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  • Epworth

Reparations for Legalized Segregation and Discrimination

Giving Witness by Dorothy Wonder

From the beginning, I was strongly drawn to helping make home ownership possible for African Americans our first step in reparations.

Early on, in my Christian Century magazine, there was a very small article about the UCC Arlington church - already making interest-free loans needed to complete the down payments, and bank loans were already approved for a few African American families in our broader community. And UCC was working with agencies in Richmond already doing the specific organizing work needed. I was very excited!

More recently, I found the excerpt of Richard Rothstein's book, Color of Law, which I read 6 years ago. The focus in this section is about the effect on the lives of the Ford company black workers, when Ford was converting from their wartime shipbuilding to producing cars again, needing more space, and moving from Richmond to a new plant being built near Milpitas. There was a union (good pay) with jobs guaranteed, but for the approximately 250 black workers, no guarantee for places to live!

The Milpitas city council passed an ordinance banning apartment construction, allowing only single-family homes. FHA appraisal standards included a whites-only requirement; racial segregation now became an official requirement of the federal mortgage insurance program. Banks were reluctant to make loans to working-class families unless the loans were insured. Mortgages insured in Milpitas included prohibitions on sales to African Americans.

When a Quaker group attempted to build integrated apartments, they could not find a financial institution in the Bay Area that would fund a place that would be open to African Americans. And Milpitas raised the sewer connection fees so high the project had to be abandoned.

Some groups of workers shared the long commute, driving from North Richmond to Milpitas, an hour each way, every day, in order to keep those good jobs, for years.

This more detailed account -- of the many agencies and groups and individuals lined up against African Americans: builders, realtors, insurance agencies, bankers, the federal government - FHA, city councils -- is appalling.

Rothstein strongly influenced my conviction that helping African Americans buy homes is indeed the direction we need to go with our initial Epworth reparation effort.


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