Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Housing Legacy

Published by Mark Shelburne on Monday, January 18, 2016 - 12:00am

Today the United States recognizes the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Some housing and community development professionals may not know the extent to which his work continues to influence ours.

In 1966 Dr. King led a desegregation or “open housing” effort known as the Chicago Freedom Movement. One event was a speech to a large gathering at Soldier Field where he said, “We are tired of paying more for less. We are tired of living in rat-infested slums…. We are tired of having to pay a median rent of $97 a month in Lawndale for four rooms while whites living in South Deering pay $73 a month for five rooms.”

He also created a list of demands, which included a “Program to increase vastly the supply of low-cost housing on a scattered-site basis for both low and middle income families.”

The outcome of the effort was an agreement which Dr. King described as “the most significant program ever conceived to make open housing a reality in a metropolitan area.”

One of Dr. King’s most important achievements came after his death. Congress enacted and President Lyndon Johnson signed Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, known as the Fair Housing Act, immediately after his assassination. The Senate did not even debate what had been intensely controversial legislation.

What President Johnson said at the time is still true today: “We have come some of the way, not nearly all of it. There is much yet to do.”

We welcome your comments below on how Dr. King’s legacy connects to your work.