Close to Home: Baltimore’s Impact on Housing Discrimination Nationwide
March 14, 2018
This year in Sophomore English, Mr. Eric Coles and his students are reading the critically acclaimed play A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry. The play follows the Youngers, a black family in 1950s Chicago. The Youngers face the struggles of the discriminatory housing practices of 1950s America. Landlords in the 50s would often outright refuse to rent apartments and houses to black families and neighborhood “covenants” were created in majority white communities. These “covenants” added provisions to housing deeds that refused the sale of those homes to minorities in the 50s such as African-Americans, Jewish Americans, and Catholics as a part of a neighborhood wide promise . These policies affected many families in the US, including my own.
My grandparents, Louise Collins and Ronald B. Collins Sr. moved to the Loch Raven neighborhood in the early 70’s, on a street called Wadsworth. My grandparents moved to the neighborhood shortly after my uncle, Ronald Collins II, was born. The neighborhood, at the time, was made up of white, middle class families. My grandparents were the first to desegregate the community and faced the struggles that came with this circumstance.During the time, neighborhoods similar to Loch Raven had neighborhood “covenants.” One suburb that has a history of the enforcement of “neighborhood covenants” is Roland Park, only a 15 minute drive from my grandparent’s former home.
Roland Park, first established in 1893, became one of the first communities in the country to include racially exclusive language in property deeds. These deeds included lines restricted the homeowners ability to sell their homes to “negroes or persons of African descent.” This sort of language was a mostly successful attempt to keep neighborhoods exclusive to middle class, white families. The most egregious part of this practice was that it was all completely legal. Edward Bouton, the man who led the development of the Roland Park neighborhood, made sure that this practice was legal. A document found in an unmarked box at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, recounts a conversation held between Bouton and a local law firm. At the time, Bouton’s inquiry about restrictive housing deeds was considered “novel” and had never been thought of as option before. However, the nation took to the idea of these neighborhood covenants very quickly.
Discrimination in housing was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948 and it persisted throughout the 1950s and 60s. It manifested itself in many ways, including the infamous Levittown, one of the nation’s first suburbs. Levittown, inspired by the precedent set by Roland Park, was a housing development that forbade the leasing of the homes to “any person other than members of the Caucasian race.”Developments like these cemented Baltimore’s legacy as the city that inspired nationwide housing discrimination for years to come.
It is often hard to accept the history of your home, but Baltimore’s history is our history. This history shocked those in Mr. Coles English class and many found it disturbing that housing discrimination was practiced so close to their home. However, this is the space in which Mercy exists. All around our campus, there is a deep history of discrimination faced by the disenfranchised of our society. Everyday, outside of our school’s doors, we look at historic houses that, at some point in time, had leases and deeds that discriminated against black, Jewish, and other minority families in America. This history is something we struggle with in modern times as well, as discrimination in communities still persists. Confronting this history is the best way to fight its continuation.