A City Divided: Housing Segregation in Chicago and Beyond

byLea Stenson


Racial segregation, like all other forms of cruelty and tyranny, debases all human beings - those who are its victims, those who victimize, and in quite subtle ways those who are mere accessories.

Kenneth B. Clark1

In his book Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power, pioneering social psychologist Kenneth B. Clark described how segregation separates people of color not only from white people, but from resources and opportunities. He asserted that segregation is largely the result of societal forces rather than individual choices, writing that:

The dark ghetto’s invisible walls have been erected by the white society, by those who have power, both to confine those who have no power, and to perpetuate their powerlessness. The dark ghettos are social, political, educational, and—above all—economic colonies.2

Dark Ghetto was published in 1965, a year after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act prohibiting segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations, and 11 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, a case for which Kenneth Clark had provided expert testimony.

In the 1940’s, Clark and his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark, a psychologist who studied identity issues in African American children, conducted a series of experiments. They interviewed young African American children who attended segregated schools in Philadelphia, Boston, Worcester, Massachusetts and several cities in Arkansas. The children were presented with two baby dolls. The dolls were identical except for their hair and skin color. One doll had blonde hair and white skin, while the other had black hair and brown skin. When asked which doll they liked best, most of the children displayed a preference for the white-skinned doll and a rejection of the brown-skinned doll. The children were asked which of the dolls looked like them. Some children pointed to the white doll, while others became upset and refused to answer the question. “Some of these children, particularly in the North, were reduced to crying when presented with the dolls and asked to identify with them,” Kenneth Clark told Ricard Klugar in the 1975 book, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education.3

In 1951, the NAACP enlisted Clark to lend his expertise to Briggs v. Elliott, a school segregation case in Clarendon County, South Carolina. He performed the doll experiment with African American children there. Again the children favored the white doll, and became upset when asked to compare themselves to the African American doll. Clark testified that the black children’s preference for the white doll indicated psychological damage that was reinforced by segregation.4

Briggs v. Elliott was rolled into Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and the doll tests were referenced in the footnotes of the Supreme Court’s opinion. The Court ruled unanimously that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Echoes of Kenneth Clark’s testimony can be heard in the opinion, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren.

To separate [African American children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.5

Brown v. Board overturned the 1896 Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which had ruled that segregation of public facilities was constitutional, as long as the segregated facilities were equal in quality.

Brown invalidated Jim Crow laws that had mandated school segregation in the South. It was a major victory in the fight for civil rights, but whites in southern states (government officials, law enforcement and citizens alike) continued to resist integration in the years following the high court’s decision.

Furthermore, racial segregation was not limited to the Jim Crow South. In Kenneth Clark’s hometown of New York City, segregated neighborhoods meant segregated schools. These schools remained segregated long after Brown. Clark grew up in Harlem and had experienced firsthand the poverty and lack of resources that resulted from segregation. He was a vocal advocate for integration, and grew impatient with the lack of progress in desegregating schools in New York City. He was disheartened by the persistence of racial isolation and

inequity despite hard-fought legislative and court victories during the civil rights movement. He decried the lack of social services and resources in black communities.6 This frustration led him to write Dark Ghetto.

When we reflect on segregation in the Northern cities like New York and Chicago, we often think of de facto segregation, or segregation by common practice and individual choice. Individual racism and bias amongst northern whites have contributed to residential segregation, and in turn school segregation. But de facto segregation is just one piece of the puzzle. By taking a closer look at housing policy in the U.S., we see a long history of de jure segregation, or segregation by law. Over the past century, federal, state and local governments collaborated with banking institutions and real estate associations to enact policies designed to create and maintain residential segregation in our nation’s cities and suburbs.

Rationale and Objectives

I teach at Jahn School of Fine Arts, a magnet school on the North Side of Chicago. We accept students from across the city through a lottery system. Jahn is a diverse school in a deeply segregated city. Roughly a quarter of our students live locally in the predominantly white neighborhood of Roscoe Village, while the rest come from African American and Latinx neighborhoods on the city’s South and West sides. These students travel a great distance from their segregated, economically-depressed communities to attend a school that has a strong arts program and robust funding thanks to a well-connected parent association. They benefit from the diversity and resources our school provides, but each day they return to their home communities and experience the effects of segregation and lack of investment. Meanwhile, our local students benefit from ample resources both at school and in their community.

A City Divided: Housing Segregation in Chicago and Beyond will explore the history of de jure segregation in the United States, with a focus on Chicago and other Northern cities. Students will learn about redlining, the process by which banks refused to offer mortgages, or offered worse rates to customers in African American neighborhoods. We will explore exclusionary zoning laws, segregated public housing projects, discriminatory lending practices and racially restrictive housing covenants, which were contractual agreements within a home’s deed that prohibited African Americans from purchasing the home.

The uncomfortable truth about de jure segregation in Northern cities is rarely discussed in history textbooks. Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, critiques textbooks designed for middle and high school students that gloss over the federal government’s role in segregating our cities and suburbs. The popular textbook History Alive!, published by the Teachers’ Curriculum Institute, depicts segregation as a Southern problem, stating that “Even New Deal agencies practiced racial segregation, especially in the South.”7 President Franklin D. Roosevelt did indeed build numerous discriminatory and exclusionary policies into the New Deal to garner Southern support. African Americans were excluded from employment and housing opportunities throughout the New Deal era. What History Alive! fails to mention is that these exclusionary policies were not limited to the South. They were federal policies implemented throughout the U.S., and particularly in populous Northern cities. The New Deal’s Public Works Administration (PWA), which oversaw large-scale construction projects, enacted the “neighborhood composition rule” in public housing. Under the rule, a housing project could not alter the racial composition of a neighborhood where it was placed.8 This federal mandate laid the groundwork for segregated public housing projects in every major U.S. city.

The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a New Deal agency established in 1933, created residential security maps that color-coded neighborhoods based on their perceived lending risk, with predominantly African American neighborhoods consistently labeled as “hazardous”, the lowest rating. Another New Deal agency, The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), established in 1934, used these redlining maps to deny federal mortgage insurance in these “hazardous” neighborhoods. Homes in nearby white neighborhoods would only receive FHA mortgage insurance if there was a physical barrier such as a river, highway or wall preventing what the 1935 FHA Underwriting Manual described as “infiltration by inharmonious racial or nationality groups.”9 Redlining by the FHA was instrumental in perpetuating residential segregation in every major metropolitan area in the U.S. Its legacy of segregated, under-resourced neighborhoods can be seen today in Northern and Southern cities alike.

The Americans, published by curriculum giant Houghton Mifflon Harcourt, has just one paragraph in all its nearly 1,400 pages dedicated to “Discrimination in the North.” It devotes one passive-voice sentence to residential segregation, stating that, “African Americans found themselves forced into segregated neighborhoods” as if blacks suddenly and inexplicably found themselves living in racially-isolated neighborhoods, deprived of the resources and opportunities afforded to residents of white neighborhoods.10 Richard Rothstein notes that other major textbook publishers perpetuate the myth that Northern segregation was primarily de facto. Prentice Hall’s United States History states that:

In the North, too, African Americans faced segregation and discrimination. Even where there were no explicit laws, de facto segregation, or segregation by unwritten custom or tradition, was a fact of life. African Americans in the North were denied housing in many neighborhoods.11

Pearson’s By The People: A History of the United States refers to the post World War II suburban housing development Levittown, where small tract homes were rented and sold at a fraction of market prices, as “a dream come true.” The textbook’s author neglects to mention that this federally-subsidized “dream” was only accessible to whites. Levitt and other developers of affordable suburban homes received federal loans from the FHA under the explicit condition that their homes be sold exclusively to whites. As a result, all Levitt home deeds had restrictive covenants prohibiting people who “were not of the Caucasian race” from purchasing in Levittown.12

To bring about lasting social change, we must first raise awareness of the systemic oppression at the root of injustice. When students view historical and contemporary issues through a social justice lens, they often find that their prior knowledge is incomplete and inaccurate. Their eyes are opened to aspects of the issue that have previously been ignored.

