Unjust Deeds

The Restrictive Covenant Cases and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement

By Jeffrey D. Gonda

Unjust Deeds

312 pp., 6.14 x 9.21, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5481-2
    Published: August 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2545-4
    Published: October 2015
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2546-1
    Published: August 2015

Justice, Power, and Politics

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In 1945, six African American families from St. Louis, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., began a desperate fight to keep their homes. Each of them had purchased a property that prohibited the occupancy of African Americans and other minority groups through the use of legal instruments called racial restrictive covenants--one of the most pervasive tools of residential segregation in the aftermath of World War II. Over the next three years, local activists and lawyers at the NAACP fought through the nation’s courts to end the enforcement of these discriminatory contracts.

Unjust Deeds explores the origins and complex legacies of their dramatic campaign, culminating in a landmark Supreme Court victory in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948). Restoring this story to its proper place in the history of the black freedom struggle, Jeffrey D. Gonda's groundbreaking study provides a critical vantage point to the simultaneously personal, local, and national dimensions of legal activism in the twentieth century and offers a new understanding of the evolving legal fight against Jim Crow in neighborhoods and courtrooms across America.

About the Author

Jeffrey D. Gonda is associate professor of history in the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
For more information about Jeffrey D. Gonda, visit the Author Page.


“Well written and argued, Unjust Deeds adds important details to the story of the black freedom struggle.”--Journal of American History

“An examination of the simultaneously personal, local, and national dimensions of legal activism in the twentieth century.”--Law & Social Inquiry

“A highly readable, well argued, and ultimately convincing reappraisal of the significance of restrictive covenant cases in modern American history.”--Journal of Social History

“Gonda’s valuable contribution underscores the formidable movement to counter housing discrimination, an area of research long neglected.”--Journal of Southern History

“Raises fundamental philosophical questions that are sure to inspire conversation and debate.”---Missouri Historical Review

"The time is more than ripe for a new look at restrictive covenant litigation, and Unjust Deeds is invaluable in this regard. With top-rate scholarship and original treatment, this is an important new work. It's definitely among the top books on legal civil rights history from the past decade."--Susan Carle, American University Washington College of Law

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