White Detroit residents protest black occupancy of the Sojourner Truth Homes, Feb. 1942.
Does this photo from 1942 bother you?
But what should bother us more is the current status of housing/neighborhood integration in the United States, where there are no signs or angry mobs to keep people out of certain neighborhoods, and yet the pernicious practice continues.
Take a look at where you live.
How ethnically, racially, religiously diverse is your neighborhood, town or community?
If your area is not diverse, why isn't it?
The answers to that question are rooted not only history but in current practice.
This public service announcement from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights illustrates one aspect of the problem.
Looking back over the history of neighborhood integration in the United States, many episodes of resistance to change stand out. Though some of the barriers have fallen, thanks mostly to Federal legislation like the FAIR Housing Act, many Americans still live in homogenous neighborhoods-ethnic, "racial" or religious enclaves-and the lack of housing integration is a primary cause of de facto school segregation as well as environmental and health concerns.
Though we may no longer see groups of angry whites protesting like the incident depicted above, which took place in Detroit in 1942, other methods to keep people "in their place" and to maintain homogeneity are still in effect. Far too many Americans still live in communities that have few people of color, or religious diversity.
Contrary to a widely reported study issued by scholars Edward Glaeser, and Jacob Vigdor, from the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, entitled The End of the Segregated Century: Racial Separation in America’s Neighborhoods, 1890-2010, in many ways conditions are worse, and not improving.
Richard Rothstein, research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and senior fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law has written a clear rebuttal in Racial segregation continues, and even intensifies.
Recent declines in dissimilarity have had complex causes: One is that low-income Hispanic (and in some regions, Asian) immigrants have moved into neighborhoods that previously were mostly black. This reduces the proportion of blacks in those neighborhoods (and thus causes a metropolitan area’s dissimilarity index to fall) but does little to integrate African Americans into white neighborhoods.
For policy purposes, a more appropriate index of segregation than dissimilarity is an index that describes the "exposure" of African Americans to the majority white population. By this measure, segregation is today greater than it was in 1940, and has remained mostly unchanged since 1950. As John Logan and Brian Stults of Brown University’s US2010 Project have shown, in 1940, the average black lived in a neighborhood that was 40 percent white. In 1950 it fell to 35 percent- where it remains today. This average, of course, aggregates data from many neighborhoods where blacks have virtually no exposure to whites, and others where integration is advanced. Nonetheless, by this measure there has been no progress in reducing segregation for the last 60 years.
What does all this actually mean?
I think of my own experience, growing up in a racially integrated family, living at different times in my life in all-white, or all black or latino areas as well as those which were very diverse. That experience of diversity helped shape my world view and I am comfortable wherever I happen to be. However I am more the exception than the rule. I have to be concerned when I talk to my students, many of whom, in New York state, admit that growing up they rarely came into contact with, or went to school with people from dissimilar backgrounds, or different skin colors.
It is important to look at the history to understand where we are today, and to address the barriers that still exist.
Follow me below the fold.
Growing up in the 50's in New York City in an all-white, all Jewish section of Brooklyn, I often listened to conversations held by my grandparents and my dad who had moved to the city in the late 40's from Chicago. My white grandmother was one of the real estate brokers who helped black families attempt to buy homes in previously all white areas of Chicago. This story was well-documented in Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun". My grandparents knew the Hansberry's. Their daughter's play, which later became a feature film, whose title was drawn from Langston Hughes' Harlem "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun, or fester like a sore and then run", portrayed a black family trying to buy a home in a white neighborhood.
What many viewers of the play and film were not aware of was the fact that Hansberry's play was drawn from the real life experience of her family, and the resulting Supreme Court case, Hansberry v. Lee (1940).
Hansberry spoke of that time which was fraught with fear:
"25 years ago, [my father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation's ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house… My memories of this ‘correct’ way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our household all night with a loaded German Luger (pistol), doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court."
My grandparent's solution was to leave Chicago and move to New York City in the hope of finding a more racially neutral environment. They found a welcome in a Jewish neighborhood, where residents at that time were acutely aware of the horrors of bigotry.
