After the United States abolished slavery, Black Americans continued to be marginalized through enforced segregated and diminished access to facilities, housing, education—and opportunities.
The Racial Segregation of American Cities was anything but Accidental. A housing policy expert explains how federal government policies created the suburbs and the inner city.
Earlier, before WW I the dawn of the twentieth century saw the convergence of industrialization, urbanization, and rapid immigration; an era known as the emergence of Modern America.
The rise of the city as the port of entry for the cheap labor immigrant population and as the center of business put strains on urban America.
As more immigrants arrived to these shores and as our society gradually shifted from agrarian to urban industrial, more people needed more space in the city to live and work.
These problems fundamentally contributed to the technological innovations in urban housing and transportation which allowed more people to live, work, and travel with ease through the urban landscape than had ever before.
It’s not surprising to anyone who has lived in or visited a major American metropolitan region that the nation’s cities tend to be organized in their own particular racial pattern. In Chicago, it’s a north/south divide.
In Austin, it’s west/east. In some cities, it’s a division based around infrastructure, as with Detroit’s 8 Mile Road.
In other cities, nature—such as Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia River—is the barrier. Sometimes these divisions are man-made, sometimes natural, but none are coincidental.
Segregation is the practice of requiring separate housing, education and other services for people of color. Segregation was made law several times in 19th- and 20th-century America as some believed that Black and white people were incapable of coexisting.
In the lead-up to the liberation of enslaved people under the Thirteenth Amendment, abolitionists argued about what the fate of slaves should be once they were freed.
One group argued for colonization, either by returning the formerly enslaved people to Africa or creating their own homeland.
In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln recognized the ex-slave countries of Haiti and Liberia, hoping to open up channels for colonization, with Congress allocating $600,000 to help.
While the colonization plan did not pan out, the country, instead, set forth on a path of legally mandated segregation. The first steps toward official segregation came in the form of “Black Codes.”
These were laws passed throughout the South starting around 1865, that dictated most aspects of Black peoples’ lives, including where they could work and live. The codes also ensured Black people’s availability for cheap labor after slavery was abolished.
A narrative of racially discriminatory landlords and bankers—all independent actors—has long served as an explanation for the isolation of African-Americans in certain neighborhoods in large cities.
But this pervasive assumption rationalizing residential segregation in the United States ignores the long history of federal, state and local policies that generated the residential segregation found across the country today.
The truth is that segregation in every metropolitan area was imposed by racially explicit federal, state and local policy, without which private actions of prejudice or discrimination would not have been very effective.
And if we understand that our segregation is a govern-mentally sponsored system, which of course we’d call de jure segregation, only then can we begin to remedy it.
Because if it happened by individual choice, it’s hard to imagine how to remedy it. If it happened by government action, then we should be able to develop equally effective government actions to reverse it.
When we desegregated the buses, people could sit anywhere on the bus they wanted. When we desegregated restaurants, people could sit anywhere in the restaurant that they wanted.
Even when we desegregated schools, if the ruling was enforced, the next day, children could go to the school in their neighborhood.
But residential segregation is a much more difficult thing to do. If we prohibit the effects of residential segregation, it’s not as though the next day people can up and move to suburbs that once excluded them by federal policy.
The main justification they used was that segregation was necessary because if African-Americans lived in those neighborhoods, the property values of those neighborhoods would decline. But, in fact, the FHA had no evidence of this claim.
Indeed, the opposite was the case. The FHA had research that demonstrated that property values rose when African-Americans moved into white neighborhoods, but it ignored its own research.
African-Americans had fewer options for housing. African-Americans were willing to pay more to purchase homes than whites were for identical homes, so when African-Americans moved into a white neighborhood, property values generally rose.
Only after an organized effort by the real estate industry to create all-black suburbs and overcrowd them and turn them into slums did property values decline. But that was the rationale and it persisted for at least three decades, perhaps more.
President Harry Truman proposed the act because of an enormous civilian housing shortage. At the end of World War II, veterans returned home, they formed families; they needed places to live.
The federal government had restricted the use of building materials for defense purposes only, so there was no private housing industry operating at that time.
In the early 20th century, a number of cities, particularly border cities like Baltimore, St. Louis, and Louisville, Kentucky, passed zoning ordinances that prohibited African-Americans from moving onto a block that was majority white.
In 1917, the Supreme Court found in Buchanan v. Warley that such ordinances were unconstitutional, but not for racial reasons. The Court found it unconstitutional because such ordinances interfered with the rights of property owners.
For one thing, when these practices of public segregation were most virulent, many African-Americans could afford to live in white suburbs. Large subdivisions developed with FHA support like Levittown, New York, were built on conditions that they be all white.
The homes in those places sold, in today’s dollars, about $100,000 apiece. They cost twice the national median income and were easily affordable to African-Americans as well as whites, but only working-class whites were permitted to buy into those homes.
In the next several generations, those homes sell for seven-to-eight times the median national income – unaffordable to working-class families.
So the segregation that took place when the homes were first built created a permanent system that locked African-Americans out of it as appreciation grew.
White families gained in home equity, in wealth, from the appreciation of their homes. African-Americans who were forced to live in apartments and not be homeowners gained none of that appreciation.
The result is that today African-American average incomes are about 60% of white incomes, but African-Americans’ average wealth is about 5% of white wealth.
That enormous difference is almost entirely attributable to unconstitutional federal housing policy in the mid-20th century.
After Martin Luther King was sidelined, the British pop group, the Beatles introduced a new wave of segregation. President Kennedy was shot and killed in unequal rights state, at the moment he wanted to abolish racism nation wide.
Nixon took over the Oval Office and used the Apollo 11 narrative to regain popularity, one month later Woodstock brought people back together and pushed the USA into the future, now ones famous and developed USA is on the brink of total collapse.
Smithsonian Channel / ABC Flash Point News 2023.
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