We can never forget the Struggle. The Struggle is real, and many people have died.
If the month of February is our national recognition and celebration of the contribution of African Americans to America, then April is a memorial of the local, state, and national government bylaws and their political will to deny the full participation of blacks in society, especially in regards to access to housing. Every imaginable strategy has been employed by those in power to deny African Americans housing. They have employed black codes to restrict our participation in society; the full right to own property; the right to make contracts, travel or live in white communities; implementation of deed restrictions; redlining and unfair and predatory lending practices; and appraising practicing, credit scoring, and the outright denial of home loans based on race or the refusal to even sell or rent to African Americans. Our government and many financial institutions and industries in the private sector have done everything they can through collaboration and legal and political action to keep us down, but we rise anyway. Like the Phoenix from the ashes we rise.
The Fair Housing Act is in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King and the many men and women who shed their blood for the freedoms that African Americans enjoy today in housing and public accommodations. Their blood is stained on the pages of every law on the books that was intended to deprive us of the many basic rights afforded to whites. Their blood can only be seen and have meaning by those willing to look with forensic eyes to see beneath the surface of the laws and struggle of an oppressed people subjugated by them. In Christianity, on which this country was founded, “without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins.” Martin Luther King and many others who gave their lives were not perfect like Jesus, but they were the sacrificial lambs that made the world take notice and turn from their wicked and ungodly ways. The list of men and women is too long to list everyone who has given their lives or put their lives at risk for our freedom:
Elizabeth Freeman (1744–1829) [also known as Mum Bett] – first former slave to win a freedom suit in Massachusetts
Thaddeus Stevens (1792–1868) American Senator from Pennsylvania, anti-slavery leader, originator of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution
Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) – American women’s rights activist, abolitionist
William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879) – American abolitionist, writer, organizer, feminist, initiator
Lysander Spooner (1808–1887) – American abolitionist, writer, anarchist, proponent of jury nullification
Charles Sumner (1811–1874) – American Senator from Massachusetts, anti-slavery leader
Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) – American abolitionist, women’s rights and suffrage advocate, writer, organizer, black rights activist, inspiration
Harriet Tubman (1822–1913) – African American abolitionist and humanitarian
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842-1924) – suffragist, editor, co-founder of the first chapter of the NAACP
Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) – American educator, founder of Tuskegee University, and advisor to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft
Ida B. Wells (1862–1931) – American journalist, early activist in 20th Century Civil Rights Movement, women’s suffrage/voting rights activist
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963) – American writer, scholar, founder of NAACP
Philip Randolph (1889–1979) – American labor and civil rights movement leader
Walter Francis White (1895–1955) – American NAACP executive secretary
Edgar Nixon (1899–1987) – Montgomery Bus Boycott organizer, civil rights activist
Roy Wilkins (1901–1981) – American NAACP executive secretary/executive director
Ella Baker (1903–1986) – American SCLC activist, initiated the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
Myles Horton (1905–1990) – American teacher of nonviolence, pioneer activist, founded and led the Highlander Folk School
Willa Brown (1906–1992) – American civil rights activist, first African American lieutenant in the US Civil Air Patrol, first African American woman to run for Congress
T.R.M. Howard (1908–1976) – founder of Mississippi’s Regional Council of Negro Leadership
Amelia Boynton Robinson (1911–2015) – Selma Voting Rights Movement activist and early leader
Bayard Rustin (1912–1987) – American civil rights activist
Jo Ann Robinson (1912–1992) – Montgomery Bus Boycott activist
Rosa Parks (1913–2005) – American NAACP official, activist, Montgomery Bus Boycott inspiration
Daisy Bates (1914–1999) – American organizer of the Little Rock Nine school desegregation events
Claude Black (1916–2009) – American civil rights activist
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977) – Activist in Mississippi movements
Marie Foster (1917–2003) – American voting rights activist, a local leader in the Selma Voting Rights Movement
Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) – South African statesman, leading figure in anti-apartheid movement
James Farmer (1920–1999) – Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) leader and activist.
