The Project

Hacking Into History: Discovering Racial Covenants in Durham Property Deeds is a collaborative project between DataWorks NC, The School of Library and Information Sciences Library at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and the Durham County Register of Deeds. The project was selected as a Civic Switchboard 2020 Field Project in February 2020 and began work in June 2020.

HIH aims to tell the story and impact of racially restrictive agreements contained in property deeds in Durham, North Carolina using public records information and archival documentation. While the history of redlining and its impact on American cities is increasingly well-known,1 the similarly widespread practice of encoding racially restrictive covenant clauses on property deeds has received significantly less attention.2 Our project mirrors similar collaborative efforts among libraries, civic data organizations, and community members to create online collections of crowd-sourced transcriptions of original property deeds containing racially restrictive covenants.3

Project goals include: (1) to inform community members about the history of exclusionary zoning restrictions in Durham; (2) to provide context for the city’s current affordable housing crisis; (3) to empower community participation in translation efforts and analysis of legacy documentation, turning handwritten documentation into human and machine-readable “data.”

The “Mapping Inequality” project explores the history of redlining and housing discrimination in US cities. See:

2 Racially restrictive covenants are “contractual agreements that prohibit the purchase, lease, or occupation of a piece of property by a particular group of people, usually African Americans. Racially restrictive covenants were not only mutual agreements between property owners in a neighborhood not to sell to certain people, but were also agreements enforced through the cooperation of real estate boards and neighborhood associations.” See:

See, for example: Minneapolis; Charlottesville; and Hartford

Project Team

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