A Different Kind of Housing Crisis

By Olivia Schneider 

Not only a symbol of family, a home represents something whole and satisfying. For many black southern migrants to the north, it represented neither.

Secretary of Brockton’s NAACP Miles Jackson said his mother and father moved to Boston in 1955 then to Brockton along with many others in 1968. They lived in a single-family home on Royal Road in Brockton near Cardinal Spellman High School. Most of the residences were single-family homes.

“I’d say it was 90 percent white,” Jackson said of his neighborhood.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, blacks could not buy single-family homes in Brockton, according to Jackson.

“This eased up in the late 1960s,” he said.

Willie Wilson, curator of the Brockton Historical Society, agreed.    

Willie Wilson at the Messiah Baptist Church

“People were diverted to certain areas of the city rather than others,” Wilson said.

And it wasn’t only blacks.

There was an Irish Catholic man with a last name of Leonard, Wilson recalled, who moved from Boylston, Massachusetts in the 1960s and couldn’t move where he wanted.

“It wasn’t the color,” Wilson said.

It was about socio-economic-status.

“They just want the middle class,” he said.

During the first migration of blacks to the north, most southerners moved to mid-western cities like Chicago and Minneapolis. But for those who did move to Boston, there were six black neighborhoods within the South End, according to Elizabeth Pleck in “Studies in Social Discontinuity.”

“Ex-slaves began moving there immediately after the Civil War: By 1880, two thirds of all southern black adults lived in the five wards of the South End, but less than a quarter of blacks from elsewhere resided there,” she wrote.

Social workers thought these neighborhoods slums, “centers of vice” and “of licentiousness,” Pleck wrote. They weren’t spacious, either. Three- and four- story buildings would house eight families, in what had been comfortable for just one family.

Over time, Boston attracted more black southerners, and in turn a particular process of community building occurred; it was an “ethos of growth and welcome that would facilitate the absorption of southern newcomers and help the emerging Black Metropolises develop new political cultural institutions,” James Gregory said in “The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America.”

Adjustment was hard. Specifically, rural-to-urban adjustment, wrote Gregory.  

Historically, migration is not a new concept. But, this shift particularly was magnified. It was “uprooting,” a disruptive and disorganizing experience. Rather than moving within the country, it was like moving to a whole new country, according to Gregory.

However, rural southerners were quite ambitious, he wrote.  

During the second migration, during the mid-twentieth century, housing markets followed the relative pattern from before, clustering blacks in certain neighborhoods spotted around cities. But, according to Gregory, the market improved for black southerners during the postwar era, but never to the freedom or prices available to whites.

FDR’s New Deal had “huge implications for the spatial and racial design of cities.” According to Gregory, “government had almost never build or financed housing before the 1930s. Now it would do both.” America would see a home-buying revolution, from 40 percent of families in 1940 to 65 percent in 1974, Gregory wrote.

In many cities various devices were used to clump blacks into sections of the city.

“Real estate brokers and neighborhood associations organized the market, using housing covenants and zoning ordinances to back up the informal system of racial exclusion,” Gregory says. 

Suburb of Boston Brockton, Massachusetts was no exception, Wilson said. 

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