Thomas Quirk writes: The Cockburn Trial and Northern Jim Crow

In 1937 an important case involving the validity of racist deed covenants was heard at The New York State Supreme Court in White Plains. The case involved a lawsuit brought against Mrs. Pauline T. Cockburn by Mrs. Marion A. Ridgway of The Edgemont Hills neighborhood in Greenburgh, New York. According to a New York Times article 23 May 1937, Ridgway sued her neighbor Pauline T. Cockburn because she had violated a common deed covenant attached to neighborhood properties that stated “No part of said parcels shall ever be leased, sold, rented, conveyed or given to Negroes or any persons of the Negro race or blood, except that colored servants may be maintained on the premises.”

Pauline Cockburn had purchased the property on April 16th 1933. She and her husband Joshua built a $20,000 home there and moved in on December, 31st 1936. Marion Ridgway explained to the press that she thought she had purchased a home in a “very exclusive neighborhood.” Pauline Cockburn was reported by the Times to be “extremely light skinned“. She later testified in court that her mother was Italian and her father had some Negro blood.

The Cockburns had an excellent defense team. Arthur Garfield Hays of The American Civil Liberties Union was lead counsel and his assistant counsel was a young N.A.A.C.P. attorney named Thurgood Marshall. Their goal was to call into question the fact that the United States had no legal definition of what a Negro actually was.

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