Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Selma, & the Intersection of Real Estate

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Earlier this week we celebrated MLK day!  In the past we’ve gone on the local march or have talked to our kids about the meaning of Dr. King’s life.  This year we watched Selma, a movie that seemed to slip by when in the theaters when it first came out.  While watching we said to each other, “Why did we miss this movie?  It’s pretty fantastic!” There were many great actors that delivered moving performances and, of course, the message was tear jerking.   We discussed many of the themes and ruminated on how some things have changed and how many things have not.

One of many scenes that got me riled up showed an African American woman, a qualified voter, being denied access to her  legal right to vote.  It was not done with force, rather manipulating the system.  The woman was given a completely unfair quiz, which no one could pass, denying her access. – I had not heard that this was a method used to keep people from voting.  This led me to do a bit more reading and stumbled across a fantastic and informative read by Emilye Crosby – please take the time to read it HERE.  This provocative article, The Selma Voting Rights Struggle: 15 Points from Bottom-Up History and Why It Matters Today, goes in depth on the way that African Americans were prevented from exercising their freedom and right to vote.

The movie and article caused me to remember some of my public administration education, as well as a recent podcast I listened to on how the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and their policy’s segregated America. [Please listen to the podcast HERE – A Forgotten History of How The U.S. Government Segregated America.]  Most know, or have heard about the concepts of redlining and blockbusting, but it’s interesting to note that FHA put into place policy that kept African Americans from purchasing homes in the suburbs, claiming that if non-whites bought homes in these new developments, the values would go down (even thought that was never substantiated), and then the FHA could not insure these loans.  Today most think of FHA as a program that helps buyers, not hinders them.  Many Realtors are privy to CC&R’s when selling a home in older neighborhoods that hearken back to this era (1930’s), stating “no coloreds allowed [etc.],” and we might say aloud, “Can you believe that actually happened!”  Today it may be unthinkable to have this kind of overt discriminatory policies, yet we are still feeling the effects today.  Even though the 1968 Fair Housing Act over turned these policies, the author being interviewed (Richard Rothstein) says, in essence, it was too late.  …it’s an empty promise because those homes are no longer affordable to the families that could’ve afforded them when whites were buying into those suburbs and gaining the equity and the wealth that followed from that.

The white families sent their children to college with their home equities; they were able to take care of their parents in old age and not depend on their children. They’re able to bequeath wealth to their children. None of those advantages accrued to African-Americans, who for the most part were prohibited from buying homes in those suburbs.

As a husband and father, and member of a diverse community, I am moved to continue to ask what I can do today and this year?  How does my lack of actions and my cultural ideology keep others enslaved?  How can I not just be what the Reverend King called, “A white moderate “and, “a great stumbling block”?

Dr. King, “Letter From Birmingham Jail”
“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”[underlining mine for emphasis]

Think on these things…

Keith Klassen, Real Estate Broker – 916.595.7900

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