In 1933, faced with a housing shortage, the federal government began a program explicitly designed to increase — and segregate — America’s housing stock. Author Richard Rothstein says the housing programs begun under the New Deal were tantamount to a “state-sponsored system of segregation.”
The government’s efforts were “primarily designed to provide housing to white, middle-class, lower-middle-class families,” he says. African-Americans and other people of color were left out of the new suburban communities — and pushed instead into urban housing projects.
Rothstein’s new book, The Color of Law, examines the local, state and federal housing policies that mandated segregation. He notes that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which was established in 1934, furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods — a policy known as “redlining.” At the same time, the FHA was subsidizing builders who were mass producing entire white subdivisions — with the requirement that none of the homes be sold to African-Americans.
Rothstein says that these decades-old housing policies have had a lasting effect on American society. “The segregation of our metropolitan areas today leads … to stagnant inequality, because families are much less able to be upwardly mobile when they’re living in segregated neighborhoods where opportunity is absent,” he says. “If we want greater equality in this society, if we want a lowering of the hostility between police and young African-American men, we need to take steps to desegregate.”
“I could not have had a happier place to go when I wasn’t in the midst of the tsunami — the wonderful tsunami — that was Hamilton,“ says the actor/playwright/composer/songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda of writing seven original songs for the Disney animated film Moana while simultaneously appearing in the biggest Broadway phenomenon in history.
In 2008, In the Heights, a show about three days in the largely Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights, debuted on Broadway, and quickly put Miranda firmly on the map — it won the best musical Tony and ran for three years. Ahead of his first vacation from it in 2009, Miranda visited the Borders bookstore that used to be in the Time Warner Center and bought Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography to bring with him. At an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, he began reading it while laying in a hammock over a pool, and by the end of the second chapter, he says, "I realized this was a very compelling story and this was a hip-hop story” that could and should be told with color-blind casting to illustrate who we were then with artists who reflect who we are now. “I was never picturing the literal founders, even as I was reading the book for the first time,” he adds. “Even then, I’m thinking, 'Who’s the best rapper to play George Washington?’ It was the good idea that kept proving me right over the course of the book in lots of different interesting ways.”
In May 2009, Miranda received an invitation to perform a song at the White House, and decided that, rather than doing something from In the Heights, he would sing the first number he had composed for what he then envisioned solely as an album, to be called The Hamilton Mixtape. The footage went viral and, by 2012, when he was invited to be the focus of an American Songbook evening at Lincoln Center, he had written 10 more Hamilton-related songs to go with it. Soon thereafter, he secured financial backing to turn it into a full-fledged musical Off Broadway at The Public Theater, and he and Kail began readying it for that format. Meanwhile, seven months before rehearsals were to begin at The Public, Miranda was offered — and accepted — a chance to realize his lifelong dream of writing music for a Disney animated movie when the studio hired him to write seven songs for Moana, the story of a Polynesian princess, one of which became “How Far I’ll Go,” for which he received best original song Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe noms en route to his Oscar nom.
For most of the last two years, Moana and Hamilton have dominated Miranda’s time away from his wife and son, who was born three weeks before Hamilton first was mounted — not just writing music for Moana and performing seven times a week during Hamilton’s Off Broadway run at The Public (January through May of 2015) and its Broadway run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (August 2015 through July 2016), but also promoting both and, since his departure from Hamilton, constantly keeping a finger on the pulse of the show as it prepares to spread around the globe. (He still was part of the Broadway company during a “really tough” conversation about cast members’ desire for profit-sharing, which he recalls as “tricky for me,” but which ultimately was resolved amicably.) Only recently has he been able to shift part of his focus to other things, as well, including temporarily moving to London in order to act for Disney opposite Emily Blunt in a sequel to the 1964 movie musical classic Mary Poppins.
But, Miranda insists, Hamilton and Hamilton are not altogether in his rearview mirror. He just read In the Heights playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes’ first draft of a script for a film version of that show, and says a Hamilton film will happen one day, too — but not for years, so that people have ample time to see the stage version first. “I don’t think I’m done with that role, by any stretch,” he says emphatically. “It’s just a meal of a role. In other shows, maybe you have a part where you get to fall in love, maybe you have a part where you get to fight in a gun duel, maybe you get a part where you get to have an affair, maybe you get a part where you lose a loved one and get to explore all that. In Hamilton you do all of that! You do everything you do in life in two hours and 45 minutes. You live your fullest life. So that never gets old.”
… [I]n some (perhaps many) cities, discriminatory property assessments left [African Americans] with less disposable income than whites with similar earnings. … An investigation of 1962 assessment practices in Boston, for example, found that assessed values in the African American community of Roxbury were 68 percent of market values, while assessed values in the nearby white middle-class community of West Roxbury were 41 percent of market values. The researchers could not find a nonracial explanation for the difference.
Seventeen years later, an analysis of Chicago assessments found the most underassessed neighborhood to be Bridgeport, the all-white home of Mayor Richard J. Daley, where resistance to African Americans was among the most violent in the nation. Bridgeport assessed values were about 50 percent lower than the legally prescribed ratio of assessed-to-market value; in the nearby African American North Lawndale neighborhood, they were about 200 percent higher than the legally prescribed ratio.
In a 1973 study of ten large U.S. cities, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found a systematic pattern of overassessment in low-income African American neighborhoods, with corresponding underassessment in white middle-class neighborhoods. The study revealed that in Baltimore, the property tax burden in the white middle-class community of Guilford, near Johns Hopkins University, was one-ninth that of African American East Baltimore. In Philadelphia the burden in white middle-class South Philadelphia was one-sixth that of African American Lower North Philadelphia. In Chicago the burden in white middle-class Norwood was one-half that of African American Woodlawn. The report provoked no action by the U.S. Department of Justice. Considering all these studies, the differences are too stark and consistent to make benign explanations likely.
The higher property taxes paid by African American owners—and through their landlords, by African American renters—contributed to the deterioration of their neighborhoods. After taxes, families had fewer funds left for maintenance, and some were forced to take in boarders or extended family members to pay their property taxes.
In Chicago, excessive taxation also led to loss of homes by African Americans because speculators were permitted to pay off delinquent tax liabilities and then seize the properties, evict the owners, and then resell the houses at enormous profit. Because African Americans’ property taxes were often higher relative to market value, black families were more likely to be delinquent in tax payments and more likely to be prey for speculators who could seize their houses after paying off the taxes due. There are no contemporary studies of assessed-to-market value ratios by community and by race, so we cannot say whether discriminatory tax assessments persist to the present time, and if so, in which communities. In cities like Baltimore and Cleveland, however, African Americans are still more likely than whites to lose homes through tax-lien repossessions.
Costs of segregation attributable to discriminatory assessment practices, suffered by an unknown number of African Americans, are not trivial. This was not simply a result of vague and ill-defined “structural racism” but a direct consequence of county assessors’ contempt for their Fourteenth Amendment responsibilities, another expression of de jure segregation.
Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law is a pretty good book
Historically black areas the average black family can no longer afford:
Central District, Seattle
Bayview-Hunter’s Point, San Francisco
Central East Austin, Austin
Point Breeze, Philadelphia
Harlem, New York
Bywater, New Orleans
U Street Corridor, Washington, D.C.
Greater Third Ward, Houston
According a 2013 U.S. Census report, the average black family earned $34,958 versus the average for all races of $51,939. For the average black family living in cities, this distinction means rent prices are simply too high. Gentrification is a cycle.
It was possibly the most heavily populated African-American neighborhood in Manhattan in the early 20th century. Apparently even Thelonious Monk once lived there. But, it was not to last for long. It was not a perfect neighborhood, though no neighborhood is. In 1940, the New York City Housing Authority characterized the area as “the worst slum section in the City of New York,” allegedly at the behest of one Robert Moses, and made plans to renew the area by demolishing the old tenements and building in its place the Amsterdam Housing Projects and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Residents protested and took their cause all the way to the Supreme Court, but the judges ruled against them, and the over 40,000 people of San Juan Hill found themselves essentially homeless. Most moved to Harlem and the Bronx. One interesting factoid, gang fights in the neighborhood were so common that the play West Side Story was set in the neighborhood, and some of the introductory shots to the film were shot there. Like Lincoln Square, nobody’s 100% sure how San Juan Hill got its name beyond the reference to the Cuban battle site. But whether the reference honored the black soldiers who fought there, or simply the battle itself is anyone’s guess.
1. Ends of the Earth - Lord Huron / 2. Venus Fly - Grimes feat. Janelle Monáe / 3. Everybody Wants to Rule the World - Lorde / 4. Bad Religion - Frank Ocean / 5. American Boy - Estelle / 6. Neighborhood #2 (Laika) - Arcade Fire / 7. Cranes in the Sky - Solange / 8. Bossy - Kelis / 9. We Run This - Missy Elliott / 10. Dull Life - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
6th grade class photo from the Whittier School, Denver, Colorado, 1940’s.
The Whittier School was located in the Five Points-Whittier area of Denver at 2480 Downing Street. This historic African American neighborhood also became home to Latinos, Native Americans and even some Japanese Americans who moved there to escape wartime internment. The fact that this fully integrated school existed years before Brown vs. Board of Education and in a period when the power of the Klan was on the rise in Denver political life is inspiring and amazing.
(photo from a private collection, Portland, Oregon)
Just because you grow up with black people doesn't mean you can wear things in their culture. That's just like me being raised in a native American neighborhood and trying to wear their headresses and cultural dresses. Like girl stop
#FBF to eight years ago in case you need a reminder of this feeling. I sure did.
Just look how at how our former President makes people FEEL. What a difference from today’s events.
No matter the changes to the state today, we have come so far and are still capable of great things.
Thank you to President Obama for doing so much good for our country and for making me truly proud to be an American. I hope that one day we will once again have a President that invokes inspiration, hope, and progress instead of disgust, fear, and hatred.
If today’s inauguration has you feeling hopeless, angry, betrayed, resentful, scared, disappointed, livid, just know that you are not alone and that you are in good company! I for one plan to work as hard as I can and do everything I can to disrupt the current presidency from undermining the rights and protections we’ve worked so hard for.
We can help as individuals by raising awareness, donating, starting conversations, and educating others, but the BEST thing is to work in collaboration with others. Reach out to your networks, friends, and family members. Don’t let yourself be overcome by the classic divide and conquer method that oppressors turn to. We are the majority. Trump and his awful administration work for us, after all. Yes, they have an overwhelming amount of power. But if history is any indication, our most shining moments as a country have been when we have stood up for ourselves against oppression with dignity and ferocity. Let’s be vigilant, vocal, visible, and let’s make history again.
Performed by: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
Number: “At Last”
Choreographers: Improvised by: Barack and Michelle Obama
…and now you’re looking for more to watch. here’s a little list of stuff that might interest you! (click on the title in bold for more info)
Dope (2015)is “a coming of age comedy/drama for the post hip hop generation. Malcolm [Shameik Moore] is a geek, carefully surviving life in The Bottoms, a tough neighborhood in California filled with gangsters and drug dealers, while juggling his senior year of college applications, interviews and the SAT. If Malcolm can persevere, he’ll go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.” It’s funny, the costume design is fantastic, it has a lesbian minor character and A$ap Rocky is in it. (Rated R)
Paris is Burning (1990)is “
A chronicle of New York’s drag scene in the 1980s, focusing on balls, voguing and the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.“ If you liked what Dizzee was up to in episode 6, this is a classic you should consider. (Rated R)
Do the Right Thing (1989)is the Black Movie Classic you should already know. Spike Lee’s most famous work is shockingly relevant today in wake of the “Black Lives Matter”-movement. Plot: “On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone’s hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.” This focuses on race relations in a small-scale environment, has flashy style and good music. (Rated R)
Straight Outta Compton (2015): “The group NWA emerges from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.” (Rated R)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)“The story of how an eccentric French shop-keeper and amateur film-maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner. The film contains footage of Banksy, Shephard Fairey, Invader and many of the world’s most infamous graffiti artists at work.”
While there may be many movies about grafitti artists (also artists of colour) this is the only one I’ve seen and it’s definitely a good one. Also poses some interesting questions about art vs. entertainment. (Rated R)
In the Heights is a musical by Hamilton-creator Lin-Manuel Miranda that has a plot similar to the Mylene’s and Zeke’s storyline. “The story is set over the course of three days, involving an ensemble cast of characters in the largely Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City.” (contains explicit lyrics) It’s also on YouTube.
I’ll add to this list as time goes on, please feel free to do the same!