A City Divided: Housing Segregation in Chicago and Beyond will explore redlining and other forms of de jure segregation seldom discussed in history books. Students will learn of the intentionality behind these policies. They will learn about the relationship between segregation and issues such as educational inequity, the racial wealth gap, concentrated poverty, under- resourced neighborhoods, unemployment, public health, crime rates, racial profiling, police brutality and mass incarceration. They will no doubt react strongly to the institutional racism that has long existed in their city and elsewhere in the Northern U.S., running contrary to the prevailing narrative that state-mandated segregation is a strictly Southern phenomenon. As a culminating project, students will channel their newfound knowledge and passion into public works of art that will shed light on a history that has been ignored for far too long.

History of De Jure Segregation in Chicago and Beyond

The Great Migration

From 1910 - 1970, six million African Americans moved from the rural South to cities in the Northeast, Midwest and West.13 They migrated north in search of employment opportunities, and to escape racial violence and Jim Crow laws. Enacted when Reconstruction ended in 1877, Jim Crow laws enforced segregation and prevented Southern blacks from voting. These laws were in effect until 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Around 500,000 African Americans settled in Chicago during the Great Migration.14 Most settled in a chain of neighborhoods on the South Side known as the Black Belt. Before the Great Migration, blacks made up 2% of Chicago’s population. By 1970, they made up 33%, roughly one million.15 Southern blacks moved north to escape poor living conditions, low wages, and lack of job opportunities. Many were sharecroppers caught in a vicious cycle of debt and poverty. They saw the North as a place of refuge. They sought relief from rigid residential and school segregation, disenfranchisement, and racial violence. In their eyes, the North held great economic and social promise. And indeed, there were more employment opportunities for blacks in the North. When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917 and drafted millions of men to fight in Europe, factory jobs opened up across the North. Labor recruiters traveled throughout the South, enticing blacks to move north, promising higher wages and a better life. The Chicago Defender, the leading black newspaper in the country, encouraged blacks to move north by publishing stories of blacks who had “made it” in Chicago. They published lists of churches and other organizations that southern blacks could contact for help with travel, housing and jobs.16

Many blacks who moved to Chicago and other northern cities found better job opportunities and higher wages, especially in the early years of the Great Migration. But they also encountered intense racial hostility and segregationist attitudes strikingly similar to those they had left in the South. Many northern whites shared the racist views of their southern counterparts, and feared the changing demographics of their cities. Moreover, government entities at the federal, state and local level sought to maintain the status quo and capitalized on these racially-based fears by doubling down on efforts to maintain segregation. Exclusionary zoning, racially restrictive covenants and redlining led to overcrowded neighborhoods in the Black Belt where people lived in slum-like conditions, with little hope of moving to neighborhoods with more resources and opportunities.

Red Summer

On a sweltering July day in 1919, Chicago’s lakefront between 26th and 29th Streets was packed with beachgoers. 17-year-old Eugene Williams joined his friends at 26th Street, the beach designated for blacks. Just south of them was 29th Street, the beach tacitly reserved for whites. Eugene and his friends launched a makeshift raft into Lake Michigan. When the raft drifted into waters near 29th Street, a white beachgoer named George Stauber began throwing rocks at the black teenagers. Eugene was struck in the head and drowned. A black police officer moved to arrest Stauber, but was stopped by a white officer. Tensions grew when it became apparent no arrest would be made. Word spread, and a crowd of around 1,000 African Americans gathered on the beach. One man pulled out a gun and fired at police. The police shot him, and he later died. Over the next week, mobs of young white men and teenagers stormed black neighborhoods, attacking residents and burning down homes. Black residents banded together to defend themselves and their homes. The Illinois Reserve Militia was called to intervene. By the end of August 3rd, 38 people were dead, 537 were injured and more than 1,000 lost their homes to arson.17

Chicago was not the only city to erupt in violence in the summer of 1919. In what later became known as The Red Summer, anti-black riots broke out across the country. The Treaty of Versailles had just been signed, marking the end of World War I. Millions of soldiers returned home, including 350,000 African Americans.18 Prior to this influx of veterans, there had been fierce competition for jobs in northern cities, as newly-arrived southern blacks competed with working-class whites for jobs in factories, steel mills and stockyards. When the soldiers returned in 1919, jobs became even more scarce. In cities across the country, blacks were living in concentrated poverty, pushed into overcrowded, under-resourced neighborhoods by government policies designed to keep them isolated. Meanwhile, working-class whites, angered by diminishing job opportunities, and fueled by racist beliefs, lashed out at blacks. In the summer of 1919, hundreds of people were killed, most of them black, when racial violence erupted in cities across the country, including Washington, D.C.; Charleston, South Carolina; Omaha, Nebraska; Indianapolis, Indiana; Knoxville, Tennessee; Bisbee, Arizona and Elaine, Arkansas.19

Exclusionary Zoning

Exclusionary zoning, the use of government-sanctioned zoning ordinances to exclude certain groups from moving to a community, has a long history that continues to this day. An early iteration of exclusionary zoning came in the form of city zoning ordinances that codified segregation, barring African Americans from occupying blocks that were majority white. In 1916, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Buchanan v. Warley that racial zoning ordinances were unconstitutional as they violated the 14th Amendment’s protections for freedom of contract.20

After the Buchanan ruling, communities sought new ways to segregate. Zoning ordinances shifted from explicitly targeting African Americans to excluding low-income people. Zoning restrictions such as minimum lot size prevent low-income people from moving to areas with more opportunity. The Fair Housing Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, does not protect against zoning that excluded low-income people. The law forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color, national orgin, religion, sex, ability and familial status. It doesn’t however forbid class-based discrimination. Zoning restrictions such as lot size limits and prohibition of multi-family buildings are common in urban and suburban communities. These zoning restrictions systematically exclude low-income people of color, despite the absence of explicit discriminatory language.

Racially Restrictive Housing Covenants

Another way that communities adapted their discriminatory practices after the Buchanan ruling was through the use of racially restrictive covenants. Restrictive covenants, also known as deed restrictions, are contractual agreements within a home’s deed that prohibit non-whites from purchasing the home. These covenants were typically imposed by an organization or group that sought to maintain segregation, whether it be a real estate developer, a homeowners association, or an informal group of neighboring homeowners. In some neighborhoods, most or all of the homes had racially restrictive deeds. A typical covenant included language explicitly prohibiting non-whites from buying the home:

hereafter no part of said property or any portion thereof shall be…occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race, it being intended hereby to restrict the use of said property…against occupancy as owners or tenants of any portion of said property for resident or other purposes by people of the Negro or Mongolian race. 21

Restrictive covenants came into wide use after the Buchanan ruling barred racial zoning in 1916. They became even more prevalent in 1926 when the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling in Corrigan v. Buckley, stating that federal courts had no jurisdiction to interfere with private covenants, even if they were discriminatory.22 After Corrigan, the use of restrictive covenants spread rapidly throughout the country. The Federal Housing Administration’s 1936 Underwriting Manual explicitly encouraged the use of covenants as a means to maintain segregation.

Deed restrictions are apt to prove more effective than a zoning ordinance in providing protection from adverse influences. Where the same deed restrictions apply over a broad area and where these restrictions relate to types of structures, use to which improvements may be put, and racial occupancy, a favorable condition is apt to exist.23

By 1940, 80% of property in Chicago contained covenants barring African Americans.24 That same year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hansberry v. Lee. Carl Hansberry, an African American businessman, had purchased a home in 1937 in the white neighborhood of Woodlawn, just south of the University of Chicago. Anna Lee, a white resident in the neighborhood, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Hyde Park-Woodlawn Improvement Society, charging that Hansberry had violated a restrictive covenant that forbade homeowners in the neighborhood from selling to blacks. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in Lee’s favor, upholding the restrictive covenant. Hansberry brought his case to U.S. Supreme Court in 1940. The Court ruled in Hansberry’s favor, invalidating the restrictive covenant. But the ruling was based on a technicality. The restrictive covenant contained language stipulating that 95% of the neighborhood’s homeowners must sign the covenant in order to validate it. Since only 54% of the owners had signed, the covenant was invalid.25

