Where you are born and raised can have a profound impact on where you end up in life. During the civil rights era, advocates for racial equality argued that desegregating neighborhoods could hold the key to securing equal opportunities for Black Americans. Practices like restrictive covenants and redlining kept Blacks out of white neighborhoods, concentrating them in areas that became marked by poverty, crime, and joblessness.
In February of 1968 a report by the Kerner Commission warned that the country was on the verge of forming “two societies, one Black, one white—separate and unequal.” The now-famous report, commissioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson in response to the era’s urban riots, highlighted the role that residential segregation played in the creation of the country’s racial crisis. The time seemed ripe for Congress to act. Passed just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the Fair Housing Act (FHA), in its original form, prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin in the sale, rental, and financing of housing. Later additions to the FHA extended these protections to individuals based on sex, familial status, and disability.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of this landmark piece of legislation, so we sat down with Camille Z. Charles, the Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Social Sciences and director of the Center for Africana Studies, to learn more about how the FHA has shaped America’s neighborhoods over the past half century. Charles has written extensively on residential segregation, including “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: Race, Class and Residence in Los Angeles.”
This story is by Jessica Martucci, and originally appeared in Omnia magazine.