Housing co-ops and the civil rights movement

I’ve seen what a difference an affordable home can make in people’s lives. But I had no idea about the role co‑op housing played in the civil rights movement in North America. #housing #BlackHistoryMonth

Thanks to CHF Canada for sharing this information for Black History month and to David J. Thompson and the National Association of Housing Co-ops for documenting these important stories (follow the links below to link to newsletters containing the full versions.)

In Murder is Uncooperative, all Rebecca wants is a safe, affordable home. Many people struggle to find affordable housing. For some, available options were even fewer because of their colour. Co-operatives provided a solution.

  • In 1958, famed entertainer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte and his young family found it difficult to find an apartmentin New York City and he ended up sending his (white) publicist to the rental broker to collect a lease agreement for an apartment. A year later, Belafonte led a consortium that bought the apartment building and then offered co‑op shares to the tenants, creating a desegregated housing co‑op.
  • Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice and the lawyer who won the historic “Brown vs The Board of Education” case that opened the doors to desegregation, was exposed to co‑ops early in his career. In 1958, Marshall and his family moved out of the Edgecombe Apartments (which would later become co‑op apartments) and into the Morningside Heights Housing Co‑op in the upper east side of Manhattan. His focus in co‑operative organizing was to develop interracial co‑operatives, and he fought for a fair regulatory environment, taking the Federal Housing Authority to task for their discriminatory ‘redlining’ practices.
  • Bayard Rustin’s co-op apartmentin New York City, in the South Penn Housing Co‑operative, became the initial hub for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – the 1963 protest featuring by the Rev. Martin L King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.