The Case for Reparations <p> Inside the Battle for Fair Housing
CIVIC | HOUSING | REAL ESTATE

The Case for Reparations

Inside the Battle for Fair Housing

And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.

— Deuteronomy 15: 12–15

Besides the crime which consists in violating the law, and varying from the right rule of reason, whereby a man so far becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human nature, and to be a noxious creature, there is commonly injurydone to some person or other, and some other man receives damage by his transgression: in which case he who hath received any damage, has, besides the right of punishment common to him with other men, a particular right to seek reparation.

— john locke, “second treatise”

By our unpaid labor and suffering, we have earned the right to the soil, many times over and over, and now we are determined to have it.

— anonymous, 1861

  1. “So That’s Just One Of My Losses”

Clyde ross was born in 1923, the seventh of 13 children, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, the home of the blues. Ross’s parents owned and farmed a 40-acre tract of land, flush with cows, hogs, and mules. Ross’s mother would drive to Clarksdale to do her shopping in a horse and buggy, in which she invested all the pride one might place in a Cadillac. The family owned another horse, with a red coat, which they gave to Clyde. The Ross family wanted for little, save that which all black families in the Deep South then desperately desired—the protection of the law.

Clyde Ross, photographed in November 2013 in his home in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, where he has lived for more than 50 years. When he first tried to get a legitimate mortgage, he was denied; mortgages were effectively not available to black people. (Carlos Javier Ortiz)

In the 1920s, Jim Crow Mississippi was, in all facets of society, a kleptocracy. The majority of the people in the state were perpetually robbed of the vote—a hijacking engineered through the trickery of the poll tax and the muscle of the lynch mob. Between 1882 and 1968, more black people were lynched in Mississippi than in any other state. “You and I know what’s the best way to keep the nigger from voting,” blustered Theodore Bilbo, a Mississippi senator and a proud Klansman. “You do it the night before the election.”

The state’s regime partnered robbery of the franchise with robbery of the purse. Many of Mississippi’s black farmers lived in debt peonage, under the sway of cotton kings who were at once their landlords, their employers, and their primary merchants. Tools and necessities were advanced against the return on the crop, which was determined by the employer. When farmers were deemed to be in debt—and they often were—the negative balance was then carried over to the next season. A man or woman who protested this arrangement did so at the risk of grave injury or death. Refusing to work meant arrest under vagrancy laws and forced labor under the state’s penal system. (more…)

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Addressing Social Segregation in Mixed-Income Communities

Much scholarly attention has been given to metropolitan and city-level segregation; however, comparatively little consideration has been devoted to within community segregation. In some newly created mixed-income, mixed-race communities, we are witnessing “diversity segregation,” where people of different backgrounds, races, ethnicity and incomes live next to one another but not alongside one another. In these diverse communities, micro-level segregation is thwarting meaningful interactions, making it less likely that these “integrated” communities will enhance the life chances of the poor.

For over a decade, I have studied transitioning low-income minority communities that became more racially, ethnically, and economically diverse in New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Additionally, as a public housing authority board chair, I have overseen the financing, construction, and maintenance of mixed-income housing projects in Alexandria, Virginia. During this work, I constantly ask myself, “Are these diverse communities and housing developments sufficiently designed to facilitate social interactions that benefit low-income residents?” (more…)

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