The Hansberry case in Chicago was important because it issued a challenge to racially restrictive covenants. That decision was followed in 1948 by Shelley v. Kraemer.
What exactly is a racial restrictive covenant? The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project has an extensive database and detailed documentation of this practice. Here is their definition:
agreements entered into by a group of property owners, sub-division developers, or real estate operators in a given neighborhood, binding them not to sell, lease, rent or otherwise convoy their property to specified groups because of race, creed or color for a definite period unless all agree to the transaction.” When a restrictive covenant existed on a property deed or plat map, the owner was legally prohibited from selling to members of the specific minority group or groups listed in the covenant. These contracts thus hampered the individual freedoms of the signer and all future property owners to sell to whomever they chose. If an owner violated the restriction, they could be sued and held financially liable. Because of this legal obligation, racial restrictions were rarely contested, which is the key reason why they were so effective. In addition, the use of racial restrictive covenants removed the need for zoning ordinances. In that way, they served to segregate cities without any blame being placed on municipal leaders.
Lest you think this was solely about keeping black people out, these covenants were used to maintain ethnic and religious "purity" as well.
Richard Ornstein, a Jewish refugee from Austria, contracted to purchase a home for his family in the Sand Point Country Club area of Seattle in late 1952. Unknown to both Ornstein and the seller, the property’s deed contained a neighborhood-wide restrictive covenant barring the sale or rental of the home to non-Whites and people of Jewish descent. In spite of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed racial restrictive covenants unenforceable in 1948, Ornstein’s case reveals that this ruling yielded little power over the application of these restrictions on the individual level. Daniel Boone Allison, Head of the Sand Point Country Club Commission, approached the realtor negotiating the sale and announced: “the community will not have Jews as residents.
Current discriminatory practices go beyond race, ethnicity and religion and include disability, family size, and target LBGT's as well.
Steven Bender's book, Tierra y Libertad: Land, Liberty, and Latino Housing
addresses the plight of Latinos:
One of the quintessential goals of the American Dream is to own land and a home, a place to raise one's family and prove one's prosperity. Particularly for immigrant families, home ownership is a way to assimilate into American culture and community. However, Latinos, who make up the country's largest minority population, have largely been unable to gain this level of inclusion. Instead, they are forced to cling to the fringes of property rights and ownership through overcrowded rentals, transitory living arrangements, and, at best, home acquisitions through subprime lenders.
I had white friends who grew up in the newly created "white-burbias" after WWII, funded by the GI Bill. Places like Levittown, Long Island or its twin in Pennsylvania
On August 14, 1957, just two weeks before the Little Rock Nine tried to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, William Myers, a World War II veteran and refrigeration technician, moved with his wife Daisy, who was a school teacher, and their three young children into 43 Deepgreen Lane to desegregate Levittown, PA. Like the Little Rock Nine, the Myers family faced sharp opposition and constant harassment. Anti-segregationists, who feared a loss of property values and expressed broader racist sentiments regularly paraded outside the Myers' home and burned crosses on their lawn. They even sprayed "KKK" on the home of the Myers's Jewish neighbors, Lewis and Bea Wechsler, committed racial integrationists who supported the Myers's move. When local police initially failed to enforce a court order that no more than three people congregate near the Myers's home at one time, Attorney General Thomas D. McBride sent in the State Police to protect the Myers.
The Myers family's move to Levittown, PA highlighted both northerners' racism as well as their growing struggles for civil rights. Just as anti-integrationists secured a house next door to the Myers to use as headquarters to harass the black family (they even hung a Confederate flag from their building), civil rights activists within the community worked with local Quaker and human rights groups, including the Human Relations Council of Bucks County, to aid the Myers. The Myers took to court the racist mob leaders who were harassing them and won the case. Levitt officially integrated his communities in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey in 1960, after the New Jersey Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Levitt's policy of excluding blacks in a charge brought against the developer by a black officer named W.R. James who sought to move into Willingboro, New Jersey's equivalent of Levittown, built in 1958.
See the documentary: Racism in America: Crisis in Levittown, Pennsylvania
which covered this in 1957 and should be shown in classrooms when discussing racism in the north.
