Oak Forest residents in Houston hope to rewrite racist deeds across Texas

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For the past year, the Oak Forest community on the northwest side of Houston has been working to eliminate some of the wording in their deed restrictions, and residents say it's not an easy task.

When Nathan Bledsoe read the deed restrictions that applied to his home, he was shocked to find relics of racism embedded in the deed.

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"A deed restriction that says only white people can live somewhere, even if it's not enforceable, is not something you shove in the face of folks who are trying to invest in a property and move into the neighborhood that they want to be a part of," he told Eyewitness News.

Bledsoe moved to Oak Forest four years ago.

Oak Forest was established in 1947 by Oak Forest Realty Corporation, which is owned by Frank Sharp, a developer who would later establish Sharpstown in southwest Houston.

In black and white, the deed states none of the homes in Oak Forest can be owned or occupied "by any person not of the white race" except servants living with their employers. In order to change the deed restrictions, the community needs 75% of homeowners in each section to provide their notarized signature agreeing to the change.

In Oak Forest, that would mean hundreds of individual households.

The deeds are signed by the county clerk, who said Oak Forest isn't the only community in the county or state with these restrictions.

"This situation is not the first situation that we've had in terms of language, discriminatory items and deed restrictions," said Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth. "So, in my opinion, this is a long time coming."
As a person of color, Hudspeth said she, too, is in disbelief and has already been in contact with state senators to change the language.

"I will be working proactively with other county clerks and around our state," said Hudspeth. "I will continue talking like we've already done with other state leadership on how we can address these deed restrictions, this outdated language, things that really should've been dealt with many years ago."

Texas Senator Royce West (D) filed Senate Bill 30 on March 8, which allows property owners to remove racist language from their deeds by filling out a form and filing it with their county clerk.
That bill passed the Texas Senate and has now moved to the House.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement following the unanimous passage of the bill saying, "Removing the racist language found on many deeds in Texas is the right thing to do and I am proud that the Senate has taken action to correct this offensive language. I look forward to seeing this bill signed into law."

Meanwhile, Bledsoe and other community members will continue to keep an eye on what state leaders will do moving forward as they continue to fight for the neighbors that the founders of Oak Forest didn't want.

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