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That's not stuck in the past


In 1963, Northern California’s first African American State Assemblymember, Byron Rumford, championed a Fair Housing Act designed to prevent racial discrimination that severely limited where people of color could live. This bill, and the national laws it helped inspire, banned property owners from refusing to sell to potential buyers on the basis of race. As the Civil Rights movement gained momentum through these legislative victories, the end of segregation seemed within grasp.

But now in 2020, amidst a tech-fueled real estate boom that’s sent home values soaring, the Bay Area is re-segregating as Black populations in wealthy areas dwindle and “neighborhoods with low pollution, high-quality schools and other resources have become increasingly inaccessible for African Americans.” In Byron Rumford’s former hometown of Berkeley, the percentage of African American residents has dropped from a high of nearly 25% during the 1970s to less than 10% today.      

The problem isn’t limited to California. According to The Center for Investigative Reporting, “a new epidemic of modern-day redlining has crept quietly across America. The gap in homeownership between African Americans and whites is now wider than it was during the Jim Crow era.” More than half a century after the Civil Rights Act was supposed to end housing discrimination the problem is getting worse in some ways. So what went wrong?

The new episode explores this question through interviews with William Byron Rumford III, former California State Assemblymember E. Dotson Wilson, documentary filmmaker Doug Harris, and historian Ryan Reft. Listen now to learn what Byron Rumford’s story can tell us about why racism and real estate are so hard to untangle.

East Bay Yesterday can’t survive without your support. Please donate to keep this show alive: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday

Byron Rumford was “at the forefront of the struggle to desegregate the promise and opportunity of the West Coast,” according to a New York Times obituary by Conor Dougherty. Despite Rumford’s achievements, prejudice is still prevalent throughout the real estate industry. A recent headline in Curbed demonstrates how racist practices have changed since the days of restrictive covenants: “Housing discrimination goes high tech: How algorithms, ad targeting, and other new technologies threaten fair housing laws.”
According to housing discrimination historian Ryan Reft, “If you look at  the Home Owners Loan Corporation maps from the 1930s, many of them really resemble what the cities look like today. This long history is hardwired in.” To hear Reft explain the role the HOLC played in embedding institutional racism in the housing market, listen to the new episode.
Following passage of the Rumford Fair Housing Act, the California Real Estate Association funded the Proposition 14 campaign to essentially re-legalize racial housing discrimination. Ronald Reagan rode a wave of support he generated as a spokesman for this successful campaign to the governor’s office in 1967. [Image courtesy of Calisphere]
Former State Assemblyman E. Dotson Wilson remembers when Byron Rumford’s business served as a hub of community organizing back when Sacramento Street was the main corridor of Berkeley’s Black community: “His pharmacy not only became a successful business, but was also a focal point and a place for people to congregate.”
This photo of Byron Rumford is from an exhibition currently on display at the Berkeley Historical Society. “African Americans in Berkeley: Four Families” will be running through April 4, 2020. To learn more about the pioneering lawmaker, check out Doug Harris’s film, “Fair Legislation: The Byron Rumford Story.”
This statue of Byron Rumford entitled “A Man for the People” was created by Dana King and erected across the street from the site of Rumford’s Pharmacy, near the intersection of Sacramento St. and Ashby St. in Berkeley. The building where the pharmacy was located now houses the Byron Rumford Medical Clinic.

East Bay Yesterday can’t exist with your support! If you enjoy the episode, please donate: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday

Unfair housing

Why racism and real estate are so hard to untangle
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