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MLK and housing

Dr. Martin Luther King worked tirelessly for social justice

MLK and housing

As the years pass since Martin Luther King Jr. was in the news, it's hard for many to remember his work on housing and many who weren't alive in 1966 likely never heard of the Chicago campaign. The Chicago Freedom Movement marked the moment that Dr. King was transformed from a regional and "racial" leader to a national figure. The Chicago Freedom Movement challenged the nation's understanding of civil rights as a "Southern issue" when Dr. King joined forces with local leaders to challenge the segregation of northern cities. "In 1966, King and his family moved to Chicago, renting a decrepit apartment on the city's west side. The focus this time was not on desegregating lunch counters or water fountains but taking on the problems of an urban city's black ghetto. A success here could create the model for civil rights work in other Northern cities."

Dr. King knew implicitly that "zip code is destiny," even decades before the term was invented. By confining groups to specific neighborhoods, government officials could deliver substandard services, education, healthcare and employment to whole communities of African Americans, while favoring surrounding majority white neighborhoods. This kind of systemic discrimination is bias on steroids.

Open housing took the discussion of slum housing away from the topic of code enforcement and urban renewal to the broader discussion of social mobility. According to Wikipedia: "By late July [1966] the Chicago Freedom Movement was staging regular rallies outside of Real Estate offices and marches into all-white neighborhoods on the city's southwest and northwest sides. The hostile and sometimes violent response of local whites, and the determination of civil rights activists to continue to crusade for an open housing law, alarmed City Hall and attracted the attention of the national press. During one demonstration King said that even in Alabama and Mississippi he had not encountered mobs as hostile to Blacks' civil rights as those in Chicago."

When MLK and his assistants left Chicago in 1967, local leaders, of all races, continued to organize in Chicago's neighborhoods. This on going support for neighborhood organizing in Chicago resulted in the election of Harold Washington, Chicago's first African American mayor in 1983, the implementation of the Gautreaux project to desegregate Chicago suburbs beginning in 1976, and enabled the employment, in 1985, of

Barak H.Obama as a community organizer

with the Developing Communities Project. The rest is history. At the national level, one of the immediate outcomes of the Chicago Freedom Campaign was the establishment of the "Poor People's Campaign" in 1967. Then a more significant legacy was achieved. In the wake of Dr. King's assassination, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act, including the mandate that local and state governments must "affirmatively further fair housing." The battle to make this duty a reality was a hallmark of the Obama administration, but some of those victories are being threatened in Congress and by the incoming Trump administration. In a 2005 article in the Washington Times, Dr. Ben Carson, nominee for HUD secretary said: "These government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse. There are reasonable ways to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens, but based on the history of failed socialist experiments in this country, entrusting the government to get it right can prove downright dangerous."
posted January 15, 2017
Letter from Birmingham Jail
I remember as a teenager reading MLK's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and being stuck by the essential justice of his appeal and the determination of his voice, even in print. It was 54 years ago today that MLK wrote "So, the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?" Read it all here
posted April 16, 2017

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