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Editorial: Realtors' apology for discrimination helps, but there's much more work ahead

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June 17, 1968: Landmark Supreme Court case

This 1968 Post-Dispatch front page heralds the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling that Congress can regulate the sale of private property to bar discrimination. The case stems from a 1965 effort by a couple, Joseph and Barbara Jones, to buy a house in the Paddock Hills subdivision of Florissant. Joseph Jones is black.

Laudable as it is for St. Louis-area Realtors to apologize for a long history of racially discriminatory practices, there are still plenty of other actors who have yet to fully atone for their key roles in establishing a skewed set of rules that ensured white families always had a purchasing edge over Blacks in American housing. Apologies are a good first step, but it’ll take generations to undo the damage caused by generations of discrimination that deprived millions of Blacks equal access to home ownership and accrued wealth.

Realtors are owning up to their historic practices, which included staffing their offices almost exclusively with white agents and employing sales tactics that perpetuated racially segregated homeownership. But it was the banks — enforcing federal lending restrictions primarily during the post-World War II housing boom — that imposed deed covenants prohibiting the sale or resale of real estate to Blacks.

The deed restriction on a residential property in the Greater Ville neighborhood of St. Louis stated, for example, that “no part of said property nor any portion thereof shall be for said term of fifty years occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race.” The covenant, published by National Public Radio, specified that the residential property could not be occupied in whole or in part “by people of the Negro or Mongolian race.” Some covenants went so far as to add Jews to the restricted list. Such language appeared almost verbatim on deeds across the country.

American schools also did their part by failing to educate kids on the nation’s discriminatory history. Students were raised, generation after generation, to believe that there was something inherent in minority culture or genetics that caused their conditions of poverty. Whatever parents were saying at home to perpetuate such myths, schools did little to correct the record and explain that the system was rooted in the continual shunting of Black families into segregated neighborhoods. The denial of loans prevented families from accruing property wealth that could be passed from one generation to the next.

The result: The white home ownership rate is 71% higher than the ownership rate for Blacks, according to the Urban Institute.

When schools deprive generations of students this basic historical knowledge of discrimination and the ongoing financial disparities it has caused, they ensure the perpetuation of ignorance that causes the problem to persist. And today’s Republican Party is working to ensure this perpetuation by denouncing such instruction as “critical race theory” and ridiculing it as a way to make white children feel guilty.

The goal, however, is simply to teach the historical facts and ensure that the cycle of ignorance is broken. Monday’s apology by St. Louis Realtors is a major step toward breaking that cycle and starting to repair the damage. The next step is to start teaching kids the guilt-free, unvarnished truth.

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