Black History Month: African American Trailblazers in Housing

As we bid farewell to Black History Month, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the movers and shakers who’ve left their mark on the housing industry and continue to move the needle for equal housing. African American communities have faced in getting a fair deal on homeownership. Today, let’s shine a light on some of housing’s most profound trailblazers, past and present:

Frederick Douglass

You probably know him as a towering figure in the fight against slavery, but did you know he was also a fierce advocate for fair housing? After escaping slavery, Douglass became a vocal proponent for Black land ownership, believing it was essential for true freedom and equality.

Mary Church Terrell

This powerhouse was a leading voice in the fight for women’s suffrage, but she was also a dedicated activist for fair housing and urban reform. As a co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women, Terrell worked tirelessly to address housing inequalities faced by Black Americans.

Robert C. Weaver

In 1966, Robert C. Weaver became the first African-American appointed to a cabinet position in the U.S government and was the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. Weaver, whose great-grandfather was a slave, was always embedded in policy as it relates to racial relations in America, making change on a large scale. He even served as rent commissioner for New York City and fought for housing equity in the City throughout the Civil Rights Movement.

Maggie Walker

Transforming American business forever, Maggie Walker was the first African American woman to charter a bank and serve as bank president; the Saint Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, VA in 1903. Her own home in Richmond is now preserved as a National Historic Site. Thousands of African American families realized their dreams of homeownership and financial freedom because of Walker and her contributions to permanent change.

Thurgood Marshall

Mr. Marshall’s impact on this nation is indescribable. As the first African American justice in the U.S. Supreme Court, he fiercely advocated for civil rights and desegregation, notably in the 1954 landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Before the Supreme Court, Marshall was a significant leader in the NAACP.

Fannie Lou Hamer

A civil rights icon, Fannie Lou Hamer fought tirelessly for voting rights and racial justice. But she also recognized the importance of economic empowerment through homeownership. Through her work with organizations like the Freedom Farm Cooperative, Hamer helped Black farmers and families gain access to land and housing opportunities.

Barbara Jordan

As the first African American woman elected to the Texas Senate, Barbara Jordan was a political trailblazer. She made significant contributions to housing policy during her time in Congress. Jordan championed fair housing legislation and advocated for policies to address housing discrimination and affordable housing shortages.

Lisa Rice

As President and CEO of the only national civil rights agency solely dedicated to eliminating all forms of housing discrimination, Lisa Rice leads the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and its over 170 fair housing and justice-centered organizations and individuals throughout the country. Her efforts today have resulted in strong advancements in fair housing principles, broadened fair housing protections, and expanded equal housing opportunities for millions of Americans. 

Marcia Fudge

In 1999, Marcia Fudge became the first female and first African American mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio. From there, she served as the Congressional Representative for Ohio’s 11th District. Fudge is now the Secretary of The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is committed to making the dream of homeownership – and the security and wealth creation that comes with it – a reality for more Americans. Fudge has made it her department’s mission to keep the door open for families who have been systematically locked out for generations to buy homes and have a fair shot at achieving the American dream.

Angela Glover Blackwell

Founder of PolicyLink, Angela Glover Blackwell has been a leading voice in advocating for equitable and inclusive urban policies. Through her work, she has highlighted the importance of affordable housing as a cornerstone of community development and economic opportunity for all.

Now, let’s talk stats for a second. According to recent data, homeownership rates for African American families still lag behind those of white households. The gap is staggering. Policies like the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and initiatives like HUD’s Fair Housing Act have been game-changers, but despite the progress made, disparities in homeownership rates persist. It’s a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges in achieving housing equity. But through the advocacy and legacy of trailblazers like those we’ve highlighted, we’re inspired to keep pushing for positive and permanent change.

We’re committed to honoring these legacies and standing alongside today’s pioneers by championing diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything we do. Here’s to those who have paved the way, the policies that have made a difference, and the collectively working towards a future where homeownership is within reach for everyone. It takes all of us!

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