The Hansberry ruling did not challenge the constitutionality of racially restrictive covenants, but it was a victory nonetheless. 500 homes in the Woodlawn neighborhood opened up to blacks. Many families looking to leave the crowded Black Belt seized on this opportunity. In a column in the Chicago Defender, Carl Hansberry reacted to the ruling: “I feel that the decision will be of tangible and practical value to both the white and colored citizens of Chicago.”26 Hansberry’s daughter Lorraine was 10 years old when the ruling came down. Lorraine Hansberry went on to become a celebrated playwright. Her semi-autobiographical play A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of the Youngers, an African American family on the South Side of Chicago who encounter hostile resistance when they attempt to buy a home in a white neighborhood.'27

In 1948, a more decisive ruling came down in regards to racially restrictive covenants. In Shelley v. Kraemer, The Supreme Court ruled that racially restrictive covenants are legally unenforceable because they violate the equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment.28 Shelley was a landmark decision, but the use of racially restrictive covenants did not cease after the ruling. Covenants are private contracts. Although the Court deemed them legally unenforceable, it is not illegal to enact and privately enforce them. Due to arcane rules, it’s difficult to remove covenants from deeds. So racially restrictive covenants enacted as much as 100 years ago can be found in deeds today. The tacit expectation is that these covenants will not be adhered to. Fair housing advocates argue that homeowners harboring racist views can use restrictive covenants to justify discrimination against prospective buyers, even when they know full well that the covenant is not legally enforceable.


Redlining, the process by which banks refused to offer mortgages, or offered worse rates to customers in African American neighborhoods, perpetuated segregation and prevented blacks from building credit and equity. Redlining was based on the belief that the presence of people of color in a neighborhood reduced property values. As Richard Rothstein points out in The Color of Law, this belief was unfounded and ran contrary to the realities of supply and demand in an era when blacks had fewer opportunities to become homeowners. When African Americans moved to a neighborhood and bought homes, the property values would often increase, not decrease. African Americans had fewer choices when it came to home buying, and were therefore willing to pay more for homes. So an influx of African American home buyers in a neighborhood would typically drive values up.29 But a widespread belief in white supremacy perpetuated the false notion that the presence of African Americans brought home values down.

The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), was a federal agency created in 1933 under the New Deal. The HOLC was established to refinance home mortgages that had defaulted during the Great Depression. The HOLC formalized redlining through the creation of residential security maps, which color-coded urban neighborhoods, dividing them into 4 categories based on the perceived risk of providing home loans in a given neighborhood.

  • Green neighborhoods were considered the “best” areas
  • Blue areas were “still desirable”
  • Yellow areas were “definitely declining”
  • Red areas were “hazardous”

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), was established in 1934 under the New Deal’s National Housing Act. The FHA was created to stimulate the economy by encouraging banks to provide home loans. The FHA used the HOLC security maps to determine which neighborhoods qualified for federally-backed mortgages. In cities across the U.S., the vast majority of African Americans lived in neighborhoods coded red. The FHA refused to insure mortgages in these “hazardous” neighborhoods. Homes in nearby white neighborhoods would only receive FHA mortgage insurance if there was a physical barrier such as a river, highway or wall preventing what the 1935 FHA Underwriting Manual described as “infiltration by inharmonious racial or nationality groups.”30

In 1941, a developer in Detroit wanted to build a white development adjacent to Wyoming, a red-lined African American neighborhood. The FHA declined to insure the development due to its proximity to Wyoming. So the developer built a half-mile long wall, separating the red-lined neighborhood from the proposed development. The FHA then agreed to back the development. The wall is still standing today, running through a public park in Wyoming. It is often called the Eight Mile Wall, referring to a nearby highway that also serves as a symbol of Detroit’s racial divide. Over the years it has been painted with murals depicting civil rights leaders and colorful street scenes. Many see it as a powerful reminder of our nation’s recent past, and the work we must do to address segregation and inequity.31

The impacts of redlining reach far beyond city borders. The rapid rise of suburban development after World War II was orchestrated in large part by the FHA and the Veteran’s Administration (VA), who used redlining to issue federally-backed mortgage insurance to whites homebuyers, many of which were WWII veterans. The federal government encouraged white to buy homes in the suburbs, and sanctioned the use of racially restrictive covenants by large-scale developers like William Levitt. The rock bottom prices of suburban homes in developments like Levittown were very enticing to working and middle-class whites, who flocked to the suburbs in droves in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

Redlining, and its underlying assumption of white supremacy, provided a justification for racially restrictive covenants, and helped popularize their use. The 1936 FHA Underwriting Manual explicitly encouraged the use of covenants as a means to maintain segregation. After the FHA began using the HOLC security maps in the 1930’s, redlining spread throughout the mortgage industry. Banks routinely used redlining to deny home loans to those living in neighborhoods deemed “hazardous”. Redlining was outlawed in 1968 by the Fair Housing Act, but its legacy can be seen today in the segregated, under-resourced neighborhoods of Detroit, Chicago and other cities across the U.S.

Reverse Redlining

Discriminatory lending, when mortgage lenders target African Americans, charging them significantly higher fees and interest rates than they would charge a similarly-situated white homebuyer, is common practice. This is often referred to as “reverse redlining”. Subprime mortgage loans are an example of these high-interest loans, which are often marketed to African Americans. From 2004-2006, banks and mortgage brokers granted a large number of subprime loans with exorbitantly high fees and interest rates.32 In 2006, black and Latinx borrowers were 2.4 times more likely to receive a subprime loan than white applicants, according to a recent study,33 In Baltimore, Wells Fargo instructed their marketing staff to visit black churches to market subprime loans. The bank had no comparable practice of marketing these loans in white churches.34 When homeowners started defaulting in large numbers, a financial crisis was triggered that spread throughout the globe from 2007-2008.

Discriminatory Real Estate Practices

Racial Steering

Real estate associations have long endorsed discriminatory practices designed to increase profitability while perpetuating segregation. One such practice, racial steering, was widespread throughout the 20th century, and is still is use today. Real estate brokers “steer” prospective home buyers toward or away from certain neighborhoods based on the buyer’s race. Racial steering was codified in the 1920’s, shortly after the Buchanan ruling struck down exclusionary zoning ordinances. Any real estate broker who wanted to join the National Association of Real Estate Boards and receive the coveted title of “realtor” was required to abide by the Realtor Code of Ethics. From the 1924-50, the Code of Ethics required that realtors practice racial steering.

A realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.35


Blockbusting became widespread after the 1948 Shelly decision deemed restrictive covenants unenforceable, and African Americans began to have access to neighborhoods previously restricted to whites. Realtors would persuade white property owners to sell their homes at low prices by sparking fears that African Americans will soon be moving into the neighborhood. Realtors used various tactics to scare whites into selling their homes. These included hiring black women to push baby carriages through white neighborhoods, selling a home to a black family and then placing realtor business cards in the neighbors’ mailboxes, and hiring black teenagers to stage street fights in front of white-owned homes. Panicked whites would sell their homes at well below market value. The homes would then be sold to African American buyers at inflated prices.36

Contract Selling

Homes that had been vacated through blockbusting were often sold to African Americans through a predatory practice known as contract selling. Blacks were severely limited in their home-buying options due to the prevalence of racially restrictive covenants and redlining. This made them prime targets for contract selling. African Americans seeking home ownership were offered an alternative to bank loans. They would make monthly payments directly to the seller. The deed would be transferred to the buyer once the property was entirely paid off in 15 or 20 years. Often the buyer did not realize their payments were going directly to the home’s owner. Sellers would depict themselves as brokers, when in fact they owned the homes.37

The contract buyer would have all the responsibilities of a typical homeowner without the protections, and without accumulating equity. These contract-for-deed homes were sold at markups of 70 percent or more, with steep interest rates. Contract buyers often had difficulty keeping up with the high monthly payments. If a single payment was missed, the family was evicted. The seller kept the down payment and previous monthly payments and moved on to their next target.38

Contract-for-deed schemes targeting African American home buyers were in cities across the U.S. in the mid 20th century, and were particularly prevalent in Chicago. Mark J. Satter, a Chicago lawyer who worked on behalf of contract buyers in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, estimated that 85 percent of the properties purchased by blacks at that time were sold on contract.39 According to Satter’s daughter, historian Beryl Satter, “these sales stripped black migrants of their savings at a time when whites of similar class background were getting an immense economic boost through FHA-backed mortgages that enabled them to purchase new homes for little money down.” 40

Contract sellers pulled an enormous profit. In Beryl Satter’s 2009 memoir, Family Properties, she quotes a contract seller who bragged in a 1962 newspaper interview, “If anyone who is well-established in this business in Chicago doesn’t earn $100,000 a year, he is loafing.”

These predatory real estate practices are not a relic of the past. Contract selling has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Racial steering of home buyers and renters, refusal of landlords to rent to non-whites, and over-charging people of color are all prohibited under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, but remain common practice across the country despite efforts by fair housing advocates to curtail them.

Anti-Integration Riots

In the 1940’s and 50’s, decades after the Red Summer of 1919, Chicago saw a resurgence in white attacks on blacks. This time it was in direct response to housing tensions. Southern blacks had been moving to Chicago at a steady rate since the Great Migration began in 1916. Their numbers surged in the 1940’s when millions of troops were deployed overseas to fight in World War II, prompting northern factory owners to recruit southern laborers. In redlined areas on the South Side of Chicago, already crowded neighborhoods began to burst at the seams. After 1948’s Shelley ruling deemed racially restrictive covenants unenforceable, an increasing number of African Americans sought housing opportunities beyond the slum-like conditions of the Black Belt. When they moved into working-class white neighborhoods on the South and Southwest Sides, they were met with bombings, arson and angry mobs often numbering in the thousands.41

These attacks received minimal media coverage, until July 1951, when an eruption of anti-black violence in Cicero, an industrial suburb west of Chicago, was captured by news cameras and broadcast on local television. A month earlier, Harvey E. Clark, Jr., an African American World War II veteran, had attempted to move into an apartment in an all-white neighborhood in Cicero. His moving van was stopped by police. Officers ordered the rental agent out of the van at gunpoint, as a crowd of jeering young whites gathered. The Cicero Chief of Police told Clark, “Get out of here fast. There will be no moving into this building.” He hit Clark multiple times and shoved him into his car, which was parked across the street. The chief told Clark, “Get out of Cicero and don’t come back in town or you’ll get a bullet through you.” The NAACP filed a suit against the Cicero Police Department. Clark, his wife and their two children moved into the apartment soon after.42

On the evening of July 11th, 1951, a crowd of 4,000 whites, most of them teenagers, descended on the apartment building. Clark had been warned of the impending violence. He and his family, along with 20 other families living in the building, left before the violence began. 60 police officers were present, but did little to quell the mob. Rioters threw stones from a nearby rock pile. Firebrands were tossed into shattered windows and hurled onto the building’s roof. Firefighters who arrived to put out the blaze were bombarded with stones and bricks. Doors were broken down, and bathtubs, sinks, toilets, radiators and woodwork were ripped out and destroyed. The violence lasted several nights, until the Illinois National Guard was called in. A Cook County grand jury convened, but none of the rioters were charged. Instead the grand jury indicted Clark’s NAACP attorney, the apartment’s white owner, and her attorney and rental agent, charging them with conspiring to incite a riot and damage property. The charges were dropped after widespread criticism. The Cicero police chief and two officers received fines for violating Clark’s civil rights.43

A few years later, in 1953, anti-integration violence broke out in South Deering, a white neighborhood on the Far South Side of Chicago. Betty Howard, a light-skinned black woman, applied for a spot in the Trumbull Park Homes, an all-white public housing project. Assuming Howard was white, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) accidentally integrated Trumbull. Shortly after Howard arrived with her husband and children, whites began setting off homemade bombs and lighting fires in and around the Trumbull Homes. South Deering leaders pressured the CHA to remove the Howards. Progressive housing reformers called for further integration. After much debate, CHA’s Executive Director, Elizabeth Wood, a progressive who had previously championed integration, decided to move 10 additional African American families into the Trumbull Homes. The police presence at Trumbull increased as violence intensified. Wood was fired, and eruptions of anti-black violence continued in South Deering for much of the 1950’s44

Public Housing

Public housing projects, which today are heavily associated with concentrated poverty and urban ghettoization, began during World War I. Federally-funded housing projects were built for white defense workers and their families. Blacks were excluded, despite the fact that large numbers of African Americans were employed in the defense industry during the war. After the war, the government sold off its existing projects to private real estate firms, and canceled those that were not complete.45

During the Great Depression, the federal government began building urban public housing to address severe housing shortages. The Public Works Association (PWA) was established in 1933 as part of the New Deal. The PWA oversaw large-scale construction projects. One of their key projects was the construction of low-cost public housing. Harold Ickes, director of the PWA, established the “neighborhood composition rule” which dictated that public housing could not alter the racial composition of a neighborhood where it was placed.46

The Housing Act of 1937 established public housing agencies in cities across the U.S., including Chicago. They were tasked with providing affordable housing to low-income Americans and demolishing urban slums. Adhering to the neighborhood composition rule, these local agencies built all-black projects in predominantly black neighborhoods, and all-white projects in predominantly white neighborhoods.

The Chicago Housing Authority began constructing public housing in 1938. The Julia C. Lathrop Homes on the North Side were built exclusively for low-income white families, reflecting the racial makeup of the surrounding neighborhood. The Trumbull Park Homes, the all-white projects that would later erupt in anti-integration violence, were constructed in the predominantly white neighborhood of South Deering. The Jane Addams Homes on the Near West Side were about 97% white. The few black residents were housed in a corner of the complex with its own separate stairwell. A year later, the Ida B. Wells Homes were constructed in Bronzeville, the South Side neighborhood once referred to as the Black Belt. The Wells Homes were much larger than the previous projects, and the first of many all-black housing projects built in Bronzeville.47

During World War II, the federal government built public housing for workers in the defense industry. Unlike during World War I, African American defense workers were provided housing. Segregated housing that is. Some local agencies proposed integrated housing for defense workers, but the federal government overruled them.48

After the war, President Truman expanded the Housing Act to address housing shortages. The Housing Act of 1949 authorized the construction of 810,000 units of public housing.49 This ushered in a new era of public housing, with new projects erected in urban centers throughout the country, many of which were massive high-rise buildings that isolated low-income African Americans and failed to provide adequate maintenance and city services.

In 1949, the Chicago Housing Authority was under the leadership of social reformer Elizabeth Wood and African American architect Robert Rochon Taylor. Wood and Taylor saw increased federal funding as an opportunity to build integrated public housing. They created a map of proposed housing sites on vacant land throughout the city. At the time, Chicago’s city council had veto power over the CHA. Some of the proposed sites were adjacent to white neighborhoods, and aldermen presiding over those wards balked at the prospect of public housing on their turf. The city council rejected CHA’s proposal. A new proposal was eventually passed, restricting public housing construction to African American neighborhoods and areas adjacent to existing projects. Robert Taylor resigned in frustration. A few years later, Elizabeth Wood was fired over the anti-integration violence at the Trumbull Homes. Subsequent CHA directors avoided any further integration. Thus began CHA’s long-standing policy of isolating low-income African Americans in massive housing projects, concentrating poverty in already segregated neighborhoods on the South Side.50

Robert Taylor passed away in 1957. Two years after his death, construction began on the Robert R. Taylor Homes in Bronzeville. Mayor Richard J. Daley spoke at the groundbreaking, declaring, “This project represents the future of a great city. It represents vision. It represents what all of us feel America should be, and that is: a decent home for every family.”51

The Taylor Homes consisted of 28 identical buildings, with a total of 4,349 units. It housed 27,000 residents at its peak in 1965, making it the largest housing project in the world. Within several years of its opening, it became glaringly apparent that living conditions at the Taylor Homes were far from adequate. The gallery design of the homes left elevator shafts partially exposed to the elements, and breakdowns were common. The volatile hot water heating system failed frequently, leaving many residents without heat during the winter months. But most problematic was the sheer size and scope of the densely-populated complex. The Taylor Homes stretched for 2 miles along State Street. Each of the 28 buildings was 16 stories high. The Taylor Homes were packed with children. In 1965, more than 20,000 of its 27,000 residents were under the age of 18. Playgrounds overflowed. Children stood in long lines, waiting for their chance to play on swings and slides. Other areas of the complex became play spaces. Children rode up and down elevators, pushing multiple buttons at once, leading to more breakdowns. Lack of adequate maintenance and basic services in the overcrowded towers led to rapid deterioration. Ongoing issues with safety, sanitation, gang activity and gun violence plagued the homes for decades.52

The Taylor Homes were demolished in 2007. Their namesake, Robert Taylor, had hoped to integrate Chicago’s housing projects. He wanted housing to be dispersed throughout the city, and was a proponent of low-rise buildings and townhouses. Were he alive today, Taylor would undoubtedly be deeply saddened by CHA’s failures, as exemplified by the Robert Taylor Homes.

