This Article provides the factual background to Hansberry v. Lee, the famous class action case. During the early 1900's, Chicago's black population was kept effectively segregated, primarily through the use of racially restrictive covenants. However, in the 1930's, this system began to break down. The growth of the black population caused an increased demand for black housing, while the Depression reduced the market for white housing. It was at this time that Carl Hansberry bought a house that was covered by a restrictive covenant, generating a lawsuit to have the covenant enforced and the Hansberrys evicted.
Tracing the lawsuit as it progressed toward the Supreme Court, the author notes that the Court could have invalidated the Hansberry judgment for several reasons, including fraud, the then existing Illinois class action law, the constitutional validity of the restrictive covenants, and the lower court's improper use of res judicata. Surprisingly, however, the Supreme Court ignored these flaws, and the racism behind them, and instead focused on the due process considerations involved in binding an individual to a class action judgment. The author concludes that Hansberry's importance may be as a substantive decision leading directly to Shelley v. Kraemer.
Allen R. Kamp, The History Behind Hansberry v. Lee, 20 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 481 (1987).
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