“You may have heard of ‘self-segregation,’ the idea that black people wanted to be in segregated housing.” said Reggie Jackson, speaking at “The Hidden Impact of Segregation,” his address at Plymouth Church on May 5. “That has not been the case in Wisconsin. Housing is segregated by intention and policy.” According to Jackson, housing segregation has been institutionalized by a history of corporate influence and government policy at every level. Jackson is Head Griot of America’s Black History Museum, Adjunct Professor at Concordia University and a frequent researcher and speaker on housing and social justice issues (“Griot” (Gree-yoh) is a west African term for storyteller or teacher). Over one hundred people attended the discussion and met with representatives from organizations working to address racism and segregation.
Milwaukee ranks as the “most segregated” metropolitan area in the U.S., and Wisconsin is the second most segregated state in the nation, said Jackson. Jackson reviewed the history of Wisconsin housing segregation progression, citing policy specifics at both local and national levels. He noted effects of contracts for individual sales restricted sales to “Caucasian” buyers; the conracts were legally enforced until 1948. On the Federal level, an agency called the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation shaped real estate reality, and gave realtors and lenders resources to implement color-coded maps for discriminatory purposes.
On 1938 housing maps, designed according to federal policy, designated red or yellow areas to guide home lenders and insurance companies to charge higher interest rates. In his research Jackson found maps with neighborhoods colored red because of the “detrimental influence” of Polish residents, “infiltration of Mexicans,” “Negro slum residents and lower-type Jews.” This structural discrimination suppressed home values in those areas and prevented many black, Latinx, and other families from obtaining loans and taking the first step to securing a place in the middle class. In addition, educational funding based on property values causes schools in historically redlined districts to be chronically underfunded, compounding institutionalized barriers. The accrual of wealth of whites based on home ownership was promoted by these maps, while the lack of home ownership by Blacks resulted in long-term economic disparities.
In a Q&A session, Jackson responded to written questions from the audience. To one query about effective ways to repair and respond to racism and housing segregation, Jackson mentioned a number of strong organizations. On the question of reparations, Jackson stressed that “people think that reparations is writing a check,” but emphasized that reparative justice needs to focus on housing and education. Members of Bridge the Divide ([email protected]); RID Racism (www.ridracismmke.org) and SURJ (showingupforracialjustice.org) staffed tables to give relevant volunteer information to Grassroots North Shore membership. All of us at Grassroots North Shore thank those participants for their time, with a special thank you to Reggie Jackson for his effort and leadership.