Connecting People Across Cultures and Traditions
Edited by Helle Porsdam
Chapter 7: The United States and Global Human Rights Imagination of the 1940s
Mark Philip Bradley In the spring of 1946, Orsel and Minnie McGhee turned to the Detroit Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP) for some help. A group of white property owners in northwestern Detroit had gone to the Circuit Court for Wayne County to oust the McGhees, who were African-American, from the home that they had purchased some 10 years earlier. The case rested on a racially restrictive covenant adopted by white homeowners that no property in the neighborhood ‘shall be used or occupied by any persons except those of the Caucasian race’. Among the signatures on the covenant were those of the white couple who had sold their home to the McGhees. Two Detroit-based African-American attorneys, both members of the NAACP’s National Legal Committee, took the case. The Circuit Court ruled against the McGhees.1 The McGhee’s attorneys appealed their case to the Supreme Court of Michigan. In Sipes v McGhee, their appellant brief emphasized the ways in which the lower court ruling was contrary to what they termed ‘sound public policy’. To support this argument, the brief gave sustained attention to the decision of the neighboring Ontario High Court In re Drummond Wren which refused to enforce a restrictive covenant against Jews as it violated the human rights provisions of the United Nations Charter which Canada had recently ratiﬁed. The relevance of the opinion in the Wren case, the brief continued, was reinforced ‘by the wide ofﬁcial acceptance of the 1...
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