Housing in Civil Rights
The January 27, 1966 edition of the local Richmond, Indiana newspaper, The Graphic, published a very exemplary article detailing the racial injustices of the housing system in America. The article “Apartment Housing in Richmond” detailed the experiences of Carol Bell, an African American woman, looking for housing in Richmond, Indiana. Her story of inequalities in housing opportunities in America models that of many African Americans during the Civil Rights movement and for some time afterwards. During the time of this publication racial tension between white Americans and African Americans was very high. Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racial discrimination amongst blacks was overt and manifested on signs and posters outlawing the presence of Negroes in certain neighborhoods and establishments owned by white Americans. After much outcry and protest by Civil Rights activist and followers president Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed the discrimination of any person based on their race, religion, color, sex, or national origin. This gave rise to a new form of subtle discrimination that manifested in hiring, housing, and educating African Americans.
Carol Bell faced discrimination in her search for housing to accommodate her new job at Reid Hospital as a cytotechnologist. Ms. Bell began her search for housing in the North end of Richmond which was predominantly white. She visited two apartments which did not work due to personal preference and pricing. Ms. Bell next gives an account of a house on the south side of Richmond off of So. 12 St. of which she was particularly fond. She reached out to the landlord and discussed the apartment and arranged a meeting with him. She noted that when she arrived the landlord appeared slightly startled that she was a Negros. Despite her interest in this apartment she decided to think about it and contact the landlord at a later date. She contacted the landlord a few days later and he informed her that the apartment was still vacant but that he was not willing to rent it out to single ladies.
She then detailed an interaction with a landlord where he blatantly told her “We only rent to white”. This was the first case she recounted where the landlord was being outright with his racial discrimination. She recounted multiple other instances where discrimination was subtle and landlords explained to her that the apartment of her interest was “just rented” or the landlord avoided contact with her. She began to notice this trend and involved the American Friends Service Committee which helped African Americans get equal housing. In combined efforts with the AFSC and other groups she rented an apartment from an elderly white lady who was “proactive” in the campaign of fair housing.
The accounts of Carol Bell outline the struggle many African Americans had when searching for housing. Despite the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 many white Americans still outwardly discriminated against African Americans without fear of legal repercussions. Her story and many others like it represent the gap between law and its application during this time period. There was no protection from the government or law enforcement officials against such accounts of racial discrimination. The struggles of African Americans to find equal housing opportunities gained recognition through the brave oration by African Americans of their experiences.
Richmond, Indiana is a small rural city about an hour outside of Indiana’s capitol Indianapolis. This map details the racial dispersal of Richmond from 1960 to 1967. During the early 1960’s racial discrimination manifested itself in various forms. Racial discrimination was a norm in job and housing searches by African Americans during this time period. It was very common for African Americans during this time to be racially discriminated against in their housing searches by white landlords who were not comfortable renting to African Americans because they saw them as inferior “lesser” beings. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was written in an attempt to combat such racial inequalities. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned the discrimination of any person based on their race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. Although this act “banned” discrimination the application of this legislation by the government and law enforcement officials minimized its significance because discrimination was still outright an obvious issue in many cities in the North and the South. The outright racial discrimination in the housing sector is evident in this dispersal map of Richmond.
During the 1960’s Richmond was a racially balanced city having a similar African American and white American population. The African American population was generally confined within three areas of the city. Fairview, South End, and North End were predominately African American neighborhoods. Fairview and the North End spanned about ten to twelve blocks and the South End was about double the size of those two areas. Fairview, the North End, and South End comprised one fourth of the Richmond population. The overcrowding of these areas is due to racial discrimination in housing. White landlords strategically deny African Americans housing in the predominately white areas and which forces them to aggregate in small neighborhoods. The high density of African Americans in limited land causes the run down “ghetto” aesthetic associated with African American neighborhoods. The dispersal of white Americans in Richmond during the 1960’s is another point of interest.
The surrounding areas of Fairview, the North End and the South End were predominately white American. White Americans were spread out all throughout the city with each neighborhood having some type of marketable landmark surrounding like Reid Hospital, Earlham College, Municipal Light Plant, etc. Theses landmarks brought in revenue to these neighborhoods assisting with the maintenance of the area. Within the abundance of predominantly white owned land only seventeen African American families lived outside of the predominantly African American regions and five of the seventeen families were the first to establish themselves in those predominantly white areas.
The aggregation of African Americans into limited land spaces was a major issue during the Civil Rights era and was a result of racial discrimination by white landlords. This issue was not limited to Richmond, Indiana it was a problem throughout the United States that many Civil Rights activist protested. The necessity for bridging the gap between law and its application is most evident in the housing dilemma during the Civil Rights movement.
By Desmond Adeniyi