In the summer of 1948, Nat King Cole and his new wife, singer Maria Hawkins, made their way to the Los Angeles enclave of Hancock Park in search of a family home that would reflect his ascendant star power. And in Hancock Park, Cole found it: an earthy-brick Tudor-style estate priced at a then attainable $85,000.

“Had it been up to Maria, the couple would have settled in Connecticut or somewhere else in New England,” Cole’s biographer Daniel Mark Epstein says of Cole’s Boston-born bride, an accomplished jazz performer who had toured with Count Basie and Duke Ellington before marrying and raising five children. But, he adds, Cole “loved the California weather, and the nightclubs in the city provided steady employment. And at that time Hancock Park had the most beautiful homes in Los Angeles.”

But as the Coles quickly learned, those homes were not available to all buyers—particularly Black buyers. This is a sharp contrast to Hancock Park today, where notable Black homebuyers and sellers are helping to lead the area’s property boom.

Muhammad Ali once called Hancock Park home.

Shonda Rhimes’s century-old Italianate home, for instance, sold for an unprecedented $21 million in 2022, while Muhammad Ali’s estate (originally built for Gillette founder King C. Gillette) is listed for $17 million by its current owner, the prominent Black attorney Michael Lawson. Between March 2022 and March 2023, median listing prices in Hancock Park rose more than 150 percent, to $5.6 million, just before Los Angeles’s much-derided new real-estate tax took effect.

“There’s an elegance and stately character to the neighborhood that remains remarkably intact,” says Ken Bernstein, principal city planner at the Los Angeles Department of City Planning’s Office of Historic Resources. But as in much of Los Angeles just after World War II, Hancock Park was guided by the legacy of strict racial covenants.

Just months before the Coles showed up, the U.S. Supreme Court had declared these restrictions—a sticking point of the reparations push now sweeping through California—to be unconstitutional. But with both the new law and the necessary enforcement still untested, Hancock Park’s mostly rich and entirely white residents mounted a multi-front campaign to drive Cole and his family from the neighborhood.

Ali’s former estate in Hancock Park was originally built for Gillette founder King C. Gillette.

As late as 1940, restrictions existed for 80 percent of all housing in Los Angeles County, according to the 1973 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Recent research has turned up at least 10,000 individual cases of racial regulations in nearby San Diego, with innumerable unofficial acts of institutionalized housing discrimination inevitably pushing that figure far higher.

Bernstein, who notes that covenants were also often applied to Jews, says that “what Nat King Cole experienced was widespread and in no way limited to Hancock Park.” Hattie McDaniel, the first Black American to win an Oscar, endured similar (though less intense) coordinated racial animus from her white neighbors in the nearby Sugar Hill district. Jazz singer Ethel Waters and character actress Louise Beavers also tussled with the neighborhood’s covenant Karens.

Hancock Park represented far more of a lifestyle play than a political statement for the Coles. “They did not see themselves as trailblazers.... Nat always insisted that he was no crusader for civil rights,” says Epstein. “Nat was a celebrity, and Maria a woman of breeding and refinement; they simply could not believe that such a snobbish rule would apply to them.” Still, the Coles weren’t entirely oblivious: their dark-skinned real-estate agent hired a lighter-skinned associate to complete the actual transaction.

As the Coles quickly learned, those homes were not available to all buyers—particularly Black buyers. This is a sharp contrast to Hancock Park today, where notable Black homebuyers and sellers are helping to lead the area’s property boom.

Over the course of their first few years in Hancock Park, Nat, Maria, and their daughter Natalie saw everything from attempted bribery and murder threats to police harassment and an I.R.S. investigation, all in an effort to uproot the family. A sign was even placed on their yard declaring their home “N***** Heaven.” None of it worked. The family remained in Hancock Park for nearly a decade after Cole died, in 1965.

Today, nearly 80 years after the Coles’ arrival and the court case that outlawed racial covenants, Hancock Park is a much different place. True, says Bernstein, the area’s continued affluence has made it far less diverse than most Los Angeles historic districts. But along with its various high-profile Black residents, Hancock Park is a center of Orthodox Jewish life, another impossibility back during the height of its covenant enforcement.

Yet apart from Hancock Park’s Black elite—which also includes former diplomat Nicole Avant and, until recently, talk-show host Tavis Smiley—most Black Angelenos are not riding the city’s current real-estate wave. Indeed, Blacks have the lowest home-ownership levels of any race in all of Los Angeles, and the city’s “ownership gap” is among the most extreme for all U.S. metropolitan areas.

Efforts to correct wealth inequality, including talk of reparations and re-distribution, are gaining across California. Some communities are already taking action. In 2022, upscale Manhattan Beach returned a Pacific-front parcel known as Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of its original Black owners nearly a century after it was confiscated via covenant-like eminent-domain laws. The family promptly sold it back to the city for $20 million—an eight-figure act of real-estate retribution that would almost certainly make Hancock Park’s first Black residents very, very proud.

David Christopher Kaufman is an editor and columnist at the New York Post, a regular opinion writer for The Telegraph, and an adjunct fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute