11 December 2013

Whence Housing Segregation?


There is a widespread feeling that the segregationists of yesteryear (in both North and South) were profoundly different than us: immoral, misguided, perhaps even brainwashed.  We are unable to imagine what could have possibly pushed them to embrace these discriminatory policies.  But it need it not be so: They wrote their reasons down in books.  Let us then look more closely, and see

1) if their beliefs were based on fact or fantasy, and

2) if they are truly as alien to us today as we have been led to believe.

The first place we'll look at is the one closest to us--our neighborhoods.

After Emancipation and especially in the lead-up to WWI, Afro migration to cities (both North and South) exploded.  Those Whites who had fought hard to end slavery sang a different tune when the objects of their affection moved in next door.  A 1919 Chicago study found that:

No single factor has complicated the relations of Negroes and whites in Chicago more than the widespread feeling of white people that the presence of Negroes in a neighborhood is a cause of serious depreciation of property. When a Negro family moves into a block in which all other families are white, the neighbors object. This objection may express itself in studied aloofness, in taunts, warnings, slurs, threats, or even the bombing of their homes.' White neighbors who can do so are likely to move away at the first opportunity.

[...] A leading real estate dealer said that "when a Negro moves into a block the value of the properties on both sides of the street is depreciated all the way from $100,000 to $500,000 [$1,300,000 to $6,500,000 today], depending upon the value of the property in the block"; that it was a fact and that there was no escaping it.   (1)

Highly desirable neighbors should send property values up; undesirable ones bring them down.  Whence this negative reaction to Afros as neighbors?  An irrational fear of dark skin?  Or something else?

I. Neighborhood upkeep