How the Government Segregated America

By | August 4, 2017

During World War II, 19-year-old Frank Stevenson migrated from New Orleans, La., to Richmond, Calif., where he secured work at a Ford plant. Unable to find a place to live in the city’s segregated housing projects, he settled in North Richmond, an unincorporated area with limited services. After the war, Ford relocated 50 miles south to Milpitas. The town quickly banned apartment-building construction. To develop new single-family homes there, builders relied on Federal Housing Administration mortgage guarantees — a requirement of which was “an openly stated prohibition on sales to African-Americans,” writes Richard Rothstein in his new book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. So Stevenson remained in the declining city, “bought a van, recruited eight others to share the costs, and made the drive daily for the next 20 years until he retired.”

The circumstances Stevenson faced were not uncommon for African-Americans in the 20th century. For him and many others, access to homeownership was a dream not easily attained. Even when African-Americans did manage to buy their own homes, their choices were often circumscribed to segregated neighborhoods. Over time, unequal investments isolated these neighborhoods, poor schools diminished their appeal, and property values increased more slowly than in white areas. Thus African-Americans incurred at least a double loss: limited housing options in the near term, and the inability to benefit from increased home equity in the future. (Chronicle of Higher Education)

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