Two types of racial segregation were practiced in the United States at the end of World War II.
An example of de facto segregation was provided by the concentration of African Americans in specific neighborhoods in northern and western cities. This pattern was often not the result of specific laws, but was instead created by customs and class divisions.
This form of segregation, also known as "Jim Crow". was prevalent throughout the South. Laws mandated separation of the races in schools, public transportation, and other public accommodations.
Beginning in World War II, African Americans mobilized to defeat both forms of segregation. A. Philip Randolph's proposed “March on Washington” convinced President Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 in 1942. Many African Americans also supported the Double V Campaign, which called for opposition to segregation and discrimination at home, and support for the war abroad.
After the war, black veterans, and laborers in wartime industries, discovered that their sacrifices had not increased their civil rights. Although African-American veterans were entitled to benefits through the GI Bill, discriminatory practices often prevented them from claiming them.
Housing discrimination was a particularly persistent problem. As more white Americans moved to homes in the suburbs — homes that they owned — black Americans were concentrated in urban slums characterized by high rent, dwindling tax bases, and poor city services. Black citizens were mostly excluded from home ownership, which was one of the primary forms of wealth creation in postwar America.
Housing discrimination was a form of de facto segregation. It was not the product of laws. It was instead created by real estate developers and politicians, who profited from construction, as well as by homeowners, who wanted to prevent decreases in the value of their homes.
EXAMPLEIn northern cities including Chicago and Detroit, it was common for city officials, encouraged by real estate developers, to declare black and ethnic neighborhoods as “slums” and, subsequently, demolish them. In their place, commercial buildings or residential apartments that only middle- and upper-class buyers could afford were built.
When African Americans tried to purchase homes in predominantly white neighborhoods, they often found themselves unable to do so. In some instances, this was because restrictive real estate covenants prevented owners from selling their houses to blacks.
Initially, covenants explicitly prohibited African Americans and other racial minorities from buying houses in particular neighborhoods. In 1948, however, the U.S. Supreme Court attempted to end this practice down by ruling that that courts could not enforce real estate covenants that restricted the purchase or sale of property based on race (Shelley v. Kraemer).
The problem of housing discrimination involved more than neighborhood covenants that restricted the sale or purchase of homes along racial lines. Covenants were sometimes rewritten in subtle terms. Although they did not mention race, they were worded in a way that would keep the neighborhood free of racial minorities.
EXAMPLESome covenants and homeowners’ association restrictions prohibited multiple families from occupying a single house. This excluded many black families, who could not afford to buy homes unless they were able to supplement their incomes by renting rooms, from those neighborhoods.
White homeowners and tenants also harassed, threatened, and intimidated African Americans who attempted to move into their communities.
In 1942, the city of Detroit announced that a new public housing project called the Sojourner Truth Homes where African-American occupants would be welcome. White citizens mobilized in opposition. Weeks before the project was scheduled to open, the sign shown above was posted in a vacant lot. When the Sojourner Truth Homes opened and African-American families began to move in, a riot broke out. More than 200 people were arrested.
During this time of racial turmoil, some real estate agents in cities across the country took advantage of the situation by adopting a tactic known as “blockbusting”.
Here's how blockbusting typically worked:
After one or two black families had moved into a suburban neighborhood, real estate agents circulated warnings to white homeowners that more blacks would be moving there. They persuaded the homeowners to sell their homes, often at prices below market value. In turn, the agents re-sold these homes, often at inflated prices, to black families who wanted to move to the suburbs.
Blockbusting, restrictive covenants, and outright intimidation unofficially enforced segregation, and prevented the development of neighborhoods in which families of different races and classes lived together. The federal government, particularly a New Deal agency known as the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), officially sanctioned housing discrimination through a neighborhood classification system.
To help lenders make sound investments, the HOLC created approximately 200 “Residential Security Maps” like the 1939 map of Detroit shown below:
To create this map of Detroit, surveyors visited neighborhoods and assessed the age and condition of buildings, and the infrastructure and amenities available in each neighborhood. They then classified the neighborhoods on a scale from “A” (indicated by green on map), “B” (blue), “C” (yellow), and “D” (red). “A” indicated the most valuable neighborhoods, while “D” represented the least. Residents who lived in “C” or “D” neighborhoods were less likely to qualify for mortgages because banks considered those locations too risky for investment. Similarly, developers could expect little or no financial support if they chose to build in a neighborhood classified as “C” or “D”.