Golden Frinks (1920–2004) – American civil rights organizer in North Carolina, field secretary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
Whitney M. Young, Jr. (1921–1971) – Executive director of National Urban League, advisor to US presidents
Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley (1921–2003) – American who held an open casket funeral for her son, Emmett Till; speaker, activist
Del Martin (1921–2008) – American co-founder of Daughters of Bilitis, the first social and political organization for lesbians in the US
Fred Shuttlesworth (1922–2011) – American clergyman, activist, SCLC co-founder, initiated the Birmingham Movement
Clara Luper (1923–2011) – American sit-in movement leader in Oklahoma, activist
James Baldwin (1924–1987) – American essayist, novelist, public speaker, SNCC activist
Medgar Evers (1925–1963) – American, NAACP official in the Mississippi Movement
Malcolm X (1925–1965) – American author, speaker, activist, inspiration
Ralph Abernathy (1926–1990) – American activist, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) official
Hosea Williams (1926–2000) – American civil rights activist, SCLC organizer and strategist
Coretta Scott King (1927–2006) – American SCLC leader, activist
James Forman (1928–2005) – American SNCC official and civil rights activist
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) – SCLC co-founder/president/chairman, activist, author, speaker
Charles Morgan, Jr. (1930–2009) – American attorney, established principle of “one man, one vote”
Roy Innis (1934–2017) – American activist, longtime leader of CORE
Barbara Jordan (1936–1996) – American legislator, educator, civil rights advocate
James Bevel (1936–2008) – American organizer and Direct Action leader, SCLC’s main strategist, movement initiator, and movement director
Julian Bond (1940–2015) – American activist, politician, scholar, NAACP chairman
Prathia Hall (1940–2002) – American SNCC activist, a leading speaker in the civil rights movement
Stokely Carmichael (1941–1998) – American SNCC and Black Panther activist, organizer, speaker
James Orange (1942–2008) – American SCLC activist and organizer, a voting rights movement leader, trade unionist
Fred Hampton (1948–1969) – American NAACP youth leader and Black Panther activist, organizer, speaker
Frankie Muse Freeman (born 1916) – American civil rights attorney, first woman appointee to United States Commission on Civil Rights
Joseph Lowery (born 1921) – American SCLC leader and co-founder, activist
Charles Evers (born 1922) – American civil rights activist
C.T. Vivian (born 1924) – American student civil rights leader, SNCC and SCLC activist
James Lawson (born 1928) – American minister and activist, SCLC’s teacher of nonviolence in the civil rights movement
Wyatt Tee Walker (born 1929) – American activist and organizer with NAACP, CORE, and SCLC
Dorothy Cotton (born 1930) – American SCLC official, activist, organizer, and leader
Lola Hendricks (born 1932) – activist, local leader in Birmingham Movement
Andrew Young (born 1932) – American civil rights activist, SCLC executive director
Dick Gregory (born 1932) – American free speech advocate, civil rights activist, comedian
James Meredith (born 1933) – American independent student leader and self-starting Mississippi activist
Louis Farrakhan (born 1933) – American, controversial minister and National Representative of the Nation of Islam
Bob Moses (born 1935) – leader, activist, and organizer in ’60s Mississippi Movement
Charles Sherrod (born 1937) – American civil rights activist, SNCC leader
Diane Nash (born 1938) – American SNCC and SCLC activist and official, strategist, organizer
Claudette Colvin (born 1939) – American Montgomery Bus Boycott pioneer, independent activist
Bernard Lafayette (born 1940) – American SCLC and SNCC activist, organizer, and leader
John Lewis (born 1940) – American Nashville Student Movement and SNCC activist, organizer, speaker, congressman
Jesse Jackson (born 1941) – American civil rights activist, politician
Benjamin Chavis (born 1948) – American activist, chemist, minister, author, leader of Wilmington Ten, leader of Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ, campaigner against Environmental Racism, executive director of NAACP, national director of Million Man March
Al Sharpton (born 1954) – American clergyman, activist
The leadership of Dr. King, Malcom X, and the widespread violence provoked by the Freedom Rides sent shock waves through American society. America was embarrassed and pushed back even harder with violence, deaths, and hangings. The Freedom Riders inspired the African American community and created even greater activism around voter registration and community development programs.
The laws that exist on the books today and the many laws that are now gone from our past are also too numerous to note in this article. But I will note a few that underscore how far we have come.
Number 1. We can never forget our arrival to the US in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia to aid in the production of tobacco and cotton crops. It had to be determined if we had any rights at all. Were we animals on the farm/plantations with no rights, or human beings with rights? After a longstanding tradition of maltreatment and 238 years of degradation, humiliation, abuse, and enslavement, how could society at that time see us as anything more than animals with no right? The Dred Scott case made it clear that we were less than human. In the legal case of Scott v. Sandford (1857), the Supreme Court said that Blacks were not citizens under the Constitution and therefore were not entitled to the rights and privileges it promises. Because of this law, we continued to be treated as animals sold on the auction block and used as labor on the farm and for breeding.
Number 2. We can never forget the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th amendment that passed the Senate April 8th, 1864 and the House Jan. 31, 1865. In theory, the law should have made things better for blacks, but instead life became even worse. Some slaves stayed on the plantation for protection because freedom meant giving up their lives. Lynching and beating and house burnings were commonplace and accepted by society. White supremacy ruled the day and fear ruled the hearts of African Americans. So considering our national history, it is also not a surprise to me that the denial of access to housing, jobs, and public accommodations would be America’s response: If you cannot be our slave, you cannot live or work here and do not let us catch you alone. I cannot imagine the fear and stress our people endured under these very difficult times.
Every freedom we enjoy today has been paid for by blood. It has been a fight for freedom for African Americans from our capture, the middle passage, until the day we stepped foot on American soil, we have had to survive in a country among people who viewed us as less than human.
