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City leaders hold press conference addressing racist Betton Hills covenant

Check in for live stream of conference at 2 p.m.
Posted at 1:16 PM, Jul 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-01 18:13:12-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — After a local attorney brought attention to an outdated covenant banning minorities from owning property in a Midtown neighborhood, leaders throughout Tallahassee are calling on the City of Tallahassee to take action.

An emergency press conference to address the matter is set for 2 p.m. at the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. WTXL will have a live stream of the press conference attached to this article, on Facebook, and on our website.

Anabelle Dias, an attorney and prospective Betton Hills home owner, outed the restrictive covenant in a Facebook post, saying that she was "horrified" by the language she found in the covenant.

The document states that "no person of other than the Caucasian race shall own, use or occupy any property in said subdivision except that in that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race or nationality employed by an owner or tenant.”

"In 1948, restrictive covenants such as these were deemed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court," wrote Attorney Jami Coleman, who will also be in attendance at an "emergency press conference" on Monday. "... Our belief is that if we could extinguish the easement, it will not show up as a restriction on the land, thus new homeowners will not re-experience the discrimination. "

It's something we're finding out might not be so easy.

Mike Brezin, the president of the Betton Hills Neighborhood Association, authored a blog post on Sunday about the matter. He says it's a property law issue tied to titles, one that's going to take extensive research when it comes to making any changes.

In the blog post, Brezin admitted that he didn't have an easy fix. However, Brezin said that words matter just as much as actions to create "a safer, more equitable, more united, and more prosperous future for all Americans."

"Admittedly, separating offensive but expired restricted covenants from a deed may be seen as small potatoes," Brezin wrote. "Perhaps more importantly, actions like this can mark the beginning of a new era of accounting for historical wrongs and creating remedies to reconcile our history with our national ideals."

Faith and civic leaders joined together for an emergency meeting at the Bethel Missionary Church in Tallahassee, with many saying the language is unethical and has to go.

"Even though this is a dead document, there is an easement in the document that causes us to relive and re-experience it," said Coleman. "What we are asking for the city to do is get a judicial order and/or get a task force, a committee of experts and determine what type of solutions are available."

Of course this agreement is not enforceable today, but it doesn't stop the pain of what it once represented. While the city of Tallahassee does not have the power to make a change alone, city leaders say it can be resolved if everyone works together.

"This is something that we have to work together as a community to address," said Cynthia Barber, the deputy city manager. "This is not one single person, one single group or one single organization's problem, but that's not who we are as Tallahassee. So we do need to work together to find a solution."

The National Action Network is not waiting on the city or Betton Hills to make any moves. During Monday's meeting, the group announced that it's launching a task force to get that language removed.