future of greater inclusion in Williamstown and throughout the commonwealth.
Residents of Berkshire Drive,