Rothstein points out that in the North, as in other parts of the country, the federal government pursued policies that contributed to the segregation and decay of urban areas.
For example, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, he launched a series of programs called the New Deal to help bring America out of the Great Depression. One New Deal program spurred the creation of the first civilian public housing (today often referred to as housing projects or just “the projects”), which was segregated for whites and blacks. The government frequently demolished integrated neighborhoods in such cities as Cleveland and Boston to create segregated public housing.
Roosevelt also created the Federal Housing Administration (F.H.A.), which subsidized builders that developed many of the suburban neighborhoods that sprouted outside cities nationwide in the mid-20th century. The F.H.A.’s manual stated that “incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities,” meaning none of the homes in those subdivisions could be sold to African Americans.
One well-known example is Levittown, a suburb near New York City. The F.H.A. helped support the construction of the community in the late 1940s on the condition that no homes be sold to African Americans. Every home also had to have a clause in its deed prohibiting resale to black people.
While white people increasingly moved into suburbs like Levittown, African Americans were forced into urban areas that became overcrowded. Beginning in the 1930s, the federal government had created color-coded maps of every metropolitan area in the U.S., with neighborhoods where minorities lived highlighted red. These “redlined” areas were deemed “too risky” for banks to invest in, so they grew more and more run-down.
“The differences between white and black communities increased,” says Rothstein, “as black areas became more and more deteriorated relative to white neighborhoods that were receiving investment.”
Rothstein adds that while segregated neighborhoods might have existed without these government practices, segregation—and economic disparity—became more pronounced in the U.S. because of them.