Historians Nathan Connolly and Beryl Satter Interviewed On Housing Discrimination in the Jim Crow US and The Case for ReparationsHistorians in the News
tags: Jim Crow, historians, reparations, housing discrimination, Black Perspectives
CBFS: For our upcoming conversation we’ll be talking about housing discrimination in the Jim Crow US and the case for reparations. Can you each tell us a bit about your book and how you came to write these histories?
Nathan Connolly: At base, A World More Concrete looks at the landlording class as a particular way to help readers see the economic structure of white supremacy. Focusing on landlords is by no means the only way to do that. There are, however, two historical facts that make renting and tenant life in the Jim Crow South, in particular, especially fruitful avenues for exploring the depth and profitability of American racism. At no point in American history did most Black people live outside the South, and at no point in American history did most Black people own their own home. Black tenants were a confined and intentionally disempowered population whose lack of options made them an easy target for scapegoating and predatory real estate practices. The processes by which they were repeatedly confined and disempowered is what pulled me in. It’s also what took me ten years to figure out.
Beryl Satter: Family Properties was the product of my curiosity about my father, attorney Mark J. Satter, who died in 1965, when I was six years old. I discovered that in the 1950s and early 1960s my father had fought a vicious real estate practice in which speculators purchased properties from whites fleeing racially “changing” areas at close to market value. The speculators then sold these properties to Blacks at double to quadruple market value. Worse, they sold these overpriced properties “on contract,” that is, on an installment plan. Installment contracts specified that if the buyer missed one monthly payment, they would lose the property. Because the properties were sold at grossly inflated prices, the chances of a buyer missing a payment and losing the property were high.
African Americans had no choice but to buy on contract because banks and savings and loans “redlined” or refused to give African Americans mortgage loans regardless of their credit history. My father estimated that eighty-five percent of Black homebuyers in Chicago bought their properties “on contract” and that the practice was extracting $1 million dollars a day from Black Chicagoans (close to $8 million a day in today’s money). The scale of exploitation was so immense that I knew I had to write about it.
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