Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968, and the Fair Housing was passed exactly one week later, on April 11th. The Fair Housing Act was passed largely in response to the mass protests and riots that erupted directly after Dr. King’s assassination. A month prior, the report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly known as the “Kerner Commission Report” was released, and it had concluded that rioting in Black communities was the result of pervasive systemic racial inequalities. The report warned that the unrest would continue without significant, large scale reforms, and in the wake of Dr. King’s death, that prophesy seemed to be coming true. Fears about increasing chaos motivated lawmakers who had previously been resistant to finally support the bill.
Dr. King’s work toward the end of his life set the stage for the passage of the Fair Housing Act. Many know of Dr. King’s work in the South in places like Selma and Birmingham, but his work in later years focused on discriminatory housing practices in Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago, King supported the Chicago Freedom Movement, which worked to form tenants’ unions, organized strikes against the high rents in the city, and boycotted businesses known for discrimination.
The Chicago Freedom Movement eventually escalated to include marches through segregated white neighborhoods. The infamous photo of Dr. King being hit in the head with a rock while marching was taken during one of these Fair Housing demonstrations in Chicago. Of the incident, King said “I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as as hateful as I’ve seen here in Chicago,” (LA Times).
It has been over 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination and the passage of the Fair Housing Act, and there’s still much to be done. The results of redlining and racist housing practices still remain to this day. In New Orleans, the legacy of these policies has left many native New Orleanians and particularly Black residents vulnerable to displacement. Now, many of our neighbors are being pushed out of the city to make way for luxury condominiums and short-term rentals for tourists.
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