The legacy of decades of housing discrimination still plagues the United States

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On May 31, President Biden proclaimed June as National Homeownership Month to honor its commitment to equitable housing and access to generational wealth for all, especially Americans of color.

The history of housing discrimination runs deep. Although fair housing is a civil right protected under the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, history has shown us that the freedom to use this right has always been fragile for African Americans and other ethnic groups considered “non-white” in American society. To solve this problem, it is not enough with a proclamation, but to take this history into account.

At the turn of the 20th century, white supremacy, segregation, and racial violence dominated American society in both the South and the North. North. As segregation continued in schools, lunch counters, bus stations and residential areas in Jim Crow South, it also continued in the North via housing discrimination.

In 1910, Baltimore Mayor J. Barry Mahool implemented the first residential racial zoning ordinance in America, making it the first city where redlining became legal. The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) denied home loans to African Americans in white neighborhoods in Baltimore. When middle-class African Americans circumvented legal and economic barriers to homeownership in all-white neighborhoods, self-proclaimed white supremacists stood up to their black neighbors with threats, riots and flight from their own communities.

This quickly became a national trend in northern cities across the country as 6.6 million black migrants fled the South in search of decent jobs, homes and schools in the North during the Great Migration (1916-1970). News reports from New York, Baltimore and Chicago described the influx of black families into all-white communities as a “Black Invasion” that sparked lawsuitswhite riot and white leak.

Members of the black community fought back.

In 1910, phrenologist Adena CE Minott purchased a house at 121 W. 136th St. in an all-white neighborhood of Harlem to house black students at her school, the Clio School of Mental Sciences. In response, 600 white members of the Harlem Property Owners’ Protective Association spent a year trying to “evict” Minott from the neighborhood. The organization sued Minott, and members pledged not to rent or sell their homes to African Americans for 15 years. The New York branch of the NAACP then created a vigilante committee and sued the homeowners association to ensure African Americans the right to buy homes on 132nd and 139th streets in Harlem.

When city ordinances and lawsuits failed to keep black families out, racist white residents protested the arrival of black neighbors with cross burnings, arson attacks, bomb and stonings of black houses. For example, on March 4, 1922, the black director Harry T. Pratt and his family moved into a “solid white” block at 527 Stanford Pl. in Baltimore. Three days later, a group of white neighbors carrying bricks and guns attacked the Pratts’ home, smashing its windows, knocking off the front door and splattering ink on its marble steps.

When the riots proved ineffective, white flight occurred. In March 1923, two white Chicagoans, identified as “Yanker” and “An Evader” in the Chicago Tribune, wrote letters to the editor detailing how the “invasion” of black migrants encouraged them to move elsewhere. In Yanker’s letter, he describes himself as a “white man” who moved four times in six years to “escape the black invasion” of the Southside. In An Evader’s letter, “Race Irritation”, the author complained that African Americans were moving to all-white communities throughout Chicago. An Evader said other non-Anglo groups remained in their own communities such as Chinatown and Little Italy, but African Americans refused to fully settle in the Black Belt south of Chicago.

Both authors believed that African Americans were encroaching on their communities and that white people should resist in any way possible. Eventually, white resistance to desegregation facilitated the process of transforming inner-city neighborhoods. hyper-segregated before World War II.

Some white journalists who covered these stories even expressed resentment over desegregation. As a Birmingham News reporter explained in his 1918 article on white resistance to Philadelphia’s black neighbors, black migrants did not have the right to “impose themselves” on whites and “invade” neighborhoods “long occupied” by the white community. He further stated that white people had the right to “indignantly protest” or revolt because the “consequences” of accepting racial desegregation were “bad feeling, depreciation of real estate values ​​and increased the anarchy”. The underlying sentiment was that black people were inherently criminal, regardless of character, social status or profession.

Between 1920 and 1948, covenants found in the property deeds of nearly every new private housing development across the country prohibited African Americans from living in white neighborhoods. These documents included openly classist and racist clauses requiring landlords to ban multi-family housing, restrict pets such as pigs and chickens that some rural migrants owned to support themselves, and prohibit the rental and sale of homes. to non-whites such as “Africans, Blacks”. , Ethiopians” and to a lesser extent, “Asians, Mexicans and Jews”.

These restrictions also stemmed from federal housing policies established during the Great Depression (1929-1941), which enforced racial homogeneity in new developments. Estate agents also worked to protect the rights of developers and landlords who wanted racially segregated neighborhoods.

These policies meant that when working-class African Americans from the South arrived in cities like Philadelphia, they often lived in apartment buildings, shacks and townhouses in segregated all-black neighborhoods or alongside immigrant families. whites. While housing could be affordable in these communities, it was generally overcrowded and located in “undesirable” locations near shipyards, rivers, and swamps. Many black families were forced to live in poorly maintained slums that sometimes collapsed, resulting in deaths. When tragedies like this have happened, municipal, religious and charitable committees have vigorously called on local and federal governments to raze the slums and finance social housing projects.

Efforts to fund social housing have only made matters worse. As part of the New Deal, in 1937 the federal government passed the Wagner-Steagall Act giving cities millions of dollars in funding to create housing projects. Housing authorities cleared slums and were tasked with building safe and sanitary accommodation for anyone who could not afford “adequate housing provided by a private company”.

Consequently, the occupation of these developments reflected the racial segregation of the community and, in some cases, up to 98% of public housing has been placed in all-black neighborhoods. Over time, social housing has created class and racial stigmas that have led some middle-class whites and blacks to move to “better” neighborhoods or refuse the creation of social housing in their communities through mass protests.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 attempted to remedy this situation. He overturned city ordinances and covenants that legalized housing segregation and discrimination in America. Even so, white neighbors continued to react violently when Black and mixed-race families have tried to integrate into their neighborhoods.

Biden’s proclamation comes nearly a year before the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which ensured everyone had equal access to housing, regardless of race. , class, gender and citizenship status.

Yet the legacy of housing discrimination from before World War II is still visible. This is one of the root causes of hypersegregationracial tensions and racialized poverty today. The same disadvantaged, non-white spaces that were marginalized by segregation generations ago are now hotspots for case of covid-19, food deserts and underfunded education. Housing discrimination may be legally prohibited on paper, but there is still work to be done to eliminate the lingering effects of its past existence today.


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