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Race and Housing in the Postwar City: - page 7 / 23





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Public housing was less popular in the South. During the midcentury anti-communist hysteria we have come to know as McCarthyism, government action on low-income housing in the region often was perceived as an attack on free enterprise and thus an unAmerican communist plot. Nevertheless, the southern color line was reinforced by official policies of racial zoning which dictat­ ed where blacks could live and where new black housing could be built. Although outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1917 in the case of Buchanan v. Warley, racial zoning persisted in southern cities well past midcentury. Even subsequent state court decisions banning racial zoning in Miami and Birmingham in 1946 and 1950, respec­ tively, had little influence in changing local practices of residential segregation. But even in southern cities, blacks ultimately found the means to break out of physically confined and racially zoned areas in their search for better housing. As in the North, elements of the real estate industry often facilitated that process of residential transition.12

Indeed, the real estate industry had a major stake in the process of residential change. Mainstream realtors, such as those associated with the National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) sought to keep white neighborhoods white. As early as the 1920s, in response to the first "great migration" of southern blacks to northern cities and subsequent housing pressures, NAREB and local real estate boards in Chicago, St. Louis, and elsewhere promoted race restrictive covenants to prevent black neighborhood "invasions." However, others in the real estate industry saw opportunity in build­ ing new black housing or in facilitating neighborhood turnover. Through "blockbusting," for instance, some realtors managed the process of black purchase of homes in white areas, usually causing panic selling and speeding white flight to the suburbs. Similarly, black realtors helped push out the racial boundaries of inner-city res­ idential areas. Mainstream real estate groups perceived these prac­ tices as a violation of professional ethics, a position first taken by NAREB in the 1920s. Blockbusting may have been considered unprofessional by most realtors, but black buyers appreciated the chance to move into better housing than they had left behind.13

In retrospect, the creation of the second ghetto has emerged as


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