Book Review: Family Properties – Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America by Beryl Satter


I am going to take the next few posts to do some book recaps/reviews.  These were all part of my assigned reading for my last DMin class.  I learned a ton in reading them, and am going to try and capture some of the essence of each book through a sampling of quotes.  Of the 8 books I read, only 4 were on Kindle, so I’m restricting the reviews to those… too much time and effort to retype notes from the ones I read in book form.

First up is “Family Properties” by Beryl Satter.  This is essentially a history book, and should be read by anyone that either a.) Lives in Chicago, or b.) Wants to understand the historical forces that have combined to create ‘ghettos’ (I want to be careful using that word, as I know it can be charged, but its the word the book uses)

Some quotes:

On North and South Lawndale being split apart:

For Paul, the massive construction marked the end of the stable world of his childhood. For Lawndale, it signified something much worse. It sliced the neighborhood in two and essentially destroyed it. Routines that had marked daily life were now impossible. The walk to the newsstand for the Sunday morning paper? Forget it; what used to be a peaceful stroll now entailed crossing eight lanes of traffic. The corner tailor? Gone. The baker? Out of business. My brother David summarized the mood of mid-1950s Lawndale: “There was an air of impending catastrophe. The neighborhood had been ripped open and was ripe for the kill.

On surging African American influx:

Between 1940 and 1960, Chicago’s black population skyrocketed, from 277,731 to 812,637. Most newcomers to Chicago could find accommodations only in the two neighborhoods that were open to African Americans. Many went to the South Side’s Black Belt, a neighborhood that was bursting at the seams.

On differences between White and Black experience as Chicago grew:

Chicago had not always been a segregated city. Black Chicagoans traditionally lived on the city’s South Side, with much smaller numbers scattered through parts of the West Side. Yet in the early years of the twentieth century much of the “black” South Side was actually racially mixed; only about a dozen blocks were exclusively inhabited by African Americans. As late as 1910, Chicago’s African Americans were less set apart from native-born whites than Italian immigrants were. 11 This situation changed dramatically during the 1910s and 1920s, when tens of thousands of Southern blacks migrated to Chicago—among them Sallie’s and Albert’s parents. This First Great Migration unsettled Chicago’s relatively open racial system and led to the creation of the city’s black ghetto.

For white Chicagoans, the crisis began to ease in the late 1940s as new suburban properties were constructed. For black Chicagoans, the situation was quite different. The new suburbs generally excluded them; similarly, within the city limits most African Americans who sought to rent or buy outside of the Black Belt or Near West Side were curtly informed by white real estate agents that the apartment or building they had inquired about was no longer available.

Chicago had not always been a segregated city. Black Chicagoans traditionally lived on the city’s South Side, with much smaller numbers scattered through parts of the West Side. Yet in the early years of the twentieth century much of the “black” South Side was actually racially mixed; only about a dozen blocks were exclusively inhabited by African Americans. As late as 1910, Chicago’s African Americans were less set apart from native-born whites than Italian immigrants were. 11 This situation changed dramatically during the 1910s and 1920s, when tens of thousands of Southern blacks migrated to Chicago—among them Sallie’s and Albert’s parents. This First Great Migration unsettled Chicago’s relatively open racial system and led to the creation of the city’s black ghetto.

Most of these associations were organized by the Chicago Real Estate Board (CREB), the professional association of white Chicago realtors. At a fateful meeting in 1917, the board formulated its response to the “invasion of white residence districts by the Negroes.” Rather than allowing blacks to purchase property wherever they wished, CREB decided to confine such sales to blocks immediately adjoining neighborhoods that already contained black residents. No new areas would be opened until these blocks became entirely “black.” “Inasmuch as more territory must be provided, it is desired … that each block shall be filled solidly and that further expansion shall be confined to contiguous blocks,” the board declared.

Whites also adopted restrictive covenants to confine black Chicagoans to small sections of the city. These legally binding documents limited the ways that a property could be used or disposed of. Most restrictive covenants prevented the sale of property to blacks, although some targeted Jews and Asians as well.

There was an entire section of the book that overviewed the decision by Dr. King to come and live with is family in the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago.  That alone made the book so helpful.  Here is one excerpt:

Once again the demonstrators suffered a hail of rocks, bricks, bottles, and cherry bombs. Whites stood on their front steps shrieking “Cannibals” and “Go home, niggers,” waving signs proclaiming “The only way to stop niggers is to exterminate them.” Nine hundred and sixty police officers could barely control the crowd. The sight of King particularly incensed them. Shouts of “We want King” and “Kill him, kill him” filled the air. King was hit in the head by a fist-sized rock that knocked him to his knees. “I have never seen such hostility and hatred anywhere in my life, even in Selma,” he said. “The people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.

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One thought on “Book Review: Family Properties – Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America by Beryl Satter

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