50 Years After Martin Luther King Jr.’s Death, America Is Still Segregated, Rigel C. Oliveri, Huffington Post, April 3rd, 2018, available here
Half a century ago, the U.S. had near-apartheid levels of housing segregation. The blame lay with all levels of government, banks, real estate brokers and developers for decades of discrimination. A government report warned bluntly that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white ― separate and unequal.”
Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson both knew that a federal fair housing law would be necessary to fix the problem. They’d had previous civil rights victories in the areas of employment, public accommodations and voting, but housing would prove to be more difficult. The first attempt at a Fair Housing Act had died in the Senate in 1966. That same year, King brought his open housing movement north to Chicago and was met with mobs he described as more “hostile and hate-filled” than he’d encountered in the Deep South.
Things did not seem promising in the spring of 1968. A second version of the Fair Housing Act had passed the Senate but was stalled in the House. Johnson had just announced that he would not run for re-election, his political capital drained by the war in Vietnam. Then, on April 4, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Unrest broke out across the country, including in Washington, D.C., mere blocks from the Capitol. Stunned, Congress quickly passed the Fair Housing Act, which Johnson signed into law on April 11.
Fifty years later, we’ve made progress ― but not enough. The most overt and egregious discriminatory practices subsided over time, yet the expected benefits of the law largely failed to materialize.