In the 20th century, the NAACP attacked segregation on several fronts: housing, education, and public accommodations. In Washington, D.C., attorney and real estate broker Romeo W. Horad Sr. (1895-1968) played a pivotal role in ending one of the most significant barriers to African American choice in where to live, the racially restrictive deed covenant. Though Horad’s involvement in that historical chapter is well-known, his time as a Montgomery County resident and civil rights leader is not.
Romeo Horad was born in Washington. After serving in the army during World War I, he graduated from Western Reserve University in Ohio and Howard University Law School. Horad went to work in the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds where he became the agency’s Secretary. While there, he developed the lot and square system still in use today to record real estate.
In 1938, Horad resigned from the District government and obtained a real estate broker’s license. He established a practice in Washington catering to African Americans buying, selling, and renting homes. That same year, he also bought a lot in Wheaton from his wife’s family, the Sewells. Horad obtained a construction loan from Washington-based Perpetual Savings and Loan Association and he built a two-story brick home on University Boulevard. After the home was completed, he and his family moved to Wheaton joining a small community of African Americans who had lived there since the 1880s.
The loan Horad got from Perpetual is important for a number of reasons. His son, Sewell, who also dabbled in real estate told me that whenever his father and his clients required financing, Perpetual was their bank of choice. Founded in Washington in the 1880s, Perpetual was one of the few local banks that lent money to African Americans to buy homes. The bank so valued its African American customers that in the 1950s, it ran display ads in the Washington Afro-American newspaper.
Though he made Wheaton his home, Horad kept his Northwest Washington real estate office. He began collaborating with a white Realtor, Raphael Urciolo, to help African Americans buy homes in subdivisions with racially restrictive covenants. In 1944 James and Mary Hurd bought a home on Bryant Street in the District’s Bloomingdale neighborhood. The resulting suit by white neighbors and the subsequent appeal in the case, Hurd v. Hodge, became one of three cases the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1948. Known as Shelley v. Kraemer (for the Missouri case), the case rendered racially restrictive covenants unenforceable in the courts. African Americans all across the country were free from one of the most insurmountable barriers to homeownership and wealth accumulation. All of the residential subdivisions surrounding the River Road community had racially restrictive covenants.
Horad turned his efforts to ending segregation, discrimination, and environmental racism in Montgomery County. In 1947 he and Lyttonsville resident Lawrence Tyson and a handful of other African American residents formed the Citizens Council for Mutual Improvement. Their goals included improving the county’s segregated school system (this was six years before Brown v. Board of Education), improving roads in African American communities, providing water and sewerage, and removing the Jim Crow signs in Montgomery County government offices. Their January 1948 appeal to the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners (the precursor to today’s County Council) marked the start of a modern civil rights movement in Montgomery County.
Horad remained active in Montgomery County’s Republican Party throughout his life. After the county moved to the charter system of government and created a county council, Horad ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the new council and as a state delegate. The spacious Horad home in Wheaton with its large yard became a popular place for political and church picnics.
In 1948, after Horad announced his candidacy for the Montgomery County Council, the Washington Evening Star profiled him. “Of his accomplishments, Romeo W. Horad seems proudest of the home he built 10 years ago at 11308 Old Bladensburg road [now University Blvd.], Silver Spring,” reporter John V. Horner wrote. “The air-conditioned, Georgian house is evidence, he says, of what Negroes can do if given the opportunity. To him, it is proof that the race appreciates the advantages of modern living and is entitled to a chance of enjoying them.”
After Horad died in 1968, his son Sewell (a Washington public schoolteacher) moved into the Wheaton home where he had lived while attending Howard University. Sewell Horad lived in Wheaton until 2016 when he and his wife sold the property and moved to a retirement community. When the Montgomery County Planning Department completed its updated plan for Wheaton in 2012, neither Horad nor his home were mentioned by the agency’s Historic Preservation Office. The WTOP transmitter building located across the street, completed after the Horad home, has been a Montgomery County designated historic site since 1989.
Sources: Sewell Horad; Montgomery County Archives; Patricia Tyson; The Washington Post. #BlackHistoryDay2018
Note: This post originally was published on the Save Bethesda African Cemetery Facebook page.