Number 3. We can never forget that the constitution did not view us as citizens until 1866. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 made Blacks full U.S. citizens (and repealed the Dred Scott decision). In 1868, the 14th amendment granted full U.S. citizenship to African Americans. The 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, extended the right to vote to black males. We have only had the right to vote for 147 years. It pains me to hear the ignorance of many who do know the history of African Americans and the history of the United States to understand why, in 2017, African Americans and other minorities still need the protection of law which has been in many ways ineffective in protecting us, when you look at the state of housing for African Americas.
Number 4. We can never forget that the Louisiana General Assembly passed a law in 1890 to prevent black and white people from riding together on trains. In 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson challenged that law, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law. The court’s decision was the catalyst to make all public facilities separate and “unequal” throughout the South – even though the premise of the law was to be separate and equal.
- Two years later the Supreme Court upheld a Mississippi law designed to deny black men the right to vote. The South then limited the voting rights to those who owned property, among other arbitrary and subjective rules.
- In South Carolina, black and white workers could not work in the same room or come in the same door in many industries.
- In 1914, Texas had six entire towns in which blacks could not live.
- Mobile passed a Jim Crow curfew, dictating that Blacks could not leave their homes after 10 p.m.
These and many other laws were the precursor to separate and unequal living environments in every aspect of black life: separate schools, colleges, bathrooms, water fountains, schools, theaters, hospitals, restaurants, parks, and even entertainment venues. There was a clear and distinct difference between black life and white life.
Number 5. We must never forget that more than 360,000 Black men served in World War I. The country welcomed them home with 25 major race riots, the most serious of which was in Chicago. White mobs lynched veterans in uniform. Black Americans fought back. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909, and the Urban League publicized abuses and worked for redress which has not yet been fully realized.
Number 6. We can never forget Brown vs. Board of Education (May 17, 1954), a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. The Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. But of course, the states rebelled and equal education for black children took years and further litigation to become a reality. Even to this day, we have schools in black communities that are underfunded and in need of books, better facilities, and major repairs.
Discrimination is alive and well in the United States, and the laws on the books must be enforced if we are not to go backwards. We need non-profits fighting for the rights of all people to have access to housing – especially African Americans, who have been the most enslaved and maltreated citizens in the world. We are second only to the Indians, who were almost completely wiped out. As a people, we are charter members of the Civil Resistance Club, a longstanding and widespread phenomenon in human history. Cases of civil resistance, both successful and unsuccessful, include:
Mohandas K. Gandhi’s role in the Indian independence movement in 1917-47
The civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in 1967-72
The Revolution of the Carnations in Portugal in 1974–75, supporting the military coup of April 25, 1974
The Iranian Revolution in 1977–79, before Khomeini’s advent to power in February 1979
The People Power Revolution in the Philippines in the 1980s that ousted President Marcos
The campaigns against apartheid in South Africa, especially before 1961, and during the period of 1983-94
The mass mobilization against authoritarian rule in Pinochet’s Chile, 1983–88
The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in China
The various movements contributing to the revolutions of 1989 in central and eastern Europe, and to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991
The campaign against Serbian domination in Kosovo, 1990–98, that was followed by war
The revolutions in Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, and Ukraine in 2004, all of which involved successful resistance against an incumbent government that had refused to acknowledge its defeat in an election and had sought to falsify the election results
The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon in 2005, following the assassination of former prime minister Rafic Hariri on February 14, 2005, and calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon
The demonstrations, mainly led by students and monks, in the Saffron Revolution in Burma in 2007
The 2009 Iranian presidential election protests following evidence of electoral manipulation in the elections of June 2009
The marching in Cairo, Egypt on January 25, 2011 with ‘OUT’ signs on the ‘Day of Anger’ against President Mubarak, ousting him on February 11
The Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, starting in Tunisia in December 2010, and resulting, in 2011, in the fall of rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen; following in some countries by war (e.g., Syrian Civil War and war in Yemen) or by a return to military rule, as in Egypt in 2013 following the Egyptian Revolution of 2011
The Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013, in opposition to urban development plans, and to government encroachments on freedom of expression and on Turkey’s secularist traditions
The early phases of the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine in 2013-14, demanding closer integration with European Union countries, and the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych
The 2014 Hong Kong protests, also known as “Occupy Central” and the “Umbrella Movement”, opposing the 2014-15 Hong Kong electoral reform in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
Civil resistance operates through appeals to the adversary with pressure, coercion, and protest. It is designed to systematically undermine the adversary’s sources of power, both domestic and international, through demonstrations, vigils, and petitions; strikes, go-slows, stand ins, sit outs, boycotts and emigration movements like in Syria, occupations, and the creation of parallel institutions of government. Civil resistance is still alive and strong. There are many modern struggles in the world and more to come against both tyrannical rulers and democratically elected governments. The phenomenon of civil resistance is the foundation to democracy where the people are valued and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is available to all.
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Eric Lawrence Frazier, MBA
President and CEO
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