U.S. House of Representatives
In addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a courageous President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Enacted April 11, just seven days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it was designed to end segregated housing in American cities and suburban areas, which resulted in draconian social and economic marginalization for people of color.
Until the Fair Housing Act was implemented 50 years ago, acutely segregated neighborhoods were created by official acts of local and state governments. The federal governments were complicit in many instances as well. Segregation in housing was commonplace. The legislation was an attempt to make our country more welcoming for racial minorities.
In our government, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is responsible for the creation of equitable housing. Among its responsibilities is to see that federal fair housing laws are followed, and that federal monies are not allocated for housing plans and projects that are discriminatory in nature.
It was most troubling recently when Dr. Ben Carson, who was appointed by the president to guide national housing policies, proposed that the words “free from discrimination” be deleted from the mission statement of the entity that he directs.
Certainly Carson, a highly trained physician and neurosurgeon, must be aware of the history of housing discrimination. Having grown up in inner city Detroit, it is unfathomable that he might have avoided the restricted housing realities faced by families like his own whose residential choices were limited by restrictive covenants and racial steering practices.
There was a time in America when people of color were not allowed to purchase homes beyond the boundaries of those areas that were designated for them. They were denied access to neighborhoods that were near higher-paying places of employment, quality libraries and recreational facilities.
The fight for fair housing continues in our country. I was among those in Congress that supported policies established during President Barack Obama’s administration that mandated that local and state governments requesting federal funding for housing projects address how housing discrimination had historically precluded African Americans, in particular, from many neighborhoods as renters and homeowners.
The Obama policies have been resisted by some of those seeking federal funding, but fair-minded members of Congress have been resolute in not opposing them, realizing the unseemly results of housing discrimination and segregation in America.
Fifty years ago, a president and a Congress embraced the idea of fair housing. It would be shamefully irresponsible for government officials today to deny the wisdom of those who came before them.
U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the highest-ranking Texan on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. She represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas.