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Home Our History Buying Black Dr. King Would Be Fighting Gentrification Today

Dr. King Would Be Fighting Gentrification Today

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In 1966 Dr. King moved into a building at 1550 S. Hamlin Avenue, in the slums of Chicago’s West Side. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had passed but Black people weren’t free, so long as they had limited housing options. King had to fight housing discrimination in Chicago on two fronts: whites refused to rent or sell to Blacks in certain neighborhoods but on a grander scale, the U.S. government blocked Black people nationwide from buying homes. Black people were fighting for a place in the American city in 1966 and today, gentrification is the new front in that ongoing war.

Between 1950 and 1970, Black people in Chicago lost between $3 and $4 billion in wealth because they could not access mortgages. Due to redlining, Blacks had to participate in a scheme known as contract buying. Essentially, a buyer would put down a large down payment for a home and make monthly payments at high interest rates. The buyer wouldn’t gain ownership until the contract was paid in full, however. Contract buyers accumulated no equity in the home and the contract seller could evict them at any point: no legal protections existed. The instability and plunder of wealth rooted in contract buying was the more subtle side of the housing discrimination coin. The amount of wealth it stole from Black people — in Chicago alone — is shocking. What could Black people in Chicago do with $4 billion today?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. Photo: From WTTW’s DuSable to Obama, courtesy Getty Images

Dr. King came to Chicago because he understood that without freedom in the realm of housing, there could be no movement for Black people to build wealth and power. Dr. King understood that if Black people could not live securely in the city, Black Power was but a fiction and that rings true today. The fight for Black people is still to live in safety and security in the American city. Redlining and blatant discrimination in housing is (at least in theory) less potent today but gentrification seriously threatens Black people’s existence in the city. This fight is the fight, for Black people: if gentrification goes unchecked, so will white supremacy. Yes, whites will become the minority in America very soon but if they control the cities, white supremacy will reign supreme.

A third of the state senate seats in Illinois are linked to Chicago. Taking up residence in that city means control of state politics. The banks and financial institutions of America are in the cities. The transportation hubs and infrastructure are in the cities. The cities are the power centers and to control them is to exercise power. If Black people do not, with urgency, buy and hold property in the cities, white power will reign for the next century. Dr. King was fighting housing discrimination so that Black people could live in safety, with dignity. He also saw, however, that without a secure homestead in the American city, Black people stood no chance at amassing power. If Dr. King were alive he would recognize the threat and fight like hell against it.

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D'Juan Hopewell
I care about Black Power. Period. Currently working on creating jobs and funding new startups on the South Side of Chicago and writing here and there at HopewellThought.com. Follow me @HopewellThought.
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