For Black Americans, it’s been opportunities lost


Editor’s note: Here’s a list of a few of the actions taken over the past 165 years — since the end of the Civil War — that have resulted in opportunities taken away from Black Americans.

1. Jim Crow and segregation separated the races for 100 years, depriving Black Americans of civil rights, equal protection under the law, and equal access to education, the economy and politics.

2. Lynchings (over 4,000 between 1877 and 1950) were “message killings” to make sure Black people would not expect to enjoy equality with white Americans.

3. After the Civil War, fewer than 1 percent of Black people owned land. The 4 million Black people in the South went into domestic jobs or sharecropping at the lowest end of the economic pyramid.

4. The National Housing Act of 1934 “redlined” Black neighborhoods, blocking Black people from obtaining federally backed loans to buy houses while permitting white Americans to do so. However, the act allowed whites to buy homes in Black neighborhoods and sell them to Blacks on credit. Black families could own those homes only after all the payments were completed. Missing one payment or being late could result in the Black family losing the house immediately.

5. The Social Security Act of 1935 excluded farmworkers and domestic workers, mainly Black, from old age and unemployment insurance. As a result, 65% of Black Americans were ineligible to receive Social Security.

6. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which set a minimum wage for the first time excluded tip-based workers — servers, shoe shiners, domestic workers and Pullman porters. Poverty rates among Black people during the Depression were twice those of white people.

7. The G.I. Bill of 1944 offered low-cost home mortgages, low interest business loans, tuition assistance, and unemployment insurance for returning WWII veterans. Local banks were permitted to refuse loans to Blacks. In New York and New Jersey, fewer than 100 of the G.I. Bill guaranteed 67,000 mortgages went to Black veterans.

8. After World War II, universities in the North and South focused on enrolling white veterans. Black universities could not accommodate an estimated 70,000 Black veterans in 1947. During this post-WWII period, white universities doubled their enrollment and prospered.

9. In the credit frenzy before the Great Recession, system wide economic discrimination existed. Banks promoted subprime market loans to Black and Hispanic home buyers in a practice called “reverse redlining.” Data showed that Black and Hispanic families making more that $200,000 annually were on average more likely to be given a subprime loan than a white family making less that $30,000 a year.

10. In 2013, estimates indicated that Black households had one-thirteenth of the wealth of white households at median value.

This is only a partial list of the measures that have affected badly our Black neighbors over the decades. I’ve not said anything about training and wage differences, education issues in poor neighborhoods, health care or others. There is a large volume of information on these and other barriers to equal access as close as our Chatham library and its resources.