Black History Month: Shut out of the American Dream
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was a major win for civil rights and has allowed Long Island to grow more diverse each year. As the 50th anniversary of the law approaches, News 12 Long Island's Averi Harper tells us about its impact.
During a search for a home in Nassau County, Grace Bryant says a realtor told her a neighborhood wasn't for her. She and her husband started looking to buy after she was offered a job as a teacher at Westbury schools in 1968.
Bryant says she would speak with realtors over the phone and go to showings, only to be turned away when she showed up.
"I started to put two and two together that it was color, it couldn't have been because they didn't think that we could afford the house," says Bryant.
She had her eye on a Garden City home, but was told it was sold before she arrived for her scheduled viewing.
"Discrimination was pervasive on Long Island at the time. There was a history of using racially restrictive covenants and writing racial exclusion into the deeds of houses and these provisions prevented the occupancy of non-white individuals," says Christopher Niedt, from Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies.
Niedt says it was common to see clauses like the one on a Levittown lease that kept people of color out. And while some battled housing discrimination, others fought to preserve it, like the protesters from a group called the Society for the Prevention of Negroes Getting Everything in Hicksville.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968, known as the Fair Housing Act, aimed to dismantle housing discrimination on the basis of race, religion or national origin.
The Fair Housing Act was a win for civil rights nationwide, but it didn't fully eradicate housing discrimination in communities like Garden City.
"The problem with the Fair Housing Act, turned out to be enforcement. Or put a lot of the burden on individual who experienced discrimination to bring their own lawsuits and fight their own fights," says Niedt.
As a result, Niedt says, relatively few cases were brought to court, and in turn segregation and housing discrimination persisted on Long Island. People like Bryant just found homes elsewhere. She raised her family in Westbury.
"I was more concerned with my children and finding a school district and settled in and all of that. That was my priority at that time," she says.
Bryant says it's important for people to understand the lasting effects of housing discrimination. "We think it just happened that way that we had to move here. No, it was planned that we couldn't move anywhere else so we had to come here," she says.