Fair Housing is 50, But Has Its Promise Been Realized?

The landlord said she was “a stupid brown woman” who was exaggerating the need for repairs at her apartment, according to a discrimination complaint the Allison Park resident filed.

“You Indians are all the same,” the man said. “Do I hate Indians? No, I hate dealing with them.”

The still-pending complaint, filed earlier this year with the federal government, was made possible by the Fair Housing Act, a landmark law that celebrates its 50th anniversary this week. The legislation was the result of bitter battles following decades when housing discrimination was government policy.

The bill — a measure that civil rights advocates had long sought — finally passed in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder and the subsequent violent protests that shook numerous American cities in the days after April 4, 1968.

“This tragedy has caused all good men to look deeply into their hearts. When the Nation so urgently needs the healing balm of unity, a brutal wound on our conscience forces upon us all this question: What more can I do to achieve brotherhood and equality among all Americans?” President Lyndon Johnson wrote in an April 5 letter to the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“There are many actions the Congress can take, on its part. The most immediate is to enact legislation so long delayed and so close to fulfillment. We should pass the Fair Housing law when the Congress convenes next week,” the president urged.

The law, which had been stalled in Congress for years, passed and was signed into law in a matter of days. Technically called the Civil Rights Act of 1968, it banned discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing based on race and several other factors.

“LBJ to Sign Open Housing Measure Soon,” read one headline in the April 11, 1968, edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one column away from “Curfew Lifted As City Riots Come to End.”

Pittsburgh, like many other cities, had deeply segregated neighborhoods that confined black residents to the worst-quality housing.

A 1962 study of “urban renewal” programs in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County pointed out the existing segregation in the city and county, as well as noting that black families mostly lived in areas with older, dilapidated housing.

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