The Legacy of Segregation

Why does racial segregation still exist today?

After several U.S. Supreme Court rulings at mid-century (Shelley v. Kraemer and Brown v. Board) and civil rights activism in the 1950s and 1960s, the Jim Crow system of racial segregation seemed to be in decline.  The 1968 Fair Housing Act forbade racist policies and practices in housing, but even after its passage, color lines endured.

Real estate was seen as a private activity—an exchange between a buyer and a seller, without much of a government role.  The activities of HOLC and FHA, however, illustrate that the federal government shaped housing markets.  Through subsidies, they made it easier for whites to buy their homes, more difficult for blacks to do so, and kept neighborhoods segregated.  After the 1930s, FHA activities were more difficult to see—the agency supported the private sector, rather than building housing itself.  

Throughout the twentieth century, home ownership was the key way for families to accumulate wealth and pass it on from one generation to another.  Without that real estate wealth, black families had fewer resources to invest in education, to start businesses, or to move to more prosperous communities, than their white counterparts had.  Thus, policies and actions from the 1930s continue to reverberate for generations going forward—what was once segregation by race has become segregation by resources, and African Americans have not been able to share in those resources equally.