Race and Property

Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. - 1926

Zoning map from Euclid, OH, 1922.
The Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Amber Realty Co. was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court that provided the legal foundation for the expansion of zoning and other municipal land-use regulations. This case marked the first federal test of the then relatively new practice of zoning, which is a tool that localities use to regulate development by legislating what kind of properties can be built on certain lands. Amber Realty Company challenged the Village of Euclid's 1922 zoning ordinance in court on the basis that restricting the use of property violated the U.S. Constitution. In 1926, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Euclid stating that zoning regulations were a justified use of governmental power. These emerging land-use powers would be also be used by cities throughout the nation in the early 20th century to maintain racial segregation, even after the U.S. Supreme Court declared a Louisville, Kentucky racial zoning ordinance unconstitutional in 1917. To circumvent this ruling, Miami's city commission designated most of residential "Colored Town" (Overtown) as "industrial" in the 1920s. This helped to restrict new residential construction in the neighborhood and preserve the color line, effectively allowing the city to assert racial segregation through land-use regulations without explicitly codifying racial separation into law.

Miami Security Maps - 1935

Redline Map for Greater Miami, c. 1935.
In the 1930s, the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) oversaw the drafting of citywide "Security Maps," which rated 'neighborhoods' risk-levels for mortgage lending. The agency's assessors graded communities on an A to D scale, with 'A' areas categorized as "best" (coded green) for having the lowest level of lending risk and 'D' areas as "hazardous" (coded red) for the highest level of risk. HOLC's risk assessments where based on several factors, including the neighborhood's access to amenities, zoning, housing stock, and racial makeup. As in other cities, the agency's appraisers provided Miami's black neighborhoods a "D" rating, further restricting black residents from home loans and adding to the increasing institutionalization of racially-based housing discrimination. This type of lending discrimination, which became known as "redlining," helped to maintain Miami's existing racial patterns and made the opportunity for homeownership inaccessible for many blacks. These maps also helped to determine the future urban growth of many of Miami's neighborhoods, and set the trajectory for determining which bordering white 'transitional' residential neighborhoods and undeveloped areas would eventually be developed for black residents.

Dade Planning Board's Resettlement Plan - 1936

Miami's Central Business District and the surrounding area, 1949. Planning Board of the City of Miami, "Dwelling Conditions in the Two Principal Blighted Areas."
As Miami continued to grow, city planners and business leaders explored various ways of clearing Colored Town to expand Miami's expanding urban core. In 1936, the Dade Planning Board approved a "Negro Resettlement Plan" to relocate "Colored Town's" (Overtown) population to three remote rural settlements outside the city limits. The Board envisioned that these new black settlements would be organized as tropical, subsistence farming communities, which local planners likely modeled on highly romanticized notions of Bahamian villages. In 1937, George Merrick, the head of the Dade Planning Board and founder of the City of Coral Gables, proposed the complete removal and relocation of all black residents outside of Miami's city limits. While never implemented, local planning efforts to remove Overtown to allow for the expansion of Miami's growing Central Business District would continue into the early 1960s.

Railroad Shop Evictions - 1947

Courtesy of University of Miami Libraries. Railroad Shop Colored Addition, 1936.
Several residents of the Railroad Shop Colored Addition, a black neighborhood in central Miami, were evicted in the late 1940s to build new public amenities for nearby white households. The Railroad Shop community was established by black rail workers in the late 1800s and eventually grew into a thriving residential neighborhood. Between 1947 and 1949, the City of Miami used eminent domain to forcefully evict 80 black families to construct a “whites-only” school and park on the land where the black-owned homes were located. Local governments frequently used eminent domain to maintain and reshape racial boundaries during the Jim Crow era.

Shelley v. Kraemer - 1948

Thurgood Marshall meeting with other African American activists in Miami a year after the Shelley v. Kraemer decision, 1949.
In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that courts could not constitutionally enforce residential racial covenants. Racially-based restrictive covenants were clauses in property contracts that kept homeowners from selling or renting their properties to racial or ethnic minorities. During the first half of the 20th century, racially restrictive covenants were used as a tool to maintain the color line and perpetuate residential segregation. The National Association of Colored People (NAACP) began to challenge this practice in the courts in the 1940s. In 1945, a black family in St. Louis, Missouri purchased a home with a racially restrictive covenant and was sued by a neighbor as a result to prevent them from taking possession of the property. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which found the state enforcement of racially based covenants to be a violation of the 14th Amendment, despite racially-based restrictive contracts agreements being protected as a private voluntary agreement. While racial covenants continued after the Shelley decision, state courts could not enforce them. NAACP chief counsel Thurgood Marshall's successful argument in Shelley v. Kraemer helped combat residential segregation and increase black mobility across the color line.