This form of neighborhood classification and discriminatory lending was known as “redlining”.
Among the most important factors that surveyors considered when creating these maps was the racial or ethnic composition of each neighborhood.
In Detroit and other cities, neighborhoods that had even a small African American population were rated “D”, and colored red on the map. Neighborhoods that were experiencing an influx of black families also received a “D” rating.
When “Residential Security Maps” like this are examined through the lens of race, it becomes clear that a federal housing agency was complicit in housing discrimination. HOLC policy, combined with a system of suspect lending strategies, aggressive real estate agents, restrictive neighborhood agreements, and worried white homeowners, divided towns and cities along lines of color. Segregation and discrimination in community development were at the root of other racial problems that black activists addressed during the late 1940s.
While residential segregation occurred throughout the nation, and de jure segregation continued in the South, African American activists, the federal government, and the court system sought to eliminate the color line in the U.S. World War II played a key part in this process.
During the war, the United States fought against totalitarianism abroad and uncovered the horrors of the Holocaust. In doing so, contradictions associated with racial inequality at home were exposed. Participation in the war effort raised the expectations of returning black veterans, and black workers whose wartime incomes had enabled them to join the middle class.
President Truman’s Fair Deal was designed to address these expectations, and to increase the support of African Americans for the Democratic Party, by building upon the foundation of the New Deal, .
Truman wanted the Fair Deal to include people of color. He undertook several initiatives to gain their support for the program:
At this time, black athletes began crossing the color line in American sports:
Along wih Truman’s executive action and the advances in sports, the NAACP began efforts to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and the doctrine of “separate but equal” in public education.
The NAACP, particularly lawyer Thurgood Marshall, who helped found the organization’s Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1939, focused first on holding states accountable to the doctrine of “separate but equal” by suing for access to graduate schools. At the time, many southern universities provided no graduate schools or law schools for black students.
By 1950, the NAACP had won a series of significant victories on behalf of plaintiffs who sought equal access to graduate programs and law schools in the South.
The Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma case was brought before the Supreme Court on behalf of Ada Lois Sipuel, who had been denied entry to the University of Oklahoma Law School because of her race. In January of 1948, the Supreme Court ruled in her favor.
The Sweatt v. Painter case was brought to the Supreme Court on behalf of Herman Marion Sweatt, who sued the University of Texas for denying him admission to its law school because state law prohibited integrated education. The Court ruled in his favor in 1950.
In both of these cases, the states attempted to establish separate law schools for African Americans. In its decisions, however, the Supreme Court rejected this solution by ruling that separate schools provided neither equal facilities nor “intangibles” such as the opportunity to form relationships with other future lawyers that such institutions should provide.
Following these victories, Marshall and the Legal Defense Fund turned to the challenge of racial segregation in primary and secondary schools.
The Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case consisted of five lawsuits that challenged segregation policy in Virginia, Delaware, Washington, D.C., South Carolina, and Kansas. The best-known plaintiff was Oliver Brown of Topeka, Kansas, whose eight-year-old daughter, Linda, was required to attend an African-American school located 21 blocks from her home.
The Supreme Court heard testimony concerning Brown v. Board of Education in December of 1953. Subsequent deliberations among the Justices continued into the spring of 1954. As they deliberated, Thurgood Marshall (and his legal team), Oliver Brown and the other plaintiffs (who had each challenged the doctrine of “separate but equal” in their home states), and civil rights activists across the country eagerly awaited the high court’s ruling.
This tutorial curated and/or authored by Matthew Pearce, Ph.D
Source: We Want White Tenants in our White Community, Detroit, Michigan, Arthur Siegal, 1942, Library of Congress, http://bit.ly/2p1nBBM, “Residential Security Map” of Detroit, 1939, provided by urbanoasis.org and DETROITography, http://bit.ly/2pnSGCa, Image of Thurgood Marshall, 1936, PD: http://bit.ly/2pylypN, Derived from Openstax tutorial 26.2 http://bit.ly/2qw2xUo , 28.1 http://bit.ly/2pPqdXn , 28.5 http://bit.ly/2jZPqfv and 19.2 http://bit.ly/2kjZuzL. Some sections edited or removed for brevity.