When we think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the immediate associations that likely come to mind are: civil rights leader, activist, minister, and his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. “Housing advocate” may not be at the forefront of his description, but he certainly was one.
Picture this. It is the summer of 1965 in Chicago, Illinois. Ten years have passed since the Montgomery Bus Boycott, two years since the March on Washington, and one year since the passing of the Civil Rights Act. Dr. King was in the prime of his fight for civil rights. He had worked to eliminate racism and prejudice in education, jobs, transportation, and overall rights as American citizens and human beings. However, there was one essential area that he had yet to really focus on: housing. Thus, the Chicago Freedom Movement was born.
Until 1965, Dr. King’s efforts were largely concentrated throughout the explicitly racist South. Turning his efforts to the North and Midwest, which had drastically changed in demographics with the Great Migration of Blacks seeking better opportunities in cities like Chicago, he aimed to tackle the systemic racism in the Windy City and its suburbs. The Chicago Freedom Movement was a campaign to highlight the poor housing conditions of Black residents and the inability for them to obtain better—all while facing lending discrimination and resistance from Whites who did not want their neighborhoods integrated. The campaign’s efforts also focused on employment and education and ultimately led to the passing of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
As Richard Rothstein’s book The Color of Law will teach anyone, housing discrimination is deeply rooted in our nation’s real estate history and is still in existence today. So how do we look at Dr. King’s life and legacy and apply it to our own and our industry? We organize, call out injustices, and we help improve our communities. His life was all about service, and as we work in our industry to ensure that individuals have quality homes and equal access to housing, let us channel our inner Dr. King.