The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas Sugrue

Buy it

Thomas Sugrue

Laws may have changed, but segregation still exists. I know this because I grew up in an almost all white neighborhood, and went to a high school with over 2,000 students and probably less than 100 black kids. It’s not that there weren’t POC communities near me, because there were. They were just on the other side of the highway, Route 22. This book helped me understand modern segregation by taking a close look at Detroit from WWII through the 1970s. Inadequate housing, the wealth gap, relocation of industry to suburbs, white flight, discriminatory real estate brokers, and many other factors all combined to create the bankrupt and segregated city of Detroit. Combined with lasting discriminatory practices in real estate and the predatory lending that disproportionately affected black families during the 2008 mortgage crisis, it’s much easier to understand how segregation has persisted. The book is a context goldmine and I can’t recommend it enough if you want to get smarter and chip away at some of that conditioned racism.

Some insightful and awful quotes:

In the tight postwar housing market, landlords took advantage of their power to screen out any tenants who might be risky. Blacks, especially those with large families, suffered the greatest hardships. Landlords regularly turned away prospective tenants with children, and the birth of a child was often cause for an eviction…[Mary Felder] recounted her difficulty in finding rental housing: ‘They don’t want children, even though children will have to have living facilities to survive.’ She continued: ‘I am tired of the struggle to survive. I wonder if life is worth the struggle negroes have made.'”

Regarding black families in the 50’s and 60’s buying houses in all white neighborhoods while real estate agents capitalized on white racist fears: “Some [real estate] brokers brazenly displayed a house for sale in a white neighborhood to a black family, waited a day for rumors to spread, and then inundated residents with leaflets and phone calls, informing them that ‘Negroes are ‘taking a chance of obtaining a good price…’ One clever agent sent black children door to door in a white Northeast Side neighborhood to deliver handbills reading: ‘Now is the best time to sell your house – you know that.'”

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