Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played a substantial role in paving the road for the work we do every day at LaFHAC. Not only was he a prominent leader in the civil rights movement as a whole, he also led demonstrations and advocated for the eradication of systemic housing discrimination specifically.
Dr. King was a key leader in the Chicago Freedom Movement (1965-1966), which was a social movement dedicated to raising awareness around discriminatory housing policies that perpetuated racism and wealth gaps between white and Black communites. During this time, activists alongside Dr. King organized municipal demands as well as marches through segregated white and wealthy neighborhoods. They also conducted regular testing as we do here at LaFHAC. These tests entailed sending Black and white people to the same lenders or realtors to test and document the differences in treatment between races. SPOILER ALERT: the differences were drastic.
Ultimately the movement resulted in the Chicago Housing Authority agreeing to build public housing in white middle-class neighborhoods and the Mortgage Bankers Association vowing to end discriminatory lending practices.
Dr. King’s influence on fair housing was not just localized to Chicago though. The Fair Housing Act, a successor to the Civil Rights Act, had been met with much resistance by the Senate for two years after it was first proposed in 1966. Dr. King delivered a speech regarding the failure of the Senate to pass the bill at Stanford University in 1967.
“When that bill died in Congress, a bit of democracy died […] a bit of our commitment to justice died.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1968, after Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed for the passage of the Fair Housing Act in an effort to pay homage to Dr. King’s life’s work. At the same time, mass protests, and in some places rioting, put pressure on politicians who had previously dragged their feet to finally vote for the bill. It passed in the House and was signed into law on April 11th 1968.
We continue to honor and uplift the sacrifice of Dr. King and all of the Civil Rights leaders who came before us by carrying the torch forward in the fight against housing discrimination and systemic oppression in the hope that one day sooner rather than later, Dr. King’s dream may be fully actualized.