The wealth-gap machine (transcript) – The Center for Public Integrity

Reading Time: 15 minutes

[Sounds of people saying “hello”]

JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS, HOST: ReShonda Young and I are in the Black Hawk County recorder’s office.

COUNTY RECORDER SANDIE SMITH: Sorry, what did you say? It was miscellaneous book …?

JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS: Miscellaneous records.


[Sounds of faint talking and movement continue]

It’s on the second floor of the county courthouse, a big, rectangular building with rows of identical square windows. 

The office is full of enormous, leather-bound books. They hold all kinds of records from Waterloo’s history — birth certificates, marriage licenses and property records.

We open a red book labeled “miscellaneous” records and turn to an old restriction on the deed for ReShonda’s house. It’s three pages long, and it’s the first time ReShonda’s seeing this document.

RESHONDA YOUNG: This is put on the first day of May in 1945. So 22 days before my mother was born, this covenant, restrictive covenant was put on my house.

“No such tract shall be used or occupied by persons of any race other than the Caucasian race, except that domestic servants of races other than the Caucasian race may be employed by and domiciled with owners or tenants.”

HOST: It’s a restrictive covenant banning anyone other than white people from moving into the property. 

Restrictive covenants were common starting in the early 20th century — they were a way of ensuring that neighborhoods were segregated. 

The U.S. government encouraged them. The Federal Housing Administration said they would “provide the surest protection against undesirable encroachment” … as in, having Black neighbors. 

This covenant was signed by people who lived in the neighborhood. 

RESHONDA YOUNG: Oh, there’s lots of signatures. 


RESHONDA YOUNG: Unbelievable. And then, let’s see … they’re not all full. But [counting softly] 1,2,3,4,5,6 …

JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS: It ranges from like a half page to a full page.

RESHONDA YOUNG: So there’s 36 lines and they’re not all full, but I mean, even if you had 20 signatures on average on a page, that’s 360 signatures. … And so, I mean, that would be pretty much every single person in the neighborhood signing … which is incredible, that you could get that much consensus around this.

HOST: ReShonda recognizes a …….