Chicago Public Schools: Separate and Unequal

In 1960, the CHA notified Chicago Public Schools (CPS) that they should expect 10,583 new students in the Bronzeville area in 1962, when the Robert Taylor Homes were slated to open. Benjamin Willis, the superintendent of CPS, announced the construction of three new schools. The schools would be located in already-segregated Bronzeville. Through a CHA whistleblower, it was revealed that Willis’ plan would only accommodate 7,765 students.53 When confronted, Willis replied that CHA’s estimate of 10,583 students was overblown.54 He explained that the planned schools could accommodate as many as forty students in each classroom. Additional students would attend class in auxiliary trailers, and in ground-floor units at the Robert Taylor Homes which would be converted into classrooms.55

As it was, existing schools for black students were severely overcrowded and under-resourced. They received lower allocations for maintenance and operations, and less funding per student than white schools.56 In 1961, the Chicago Urban League published a report stating that per pupil expenditures for black schools were only two-thirds of those for white schools. They also reported that there were 382 vacant classrooms in CPS.57 Meanwhile, African American schools were bursting at the seams. As some schools, students attended in double shifts. At other schools, trailers were installed on playgrounds and in parking lots to accommodate for overflowing classrooms.58 In 1961, parents of 160 black students at overcrowded schools requested transfers to nearby white schools that had vacant classrooms. Their requests were denied.59 By 1963, CPS had installed 150 mobile classrooms at overcrowded schools, despite the fact that nearby white schools had open seats.60 Angry parents began to refer to these trailers as “Willis wagons” after the district’s superintendent, who continued to deny any difference in quality between African American schools and their white counterparts.

In 1963, 50.8 percent of CPS students were black, 46.2 percent were white, and 3 percent were other races.61 At the time, CPS was not required to track racial demographics. Willis claimed that he didn’t know the racial composition of his district, and didn’t feel it was relevant. He espoused the sanctity of neighborhood schools. According to Willis, schools should reflect the demographics of their surrounding neighborhoods, and that was that. Some compared Willis to Alabama’s segregationist governor George Wallace. He was, The Chicago Defender declared,"the Gov. Wallace of Chicago standing in the doorway of an equal education for all Negro kids in this city."62

In January of 1963, in response to overcrowded schools in the African American neighborhood of Englewood, CPS began converting a nearby warehouse into a school. The warehouse was located next to busy, unguarded railroad tracks. Students were sent to the warehouse before construction was finished. Angry parents formed the 71st and Stewart Parent Council, named after the location of the unnamed warehouse school they pledged to shut down. Willis met with the parent council and agreed to abandon the warehouse plan. Shortly after, he announced that CPS would be installing 25 trailers just a few blocks away, in a vacant area between an alley and a railroad embankment. Enraged parents and activists held protests along the embankment where wagon were being installed. Protestors chained themselves together and stood in front of construction trucks to block workers from installing trailers. Willis tendered his resignation that fall, but the Chicago Board of Education rejected it.63

On October 22, 1963, civil rights groups staged a massive school walk-out to protest Willis’ segregationist policies. 224,770 students boycotted, about 48 percent of the total district.64 Instead of attending school that day, students took to the streets, carrying signs and singing protest songs. They were joined by parents, community members and civil rights leaders. Freedom Day received national press coverage, and students in New York City, Boston, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Seattle were inspired to hold boycotts of their own, shining a spotlight on school segregation in Northern cities.65 But in Chicago, little changed for African American students. Willis remained in his position, the use of mobile classrooms at overcrowded African American schools continued, and no significant efforts were made to integrate CPS.

In 1980, the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education, alleging that CPS was illegally segregating students through practices that included drawing/altering attendance boundary areas that created segregation, failure to relieve student overcrowding that maintained segregation, permitting white students to transfer easily to avoid their assigned schools in favor of majority-white schools, and allowing the association of segregated schools with segregated housing projects. The Justice Department issued a consent decree, stating that CPS must strive for the “greatest practicable number of stably desegregated schools, considering all circumstances in Chicago.” By this time, CPS’ white population had greatly diminished, and CPS officials declared that little could be done to integrate a district that was majority non-white.66

Today the vast majority of students in Chicago Public Schools are African American and Latinx. White students make up 10% of the district.67 Most white students attend schools on the predominantly white North Side. These schools have robust funding thanks to the fundraising efforts of well-connected parent associations. Meanwhile, African American and Latinx students attend segregated schools on the South and West Sides. These schools are woefully under-resourced, poorly maintained, and lacking in crucial staff like social workers, counselors, and reading specialists.

Chicago Freedom Movement

In the summer of 1965, activist groups in Chicago, led by CPS high school teacher Al Raby, invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) to join their fight for integrated schools. In the two years following the 1963 school boycott, activists had continued to push for the ouster of CPS Superintendent Willis. They had staged a second boycott, held numerous marches and rallies, and met with Mayor Daly and the Board of Education on several occasions. But Willis had remained, and the Board had made no effort to integrate schools or improve conditions at overcrowded, under-resourced African American schools. Local activists hoped that the involvement of the SCLC would bring more national attention to their fight and put pressure on Mayor Daley and the Board of Education to fire Willis.68

King and the SCLC had been looking to mount a campaign to address institutional racism in northern cities. They were inspired by the work of local groups such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and CPS teacher Al Raby’s group, the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) in the fight for integrated schools. King came to Chicago in July 1965 for a march on City Hall, and in January of 1966 he moved his family to Chicago to join what local organizers had begun calling the Freedom Movement.69

In an effort to illustrate the impacts of segregation and get to know black Chicagoans on a grassroots level, King moved his family into a dilapidated apartment on the West Side. King and the SCLC joined forces with local activists to mount a campaign for open housing. “Open housing” refers to a housing market in which a person’s race does restrict access. They also sought to end the slum-like conditions so prevalent in African American neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. Meanwhile, the fight against Superintendent Willis and school segregation continued, and King lent his support to those efforts, speaking at rallies and joining marches. In May of 1966, Superintendent Willis resigned, and this time, the Board of Education accepted his resignation.

King, Al Raby and other activists began to focus their full attention on open housing. They organized marches through white neighborhoods they were looking to integrate. They were met with hostility and violence. At a march in Marquette Park on August 5, 1966, demonstrators were swarmed by hundreds of whites who hurled rocks, bricks and bottles. A rock struck King in the head. After regaining his composure, he addressed news cameras, noting, “I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the south, but I can say that I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hostile and hate-filled as I’ve seen in Chicago.70

In late August of 1966, King and Al Raby met with Mayor Daley and various housing boards. At this summit meeting, a non-binding agreement was reached in which the Chicago Housing Authority promised to build public housing with limited height requirements, and the Mortgage Bankers Association agreed to make mortgages available regardless of race. King left Chicago in January 1966. Mayor Daley and city officials failed to take concrete steps to address housing issues despite the summit agreement.71

Housing Act of 1968

Though many saw the Chicago Freedom Movement as a failure, it did shed light on discriminatory housing practices. Fair housing bills began to make the rounds in Congress. They didn’t make much headway until 1968. The Kerner Commission, formed by President Johnson to investigate the cause of riots that had erupted across the country, issued their findings in early 1968. The commission found that our nation’s cities were deeply segregated, and cited discrimination in housing and education as key causes. According to the report, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white - separate and unequal.” The Kerner Commission recommended that Congress enact a fair housing law.

