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New International, February 1948


Gerald McDermott

Books in Review ...

You Can’t Live There!


From New International, Vol. XIV No. 2, February 1948, p. 63.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Race Bias in Housing
by Charles Abrams
Sponsored jointly by American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP and American Council on Race Relations
Distributed by the ACLU, New York 1947, 31 pp. 15 cents, or $4.50 per hundred

This thirty-one-page pamphlet, written by an expert in the housing field, presents a useful sociological analysis of the problem of segregation in housing.

The work is primarily concerned with the Negro but it points out that Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans and even south Europeans suffer from housing segregation. The “ghettos” of minorities are shown to have originated because newly arrived immigrants (and Negroes from the South) tended to live together voluntarily as a result of common cultural and religious interests in a new and strange environment.

Prejudice soon made these voluntary minority communities into involuntary prisons. City zoning laws, originally intended to serve more useful purposes, were put to use to enforce segregation. Restrictive covenants, once aimed at glue factories and boiler shops, were pointed now at human beings.

Abrams’ main emphasis is on racial policy in public housing. He points out that the direct entry of the government into housing can serve either as an example directed against segregation or a prop for it. So far, it has been a prop.

The following quotation from the official manual of the Federal Housing Authority is illustrative: “If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.”

The manual discusses “prevention of infiltration” and warns against “unharmonious groups.” It even contains a model restrictive covenant!

The Home Owners Loan Corporation, in selling repossessed houses, “respects local racial patterns.” The Public Works Administration of recent memory did the same in their housing projects.

Further material in the pamphlet includes useful statistics, legal information of a general nature, and information on experiences with segregated and unsegregated public housing. It would be of assistance to anyone doing educational, agitational or research work in the housing field.

The weaknesses of the pamphlet reflect the weaknesses of the sponsoring organizations. As is typical of the ACLU, there is no class understanding in the analysis. As is typical of the NAACP, the stress is on court and legislative action alone.

A valuable note in the book is an offer by the ACLU Staff Counsel to furnish interested parties with information on court suits, drafts of bills for state legislatures and city councils, and data on communities where segregation has been abolished.

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