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Race and Housing in the Postwar City: - page 8 / 23





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one of the most significant structural changes in the postwar city. The incredibly swift demographic changes in the racial distribution of postwar urban populations had powerful consequences. The racial and spatial reorganization of the American metropolis ultimately fol­ lowed, but it was not an easy transition. As blacks began pushing out of the inner-city ghettos, whites organized neighborhood "improve­ ment" associations to stave off racial changes in housing patterns. These associations often were organized and led by real estate people who had a stake in stable neighborhoods. The issues were volatile at the time, and white resistance often took violent forms. In the racially charged atmosphere of the postwar era, urban neighborhoods often became hostile, even dangerous battlegrounds.14

In the days before the civil rights movement gained steam, local public officials usually sought to keep the races separated resi- dentially, or at least to control the pace of racial change. Similarly, federal housing policies through the 1950s actively encouraged the maintenance of racially segregated housing patterns. Housing offi­ cials in the Truman and Eisenhower administrations continued to condone residential segregation, even though U.S. Supreme Court decisions in that period began knocking out the legal underpinnings of housing and school segregation.15 Challenging segregation, black racial advancement organizations such as the NAACP and the National Urban League used public pressure, economic boycotts, and court challenges to fight restrictive covenants, racial zoning, and other discriminatory practices.16 Driving the pace of racial change, however, was the rapidly rising black population of the central cities and the demand of African Americans for better housing. Working- class and middle-class blacks were eager for more and better hous­ ing, and they generally pushed the limits to achieve those goals. Individual and group decisions to seek better housing in white areas should be interpreted as an important form of black agency. In mak­ ing such housing choices, African Americans sought to take control of important dimensions of their lives in urban America. Thus, racial and spatial transitions took place in virtually every big city, as African American housing pioneers blazed new trails into white res­ idential neighborhoods.


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