On April 4, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. Riots broke out in cities across the country, including Chicago, where fires broke out on the South and West Sides, more than 200 buildings were destroyed, and at least nine people were killed. The day after King’s death, Johnson pushed Congress to pass a fair housing bill. Four days later, on April 11, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed. 72

The law is designed to promote integration and outlaw housing discrimination. Unfortunately, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rarely enforces the law. In 2015, the Obama administration adopted the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule that would require local governments to take active steps to undo racial segregation, implementing a provision of the 1968 bill that has never been adequately addressed. Under the AFFH rule, local governments would need to complete a comprehensive Assessment of Fair Housing, and take active steps to end discrimination before receiving federal funding from HUD. In January of 2018 the Trump administration delayed implementation of the rule, and housing advocates worry that it will not be implemented during this administration.73

Two Societies

We are far from King’s goal of open housing. Little has changed since the Kerner Report was released in 1968. Most of our nation’s cities are deeply segregated. We have vast racial inequity in terms of wealth, resources, access and opportunities. According to the Federal Reserve, the 2016 median household income was $171,000 for white families and $17,600 for black families. 74 It’s not difficult to see the correlation between housing access and the wealth gap. Limited access to home ownership opportunities means less accumulation of home equity and therefore wealth. Children who live in segregated neighborhoods attend segregated, underfunded schools.

We must demand that our government takes affirmative steps to end housing discrimination and integrate our cities, suburbs and schools. We must build a modern movement that addresses the goals laid out by King and the Chicago activists, white tackling issues like gentrification and mixed-income development. But first we must educate one another. By exploring our country’s long history of de jure segregation, we will gain a deeper understanding of how we got to where we are today. Only then will we be ready to take action and bring about lasting change.

Teaching Strategies

Gallery Walk

Gallery walks provoke thought and discourse while engaging students visually and kinesthetically. I often use them to introduce a unit. This is a great way to spark interest in the topic and activate prior knowledge. I start by selecting images (e.g. photos of Freedom Day protests and the 1919 Chicago Riots, redlining maps, restrictive covenants and pages from the FHA Underwriting Manual) that are likely to elicit strong reactions and questions. I look for images that allude to the topic and its themes without revealing too much. Each image is mounted in the middle of a large piece of chart paper. Images are hung throughout the classroom. Students move around the room in small groups, visiting and responding to each image. I prompt students with questions like:

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you wonder?
  • What might the image be depicting?

Students respond by writing directly on the chart paper with multi-colored markers. In addition to responding to the image, students are encouraged to read and respond to their classmates’ comments by making a connection, answering a question, or posing a new question. In this way it becomes a written conversation and a record of student discourse. As students respond, I circulate throughout the room, monitoring and observing. After every student has had the opportunity to respond to each image, they return to their seats. I prompt them to hold a brief discussion with their table mates, noting the images that stood out to them most, and why. While students are discussing in their groups, I visit some of the images and select notable insights, wonderings, and misconceptions. We then hold a whole class discussion using the selected responses to spark conversation. I also use gallery walk responses to assess students’ prior knowledge of the topic.

Four Corners Debate

In a four corners debate, students declare their position on a controversial issue by moving to a particular corner of the classroom. Each corner of the room in labeled with a different position (agree, disagree, strongly agree, and strongly disagree). This activity encourages active participation and discourse. It can be used as a warm-up activity to introduce a topic, or as a follow-up activity to help students think critically about a controversial issue they have studied.

When choosing a debate topic, the teacher should select a nuanced issue that does not have one correct or obvious answer, and represents respected values on both sides. Students are presented with a specific statement (e.g. The U.S. government should pay reparations to African Americans for the injustices of slavery, Jim Crow and de jure segregation) and are given several minutes to consider their stance on the issue. The teacher may prompt students to declare their position in writing before telling them to move to a corner of the room that matches their stance. Some students may have difficulty deciding on a position. There are several ways a teacher can support students facing this dilemma. The teacher may encourage students to choose a position, reminding them that their decisions are not set in stone. If a few students are still unsure, the teacher may allow them to declare their indecision by remaining in the middle of the room, with the caveat that they must choose a corner by the end of the debate.

After students have moved to their respective corners, the teacher will call on volunteers to justify their positions. Students should refer to evidence from prior learning or personal experiences when defending their positions. The teacher will encourage students to switch corners if they have been persuaded by their classmates’ arguments. Students may challenge their classmates’ ideas and evidence, as long as the discourse is respectful and constructive.

After each of the four stances has been adequately defended, and all students have arrived at a position, they will return to their seats and debrief in their journals. They will reflect on the activity and how it changed or reinforced their original viewpoints. Their peers’ arguments may have compelled them to switch sides. On the other hand, some students may be left with more questions than answers. The teacher will remind them that there are no right or wrong answers. Social issues are complex and nuanced, and one’s stance often evolves over time. After students have reflected in their journals, the whole class will engage in a discussion of the issue, and the teacher will use chart paper to record the key arguments “for” and “against” the original statement.

Close Reading, Viewing and Listening

Close reading is a popular comprehension strategy that encourages students to think critically and analyze a text on multiple levels. Students revisit the text several times, each time focusing their attention on a different aspect or feature. The purpose of the first read is to get the gist of the text and often involves some surface-level analysis. The second read calls for deeper analysis, and the third deeper still. The close reading strategy is not limited to written text and can be adapted for use with film, music, podcasts, photography, paintings and other forms of creative expression. Students show their thinking through text annotation and written analysis. Small and whole group discussions support and deepen the analysis. Following a close read, students are presented with writing prompts designed to assess their understanding of the text.

Multimedia Art Show

To bring about lasting social change, we must first raise awareness of the systemic oppression at the root of injustice. As a culminating project, my students will channel their newfound knowledge of de jure segregation into public works of art. Through their art, they will share their knowledge and passion with audiences, helping to raise awareness of the government-sanctioned racism that has long existed in Chicago and throughout the U.S.

Before becoming a teacher, I studied filmmaking and worked in television production. I have a deep love of music, film, photography and other visual art forms. In recent years, I have utilized my background in the arts to support my students as they share their learning through various forms of creative expression. My social studies units typically culminate in a public art show that displays student learning in dynamic and powerful ways. Audiences range from peers and younger students to families and community members. My students choose to express themselves through a wide range of mediums, including poetry, music, visual art, film, theater, dance, news broadcasting, blog writing and podcasting. Middle school students thrive when they have agency and choice. Holding a multimedia art show allows them to explore their unique talents and strengths and take ownership of their learning.

Classroom Activities

Utilizing Podcasts and Audio Documentaries

Podcasts and audio documentaries give students an opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge in an accessible and engaging way. For students who face reading challenges, podcasts provide them access to rigorous texts that tackle complex ideas and prompt thoughtful analysis. Podcasting has become a popular means of expression in recent years, and there are countless podcasts available online, encompassing a wide range of genres and topics.

Prior to listening to a podcast, students will be provided with a typed transcript of the program. They will use the close reading strategy to think critically about the podcast and analyze it on multiple levels. They will listen to the podcast several times, taking a different approach with each listen. For the first listen, they will sit back and take in the experience of hearing the podcast for the first time. They may choose to read the transcript as they listen if that helps them stay focused and aides in their understanding. During the second listen, students will annotate the transcript, using coding and jotting strategies to show their thinking. They will note connections, questions, and reactions as they listen. After the second listen, students will engage in a discussion with their peers about their reactions to the podcast. These discussions may be conducted in small groups or whole class, with the teacher facilitating. Prior to the final listen, the teacher will provide students with writing prompts that push them to think deeply and critically about the text. As they listen, they will have these prompts in mind. After the final listen, they will respond to these prompts in writing. We will conclude the lesson with a whole group discussion, where students will share their thoughts and analysis.

The following podcasts and documentaries address issues around housing segregation in a dynamic, engaging way that is appealing to middle school students.

This American Life - Episode #512 - House Rules

House Rules explores housing discrimination and segregation in the United States, and what has (and hasn’t) been done to rectify it. It follows the stories of a teenager impacted by school segregation in Akron, Ohio and housing activists in New York City who are working to expose and stop rental discrimination. It looks at the history of housing policy in the United States, and how former Michigan governor and newly-appointed HUD Secretary George Romney tried to strengthen the Fair Housing Act and take affirmative steps towards residential integration, only to be thwarted by President Nixon.