Committee Against Socialized Housing is Formed - 1950

CASH material advocating against slum clearance, c. 1950.
In 1950, the Committee Against Socialized Housing (CASH) was established to fight new public housing developments and slum clearance initiatives in Miami. This lobbying group was backed by the Miami Chamber of Commerce, Board of Realtors, various bankers, as well as several leading politicians, including the mayor of Miami. That year, a public referendum passed authorizing the Miami Housing Authority to build new public housing. CASH along with other lobbying groups organized against the construction of any new public housing, slum clearance, or urban renewal initiatives. CASH coordinated an extensive media campaign, including pamphlets, newspaper ads, leaflets, and cartoons against public housing initiatives. The organization strategically described the taking of private properties for slum clearance and public housing as socialism, effectively using growing Cold War concerns about communism to achieve their political objectives. Local commissioners as well as the Florida legislature also hindered attempts to clear slums and build new affordable housing developments. By the 1960s fewer than 760 new public housing units had been built despite the referendum, due to successful lobbying efforts by groups like CASH and governmental obstructionism.

Carver Village Bombing - 1951

Carver Village bombing, December 5, 1951.
In 1951, there were three bombings over a period of months at a single apartment complex in Miami, after the building owners had transitioned their property's rental units to offer black occupancy. That year, the owners had renamed the complex near the color line "Carver Village" and opened up the development to black renters to maximize on rising rental demand of Miami's black residents. This action prompted a response by white residents who formed the Dade County Property Owners Association to lobby local and state officials to evict the black tenants. Their efforts eventually escalated to intimidation tactics and the bombing of vacant units at Carver Village in September, November, and December. Due to these incidents, Carver Village became known locally as "Little Korea," in reference to the ongoing Korean War. That year also saw bombings of Jewish and Catholic properties in Miami-Dade County, implying the coordinated work of hate groups like the KKK. Later investigation into the Carver Village bombings revealed links between the Dade County Property Owners Association and the Klan.

Frank Legree Moved to Orchard Villa - 1957

Nick Bogert WTVJ "Accidental Activist," YouTube video, 5:00, July 10, 2009. In 1957, Frank Legree, a local musician, became the first black man to purchase a home in the then all-white Orchard Villa subdivision, which was located just to the south of Liberty City. Between the 1940s and the 1960s, many African Americans began to push for better housing in white neighborhoods along the fringes of the residential color line. Moving into the neighborhood, Legree and his family faced intense resident resistance, including regular picketing, harassment, intimidation, and vandalism. Local black leaders provided the Legree family with encouragement and assistance to break the color line. The family persisted and stayed in the residence despite increasingly violent efforts to remove them, including a preempted Klan action at the house. This challenge to the prevailing racial geography and the subsequent pattern of white violence typified the growing racial transition of neighborhoods throughout the nation in the postwar period.

1968 Federal Fair Housing Act is Passed - 1968

Signs for equal rights, decent housing, and integrated schools. Civil Rights march on Washington, D.C., 1963.
In 1968, just a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. Title VIII of the legislation, known was the Fair Housing Act, effectively prohibited discrimination in the rental or sale of housing on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. The Act expressly limited forms of discrimination that had historically excluded racial and ethnic minorities from equal access to housing, including banning private racial considerations by landlords, buyers, sellers, and realtors. The Fair Housing Act marked a historic shift in the federal government position on racial and ethnic discrimination in the real estate and mortgage markets. Enforcement and penalties were improved over subsequent years, allowing U.S. Housing and Urban Development and individual victims to more effectively pursue discrimination cases.

Adker Settlement - 1987

In 1987, Ann-Marie Adker and other black public housing residents filed a civil rights class-action lawsuit against Miami-Dade County and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The group claimed that blacks were being discriminated against by the federal and local housing agencies by restricting a disproportionate number of blacks to public housing developments while non-blacks were directed to the Section 8 program. The lawsuit also alleged that both housing agencies had failed to maintain public housing developments to the same level as Section 8 housing. After 10 years of litigation, the parties agreed to a consent decree forcing the housing agencies to effectively desegregate Section 8 and public housing in Miami. The court required the Miami-Dade County Housing Agency to provide non-blacks priority for public housing placements and establish a set-aside of Section 8 vouchers for black residents. The consent decree also provided guidelines for the creation of a fair housing center to provide assistance to eligible public housing residents on the benefits of using vouchers in non-black areas.