Though my dad had GI benefits, the doors to places like Levittown were closed to us. The neighborhood where my dad bought our first home, in 1957 in Hollis/Saint Albans Queens, New York, was undergoing "white flight". As soon as the first middle class blacks bought homes, white families sold out, often at a loss. There was some resistance like cross-burning in neighboring Rosedale but in the span of a few years the area was 99% black.
Racial covenants would not be the major barrier to integration. A major tool in the anti-integrationist's kit was redlining.
Redlining is the practice of denying, or increasing the cost of services such as banking, insurance, access to jobs, access to health care, or even supermarkets to residents in certain, often racially determined, areas. The term "redlining" was coined in the late 1960s by John McKnight, a Northwestern University sociologist and community activist. It describes the practice of marking a red line on a map to delineate the area where banks would not invest; later the term was applied to discrimination against a particular group of people (usually by race or sex) no matter the geography. During the heyday of redlining, the areas most frequently discriminated against were black inner city neighborhoods. For example, in Atlanta, through at least the 1980s, this practice meant that banks would often lend to lower-income whites but not to middle- or upper-income blacks.
Redlining, mortgage discrimination, as well as discriminating in the rental, co-op and condominium markets continues. When I moved to Washington DC in the 70's a dear friend lived in a co-op. The co-op board passed a rule about visitors staying for more than two days, because her daughter from California was married to a black American. They did not want her daughter, son-in-law and children to be able to stay for a month long visit in their elite white enclave. She took them to court.
I'm a fan of ABC News Primetime Segments called "What Would You Do", hosted by John Quiñones. One episode dealt with real estate racism in New Jersey. The process is known as "steering." Though illegal, it happens every day somewhere in the US.
For those who want to deny the racism in housing that still confronts us today by brushing it all off as simply a matter of social class and economics, the case of Chicago radio personality George Wilborn, who made a 1.7 million dollar offer for a home in Bridgeport and the seller allegedly withdrew the offer because they didn't want to sell to blacks , is still ongoing.
Here is a question we all should answer.
How White Is Your Neighborhood?
Recently, cartographer Bill Rankin produced an astounding map of Chicago, which managed to show the city's areas of racial integration.
Eric Fischer saw those maps, and took it upon himself to create similar ones for the top 40 cities in the United States. Fisher used a straight forward method borrowed from Rankin: Using U.S. Census data from 2000, he created a map where one dot equals 25 people. The dots are then color-coded based on race: White is pink; Black is blue; Hispanic is orange, and Asian is green. [New York is pictured above.]
The results for various cities are fascinating: Just like every city is different, every city is integrated (or segregated) in different ways.
See Eric Fisher's updated details for 2010
for 40 cities.
If your area has not been mapped, a simple wikipedia search should garner your towns demographics.
When my husband and I decided to move out of New York City to an area upstate, we encountered realtors who were not "poc" friendly. We avoided steering efforts by switching to a liberal progressive realtor who wasn't put off by our brown skin tones. We had cash to buy a house, so were able to avoid mortgage snares and pitfalls, but that didn't stop some realtors from attempting to show us homes in some fairly unsavory and crack-ridden areas.
Diverse neighborhoods should be part of our future. The Urban Institute published a paper, Promoting Neighborhood Diversity: Benefits, Barriers, and Strategies which speaks to these issues.
Despite substantial progress since passage of the Fair Housing Act four decades ago, neighborhoods remain highly segregated by race and ethnicity. This paper summarizes existing research evidence on both the costs of segregation and the potential benefits of neighborhood diversity. It uses decennial census data to show that a growing share of US neighborhoods are racially and ethnically diverse, but that low-income African Americans in particular remain highly concentrated in predominantly minority neighborhoods. Because the dynamics that sustain segregation today are complex, strategies for overcoming them must address not only discrimination, but information gaps, affordability constraints, prejudice, and fear.
Support the efforts of groups like the The National Housing Law Project (NHLP)
Make sure you know your rights.
And if you are thinking about moving, look for diversity as opposed to uniformity and homogeneity.
What places have you found to be diverse and welcoming?