Segregation: How Far Have We Come?



As America becomes more diverse, century-old patterns of segregation are still present in today’s society.


The Brown v. Board decision changed the path of our country over sixty years ago, ruling that separate is inherently unequal, and ordered segregation to end, “with all deliberate speed.” Any reader of history knows desegregation was not enforced or enacted with any speed at all. In fact, it was heavily impeded, so much, that it was necessary for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. There was an entire Civil Rights Movement that took place after segregation was ordered to end. Most schools in Virginia, including Fauquier, did not fully desegregate until 1969. Virginia’s governor and then Senator during this time, Harry Byrd, was an avowed segregationist and separatist, leading the “massive resistance” movement against Brown v. Board. It’s also worth mentioning that Route 7 in Northern Virginia still bears his name.


Segregation Today

It may surprise many to know that schools and neighborhoods are more segregated now than they were in 1980. As ordered by the Federal Government, the “South” made progress towards desegregation in the 1970’s and 1980’s, yet the Northeast did not advance this initiative. Over time, in effect, more than half of Black students in the Northeast attend schools classified as 90-100% non-white. Across the nation, this number is closer to 75% of Black students who attend 90-100% black schools.


Further, students of color are more likely to attend schools with a majority of students living in poverty and receiving free and reduced lunches and other assistance. As one might surmise, these schools lack resources, qualified teachers, and the facilities themselves are in need of repair, expansion, or both.


In short, schools are still relatively segregated. As Chief Justice Warren noted in 1954, separate can never be equal, and it still isn’t.


How Is This Still Occurring?

Schools tend to remain segregated because neighborhoods are still segregated. Historians know, but many may still be surprised to know, that this was by design. Two programs changed the trajectory of segregation in America.


1. The National Association of Real Estate Boards adopted a racist provision that lasted over 30 years. With this process, an ethics code was created which prohibited brokers from “selling to buyers who threatened to disrupt the racial composition of the neighborhood.” For a realtor to sell a home in a white neighborhood to a Black family, was to risk his or her career and brokerage license.


2. The Federal Housing Authority, which still exists today, practiced “redlining.” Redlining was the practice of organizing maps to show which neighborhoods were Black, and coloring them red to show mortgage lenders, appraisers, and insurers that these neighborhoods were too risky to insure or allow mortgages. This became the policy of other agencies, including the Veterans Administration. This was explicitly written in the Underwriting Manual of the Federal Housing Administration, which stated, "incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities." In no uncertain terms, loans to Black Americans could not be insured in White neighborhoods. In addition, this same manual recommended that highways were a good way to separate Black from White neighborhoods. Segregation in this way was inarguably intentional and by design.


Redlined map of New York City, NPR.


Redlining began in the 1930’s but wasn’t made illegal until 1968. At that point, when Black Americans were free to purchase homes in White neighborhoods, these homes were no longer affordable, due to the fact that equity in Black neighborhoods hadn’t appreciated at the same rate as in White neighborhoods. As owning a home has traditionally been the most popular way to amass wealth in America, Americans who are white have continued to be at an advantage based on the systemic inequality in real estate. Therefore, mobility from neighborhood to neighborhood is unattainable for many Black Americans.


Anomalies exist in some parts of the country. For example, racial segregation is less present in neighborhoods near military bases or universities.


Later Effects

When the housing bubble of 2008 was ready to burst, Black Americans who had been denied home loans for decades were targeted by lenders. High-income Black Americans were 200% more likely to obtain high interest loans than low-income White Americans. When the recession came, many middle-class Black Americans lost not only their homes and life savings, but also their jobs. This meant starting over in a country that had never afforded them the ability to amass wealth of any kind. Fast forward to today, and the racial wealth gap between Black and White Americans is the highest now than it has been in 25 years.


Where Do We Go From Here?

Educate, educate, educate! It is important that Americans understand the systemic racism that exists in our country. From slavery, to Jim Crow, to redlining, to the Civil Rights Movement, to present-day segregation and disproportionate levels of poverty, incarceration, and illness, we have come a long way, but there is still so much work to be done.


by Libbi Moore