This American Life - Episode #562 - The Problem We All Live With

In this episode, we learn about a school district in Normandy, Missouri that accidentally stumbled on an integration program in 2013. Normandy is on the border with Ferguson, and the district includes the high school Michael Brown attended. Reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones follows a teenager from Normandy who participated in the integration of the nearby Francis Howell School District.

Ghetto Life 101

Ghetto Life 101 is an award-winning radio documentary exploring the lives of residents on the South Side of Chicago. It was created in 1993 by 8th graders LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman, in collaboration with public radio producer David Isay. The teenagers using portable audio equipment to document life in and around the Ida B. Wells Homes in Bronzeville. Lloyd lived in the projects, and LeAlan lived nearby. They interviewed family, friends, teachers and members of the community. Through their direct interview style, punctuated with humor and insightful observations, Lloyd and LeAlan paint a moving portrait of life on Chicago’s segregated South Side.

The Case For Reparations

While not an audio documentary, Ta-Nahisi Coates’ influential Atlantic essay has an accompanying audio version. The essay, written in 2014, gets to the heart of what we as Americans have avoided for too long. Our country was founded on the false notion of white supremacy, and the dehumanizing brutality that resulted has spread and reinvented itself over and over since 1776, with segregationist housing policy at all levels of government playing a central role. Students will follow the close reading progression, using the audio version to support them as they read a hard copy of the essay. When annotating the text, they will pay close attention to vocabulary, marking any unknown words, and using context clues and online dictionary resources to aid in their comprehension. In this engaging and persuasive essay, Coates calls for us to reckon with and make amends for slavery, Jim Crow and government-mandated housing segregation. He discusses The New Deal, redlining, and restrictive covenants, alongside stories of South Side Chicagoans like Clyde Ross who fought back against predatory contract sellers.

The essay will be the centerpiece of a week-long study of reparations. We will look at video footage of Coates’ June 2019 congressional testimony in support of H.R. 40, a bill that would create a committee to study and develop reparations proposals. We will watch testimony and read statements by those who support reparations, including Cory Booker, who introduced H.R. 40, and other 2020 presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. We will look at those who oppose reparations, including President Barack Obama, who discussed his views with Coates’ in a 2016 Atlantic article. Students will then engage in a four corners debate about reparations (see “Teaching Strategies” section).

Exploring Interactive Digital Tools

When studying complex topics that explore legal, economic, social and political patterns, it’s important that the material be accessible and engaging for students. This is especially important when working with middle school students. The more interactive, relevant and multi-sensory an activity, the more likely it will resonate with students and sustain their attention. The following interactive maps and games are excellent resources that help students better understand housing segregation and its complexities.

Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America

From 1935-1940, The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a federal agency created as part of the New Deal, formalized redlining through the creation of residential security maps. These security maps color-coded urban neighborhoods, dividing them into 4 categories based on the perceived risk of providing home loans in a given neighborhood. Neighborhoods coded green were considered the “best” areas, blue areas were “still desirable”, yellow areas were “definitely declining” and red areas were “hazardous”. For each neighborhood, an accompanying “area description” was created, detailing the neighborhood’s demographics, services, public amenities, and types and conditions of homes.

Mapping Inequality is a collaborative project between three teams at four universities: University of Richmond, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, and John Hopkins University. They have digitized HOLC security maps for every major city in the United States, created digital overlays to increase interactivity, and scanned and transcribed area descriptions for thousands of neighborhoods. Students can find their own neighborhood on the maps, and learn what color-code it received in the New Deal era. They can read area descriptions for their neighborhoods, which often include alarming language referring to such things as “Negro infiltration” and “containment.” These digital maps are an incredibly valuable and engaging tool that allow students a closer look at the HOLC security maps that were used to segregate every major U.S. city, the impacts of which we still see today.

2010 Racial Dot Map

The Racial Dot Map was created in 2013 by Dustin Cable, a demographic researcher at the University of Virginia’s Weldron Cooper Center for Public Service. It provides an interactive visualization of geographic distribution, population density, and racial diversity of the American people in every neighborhood in the entire country. It uses colored dots representing race, one dot per person for the entire U.S. The map is based on 2010 census data, providing students with a relatively up-to-date snapshot of our country’s racial distribution. The colorful map is visually appealing and allows students to seamlessly zoom out to view the entire U.S., and then zoom in to their own city, or any other city they wish to view. Students are able to plainly see the segregation that still exists in cities across the country. They can compare the Racial Dot Map of their city with the corresponding HOLC security map to see how the legacy of redlining plays out today.

Parable of the Polygons

Parable of the Polygons is an student-friendly computer game based on economist Thomas Schelling’s model of neighborhood segregation. In this interactive simulation, students move polygons around in various configurations, representing the ways in which communities become segregated or integrated through individual choices. As students play the game, it becomes apparent that small individual bias can lead to large collective bias. This shows that de facto segregation can happen even when well-meaning people have a seemingly benign preference to live in a neighborhood where at least a third of their neighbors look like them. These are people who embrace diversity, but also prefer that some of their neighbors look like them. The game shows that if enough people have this small bias, neighborhoods will become segregated over time. But it also shows how we can combat segregation through active, anti-bias measures. After students play the game, we will have a whole class discussion about de jure and de facto segregation, and how we must be proactive about addressing both forms of segregation if we want to live in an integrated, equitable society.


