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Homeowners' association cannot enforce discriminatory covenants

Most people are familiar with the musical genius of Nat King Cole, who was a California resident at the time of his death in 1965 at the young age of 45. He was the father of singer Natalie Cole and the creator of universal favorites such as "Mona Lisa" and "Unforgettable."  In the late 1940s and thereafter, the entertainer had to contend with the evils of racial discrimination in housing that was engineered against him and his family by a homeowners' association created just to keep him out of a stately Los Angeles neighborhood.

Cole purchased an elegant Tudor mansion in the exclusively white neighborhood of Hancock Park for $85,000. The neighborhood was filled with old-line Los Angeles money, consisting of scions from the oil, banking and real estate industries. Residents of the neighborhood met and formed the Hancock Park Property Owners Association. The association pointed out that the deeds in the area, made out mostly in the 1920s, had restrictive covenants which stated that no nonwhites would be able to purchase a home in the specified geographical area.

Fortunately, by the time that the Cole family moved in the U.S. Supreme Court had already struck down racially-restrictive covenants in another California case. Nonetheless, the Cole family had to endure some heinous activities, including racially-charged signs placed on their yard and even a shot being fired into their home.  People put firecrackers in their rose bushes and some went so low as to put a burning cross on their lawn.

The family persisted, and with the law on their side, they remained in the property for the next 20 years until the singer's early death and his widow's decision to move back east. Today, federal laws and those of California strictly outlaw any kind of housing discrimination. A homeowners' association would be punished and likely terminated were it to engage in such nefarious efforts. Interestingly, the residents of Hancock Park later came to respect and love the memory of their legendary neighbor and declared their affection by naming the Nat King Cole Post Office in his honor.

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