Library/Information Science Team Invites Public to Help Hack History of Durham Deeds

Posted October 05, 2020, 2:32PM
Deed books record the ways property laws helped divide neighborhoods into black and white.

The North Carolina Central University School of Information and Library Science (SLIS) is working with the Durham County Register of Deeds and Data Works NC, a nonprofit software company, to compile and transcribe historic property deeds reflecting the presence of racially restrictive land-use practices from the city’s past.

The goal is to create a publicly accessible collection of transcribed property deeds containing racial covenant clauses, with geo-referencing to indicate how covenant restrictions helped shape segregated housing patterns in neighborhoods throughout Durham, said Alexandra Chassanoff, Ph.D., SLIS assistant professor who is leading the work.

The year-long  Hacking into History project was funded through the federal Institute for Museum and Library Services through its Civic Switchboard: Connecting Libraries and Community Information Networks program. 

“The Civic Switchboard program funds projects that look to expand the role of libraries in civic engagement and literacy efforts,” Chassanoff said. “This helps citizens become more aware of what’s going on around them and teaches them to use tools and technology for education and empowerment.”  

Chassanoff is working with SLIS graduate research assistants Genevia Chamblee-Smith and Michelle Tackabery to roll out the citizen science project that will primarily examine property deeds recorded between 1890 and 1948, when covenants were ruled legally unenforceable. Similar collaborations are happening across the country in cities like Minneapolis, Hartford and Seattle. 

The public is invited to participate in a Racial Covenants Hackathon from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24. In addition to learning about the role of discriminatory clauses in shaping cities, volunteers will be asked to review and transcribe deeds that included racial covenant clauses across Durham. Onsite training and support will be available to volunteers.

The session will focus on the period between 1890 and the 1940s, when many property deeds in Durham included ownership restrictions based on race. A second session is planned for a later date.

To sign up for the session or learn more about the project, contact the project:



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