  1. Kenneth B. Clark, Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 63
  2. Kenneth B. Clark, Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 11
  3. Richard Kluger, Simple Justice: the History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality (New York : Knopf, 2004), 318
  4. Elaine Woo. “Kenneth Clark 90; His Studies Influenced Ban on Segregation.” The Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2005.
  5. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Opinion; May 17, 1954; Records of the Supreme Court of the United States; Record Group 267; National Archives.
  6. Damon Freeman, “Kenneth B. Clark and the Problem of Power.” Patterns of Prejudice, 42:4-5 (2008): 413-437, DOI: 10.1080/00313220802377362
  7. Richard Rothstein. “Truth As Well As Reconciliation.” Economic Policy Institute’s Working Economics Blog. December 12, 2013. https://www.epi.org/blog/truth-reconciliation/.
  8. Richard Rothstein. “What Have We - De Facto Racial Isolation or De Jure Segregation.” Human Rights Magazine 40, no. 3 (2014)
  9. Richard Rothstein. “Truth As Well As Reconciliation.” Economic Policy Institute’s Working Economics Blog. December 12, 2013. https://www.epi.org/blog/truth-reconciliation/.
  10. Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government
  11. Richard Rothstein. “Truth As Well As Reconciliation.” Economic Policy Institute’s Working Economics Blog. December 12, 2013. https://www.epi.org/blog/truth-reconciliation/.
  12. Wendy Jacobson. “Textbooks Promote Myth of De Facto Segregation.” Zinn Education Project (blog post) January 5, 2016. https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/textbooks-housing-segregation/
  13. Amy Tikkanen. “Great Migration” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/
  14. Hana Layson and Kenneth Warren. “Chicago and the Great Migration, 1915–1950” Newberry Library Digital Collections. https://dcc.newberry.org/collections/chicago-and-the-great-migration
  15. ibid.
  16. Eve L. Ewing. Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), 61
  17. Robert Loerzel. “Blood in the Streets,” Chicago Magazine, July 23, 2019. http://www.chicagomag.
  18. Gilmore, Gerry J. "African-Americans Continue Tradition of Distinguished Service," United States Army. February 2, 2007, https://www.army.mil/article/1681/african_americans_continue_tradition_of_
  19. Ursula Wolfe-Rocca, “The Red Summer of 1919, Explained“ Teen Vogue, April 8, 2019, https://
  20. Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government
  21. Vinson, Fred Moore, and Supreme Court Of The United States. U.S. Reports: Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1. 1947. Periodical. https://www.loc.gov/item/usrep334001/.
  22. Sanford, Edward Terry, and Supreme Court Of The United States. U.S. Reports: Corrigan v. Buckley, 271 U.S. 323. 1925. Periodical. https://www.loc.gov/item/usrep271323/.
  23. Federal Housing Administration. Underwriting Manual (1936) https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=
  24. “Understanding Fair Housing,” U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Clearinghouse Publication 42, February 1973. (PDF) https://www2.law.umaryland.edu/marshall/usccr/documents/cr11042.pdf
  25. Natalie Y. Moore. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016)
  26. Natalie Y. Moore. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation. (New York:St. Martin’s Press, 2016)
  27. Natalie Y. Moore. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation. (New York:St. Martin’s Press, 2016)
  28. Vinson, Fred Moore, and Supreme Court Of The United States. U.S. Reports: Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1. 1947. Periodical. https://www.loc.gov/item/usrep334001/.
  29. Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government
  30. Richard Rothstein. “Truth As Well As Reconciliation.” Economic Policy Institute’s Working Economics Blog. December 12, 2013. https://www.epi.org/blog/truth-reconciliation/.
  31. Federal Housing Administration. Underwriting Manual (1936) https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=
  32. William B. Gwinner and Anthony Sanders. “The Sub Prime Crisis: Implications for Emerging Markets.” The World Bank. 2008. (PDF) http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/84947
  33. Jacob W. Faber (2013) Racial Dynamics of Subprime Mortgage Lending at the Peak, Housing Policy Debate, 23:2, 328-349, DOI: 10.1080/10511482.2013.771788
  34. Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government
  35. National Association of Real Estate Boards. Code of Ethics. (1924) https://www.nar.realtor/ about-nar/history/1924-code-of-ethics
  36. Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government
  37. Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government
  38. Rebecca Burns. “The Infamous Practice of Contract Selling is Back in Chicago,” Chicago Reader, March 01, 2017 https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/contract-selling-redlining-housing-
  39. Beryl Satter. Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America. (New York: Picador, 2009), 4
  40. Beryl Satter. Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America. (New York: Picador, 2009), 5
  41. Steven Essig. “Race Riots” (2005) Encyclopedia of Chicago. http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org
  42. Charles Abrams. Forbidden Neighbors. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955), 103-119
  43. ibid.
  44. Ben Austen. High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing. (New York: Harper, 2018), 38.
  45. Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government
  46. Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government
  47. Harvey M. Choldin. “Chicago Housing Authority” (2005) Encyclopedia of Chicago. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/253.html
  48. Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated
  49. Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government
  50. Ben Austen. High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing. (New York: Harper, 2018)
  51. “Robert Taylor Homes, “ WTTW Time Machine. https://interactive.wttw.com/timemachine/dan-
  52. Hunt, D. Bradford. "What Went Wrong with Public Housing in Chicago? A History of the Robert Taylor Homes." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-) 94, no. 1 (2001): 96-123. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40193536.
  53. Eve L. Ewing. Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), 79
  54. ibid.
  55. ibid.
  56. ibid.
  57. Alan B. Anderson and George W. Pickering. Confronting the Color Line: The Broken Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1986)
  58. Natalie Y. Moore. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016)
  59. Natalie Y. Moore. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016)
  60. Michael W. Homel, “Willis Wagons” Encyclopedia of Chicago. (2005) http://www.encyclopedia.
  61. Mark Walsh. “Documentary Recalls a 1963 Boycott of Segregated Chicago Public Schools,” Education Week Blog: Education and the Media. October 25, 2017, https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek
  62. Eve L. Ewing. Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), 81
  63. Jeff Nichols. “The untold school segregation story behind Bernie Sanders’ 1963 arrest,” Chicago Reader, March 1, 2016, https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/bernie-sanders-1963-arrest-full-
  64. "224,770 or 47 Pct. of all Pupils, Miss Classes". Chicago Tribune. October 23, 1963.
  65. Matthew D. Delmont. Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation. Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 2016.
  66. Eve L. Ewing. Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), 83
  67. CPS Stats and Facts: 2018-19 School Year. https://cps.edu/About_CPS/At-a-glance/Pages/Stats_
  68. Daniel Hautzinger. “Martin Luther King and Fair Housing in Chicago, “ WTTW Playlist, April 11, 2018, https://interactive.wttw.com/playlist/2018/04/11/martin-luther-king-and-fair-housing-chicago
  69. Daniel Hautzinger. “Martin Luther King and Fair Housing in Chicago, “ WTTW Playlist, April 11, 2018, https://interactive.wttw.com/playlist/2018/04/11/martin-luther-king-and-fair-housing-chicago
  70. Olivia B. Waxman. “The Surprising Story Behind This Shocking Photo Of Martin Luther King Jr. Under Attack,” Time, January 12, 2018, https://time.com/5096937/martin-luther-king-jr-picture-chicago/
  71. Daniel Hautzinger. “Martin Luther King and Fair Housing in Chicago, “ WTTW Playlist, April 11, 2018, https://interactive.wttw.com/playlist/2018/04/11/martin-luther-king-and-fair-housing-chicago
  72. Daniel Hautzinger. “Martin Luther King and Fair Housing in Chicago, “ WTTW Playlist, April 11, 2018, https://interactive.wttw.com/playlist/2018/04/11/martin-luther-king-and-fair-housing-chicago
  73. ibid.
  74. Dettling, Lisa J., Joanne W. Hsu, Lindsay Jacobs, Kevin B. Moore, and Jeffrey P. Thompson (2017). "Recent Trends in Wealth-Holding by Race and Ethnicity," FEDS Notes. Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, September 27, 2017, https://doi.org/10.17016/2380-7172.2083.

Bibliography for Teachers

Austen, Ben. High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing.

New York: Harper, 2018.

Brooks, Richard R. W. and Carol M. Rose. Saving the Neighborhood: Racially

Restrictive Covenants, Law and Social Norms. Cambridge: Harvard University

Press, 2013.

Clark, Kenneth B. Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. The Case for Reparations. The Atlantic. June 2014.

Ewing, Eve L. Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s

South Side. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.

Massey, Douglas and Nancy Denton. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making

of the Underclass. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Moore, Natalie Y. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation.

New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016.

Rothstein, Richard. “Modern Segregation.” Lecture, Reinventing the War on Poverty, Atlantic

Live Conference, Washington, D.C., March 6, 2014.

Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government

Segregated America. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017.

Satter, Beryl. Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed

Chicago and Urban America. New York: Picador, 2009.

Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. “How Real Estate Segregated America.” Dissent. Fall 2018.

Reading List for Students

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “‘Better is Good’: Obama on Reparations, Civil Rights, and the Art of the

Possible.” The Atlantic. December 2016.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Case for Reparations.” The Atlantic. June 2014.

Hartfield, Claire. A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919. New York: Clarion Books, 2018

Wright, Richard. 12 Million Black Voices. New York: Viking Press, 1941.

Materials for Classroom Use

Aronson, Leonard, dir. “Dr. King’s Chicago Crusade”. Marquette Park: Not just Black or

White. Clip of WTTW documentary, June 2, 2010. https://www.pbs.org/


Case, Nicky and Vi Hart. Parable of the Polygons: A Playable Post on the Shape of Society.


Film Group, prod. Cicero March. 1966. http://www.chicagofilmarchives.org/collections/


Jones, LeAlan, Lloyd Newman and David Isay. Ghetto Life 101. Radio documentary,

May 18, 1993. https://storycorps.org/stories/ghetto-life-101/

McClellan, Seth, dir. King in Chicago. 2009. Chicago, IL: Thorn Creek Productions, 57 min.


Petrie, Daniel, dir. A Raisin in the Sun. 1961. Culver City, CA: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment,

2000. DVD. 128 min.

Nikole Hannah-Jones. “The Problem We All Live With - Part 1”. This American Life. Podcast

audio, July 31, 2015. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/562/The-problem-we-all-live-with-part-one

Quinn, Gordon, dir. ‘63 Boycott. 2017. Chicago, IL: Kartemquin Films, 2019. DVD, 30 min.

Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping

Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers.

Bezalel, Ronit, dir. 70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green. 2014. Chicago, IL: Kartemquin

Films, 2015. DVD, 58 min.

Updike, Nancy and Nikole Hannah-Jones. “House Rules”. This American Life. Podcast

audio, Nov. 22, 2013. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/512/house-rules

Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia.

“Racial Dot Map” (Dustin A. Cable, creator) https://demographics.virginia.edu/DotMap/index.html



Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.


Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.


Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.


Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories).


Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author acknowledges and responds to conflicting evidence or viewpoints.


Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.

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