Philadelphia’s Fair Housing Laws: Post World War II
To the citizens of Levittown Pennsylvania, Tuesday, August 13, 19572 seemed like any other day. The sun rose in the east on the suburban town just outside of Philadelphia. Husbands ate their breakfast cooked by their wives, children got ready for school, and the mailman made his rounds delivering the mail. However, as the mailman made his rounds that day, something caught his attention, something he thought he should immediately inform to the community, something that had never happened before in Levittown. “It happened” the mailman alerted the neighbors of Levittown, “Niggers have moved to Levittown!”3 Bill and Daisy Myers, an African-American couple and their children, moved into Levittown that day with the hope that they too could live the American dream that so many white families enjoyed following World War II. They knew it wasn’t going to be that easy.
Soon a mob formed out front of their house and more concerns could be heard throughout the crowd. “We spent a lot of money on our homes” yelled one white man, “They’ll be worth nothing!”4 “No one wants them here! Lets drive them out!”5 “Our houses are worth half of what they were yesterday!”6 The white citizens of Levittown felt extremely threatened that their perfect community would be ruined by an African-American family moving in. In fact, the main reason they had come to Levittown was to separate themselves from African-Americans. Many of the concerned citizens of Levittown that gathered into a mob outside of the Myers’ house made it clear that they had come to Levittown because Bill Levitt had promoted it as whites-only, “Levitt promised!”7 8 Mob formed outside of the Myers’ house in Levittown Levittown seemed like a peaceful suburb of backyard barbecues and baseball games, but none knew what their neighbors were capable of doing if an African-American family moved in.9 What Bill Levitt was doing was in fact, illegal. Levitt and his realtors were using different tactics to keep African-Americans out of Levittown by creating different reasons that they were not allowed to obtain suburban housing there. It is apparent that Levitt had a reputation to keep or else he could lose customers if African-Americans continued to move into Levittown. Therefore, he stood his ground and continued to deny housing to African-Americans.
Andrew Wiese points out in his book Places of Their Own that it seems wherever African-Americans moved to suburbs in large numbers after 1960, the outline of struggles are visible.10 Levittown is just one example of how white realtors created other excuses to keep African-Americans in the slums of the city, away from their “perfect” suburbs. They denied minorities, mainly African-Americans, from enjoying suburban life outside of the city in a variety of ways including migration, redlining, blockbusting, gentrification, tipping, and racial steering. This study reveals that the realtors, communities, insurance agents, and banks, used the tactics above to continue to segregate the suburbs from the city. In response to the discrimination of African-Americans, laws were created to put an end to housing segregation. Two of the most important laws developed to provide fair housing to all are Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and Section 109 of Title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. These two laws prove that attempts were made to curb abuses of the system attempting to root out all of the loopholes that keep African-Americans and other minorities out of the suburbs. These laws led to the development of organizations such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia, (FHCSP) and the National Consumer Law Center, (NCLC) created to end racial segregation in housing. Founded in 1956 and known as the oldest fair housing organization in the nation, the Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia’s...
Cited: Alford, Harry C. "Neighborhood Gentrification." The Tennessee Tribune, Apr 26-May 2, 2012,
Becker, Lester, Bobker, Lee. A Series on Changing Neighborhoods: Crisis in Levittown, Pennsylvania, Film (1957; Dynamic Films) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp22YlJlfHo.
Bonastia, Christopher. Knocking on the Door: The Federal Government 's Attempt to Desegregate the Suburbs. Princeton, N.J.; Woodstock: Princeton University Press, 2008; 2006.
Contosta, David R. Suburb in the City: Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, 1850- 1990. Urban Life and Urban Landscape Series. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1992.
Countryman, Matthew. Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia. Politics and Culture in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia. Accessed May 5, 2013. http://www.fhcsp.com/
Harris, Dianne Suzette. Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania. Culture, Politics, and the Built Environment. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010.
Hillier, Amy. Interview by author. E-mail. Philadelphia, PA., April 9, 2013.
Hillier, Amy “Redlining in Philadelphia,” The Cartographic Modeling Laboratory, accessed May 5, 2013, http://cml.upenn.edu/redlining/index.html.
Keeley, Elsie F. Racism Under Cover in the Suburbs: A Collection of Real- Life Stories Solicited from Multiethnic People Living in the Suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 1st ed. Souderton, PA: Diversity Dialogue Press, 1996.
Kirp, David L., John P. Dwyer, and Larry A. Rosenthal. Our Town: Race, Housing, and the Soul of Suburbia. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995.
Kushner, David. Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America 's Legendary Suburb. 1 US ed. New York: Walker & Co., 2009. http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0821/2008026319.html.
Logue, John and Temple University. Suburban Report: The Problem of Organizing Countywide Civic Organizations in the Suburbs of Philadelphia. Villanova, Pa.: Communities Research Institute, School of Law, Villanova University, 1960.
McAllister, David M. Between the Suburbs and Ghetto: Racial and Economic Change in Working-Class Philadelphia, 1933-1965 2007.
National Consumer Law Center, accessed May 2, 2013, http://www.nclc.org/about-us/about-us.html.
“Quotes About Racism,” Goodreads Inc., accessed May 2, 2013,
“U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development” HUD.GOV, accessed May 2, 2013, http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD.
Wagner, Richard G. and Amy Duckett Wagner. Levittown. Images of America. Charelston, S.C.: Arcadia Pub, 2010.
Wiese, Andrew. Places of their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century. Historical Studies of Urban America. Pbk ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Please join StudyMode to read the full document