How the 1964 Civil Rights Act cost Black America


How the 1964 Civil Rights Act cost Black America

In a recent article on the Your Black World internet site, Boyce Watkins, a Professor of Finance at New York’s Syracuse University, said he had begun to question the wisdom behind integration. “We can shop where we want, eat where we want and get almost any job at the big fancy corporation down the street,” Watkins observed. “The problem for our community is that … integration, for the most part, was simply prolonged assimilation, like moving into someone else’s home and giving up the keys to your own.”

Nowhere was this more apparent to Boyce Watkins than on his recent visit to Atlanta, Georgia, where he visited the Sweet Auburn neighbourhood where Dr Martin Luther King Jnr. grew up. Comparing photographs of a prosperous Sweet Auburn from the 1940s with the picture of urban decline it makes today, Boyce Watkins wondered if African-Americans had not lost more than they had gained.

“I carefully studied the old pictures of Auburn Street,” Watkins said. “I saw images of proud black business owners, in their finest clothes, driving fancy cars. Of course not everyone was doing well, but we were certainly better at making our own money.” And a recent report seems to bear this out. The level of business ownership among African-Americans was highest during the era of legal segregation, between the 1890s and 1960s, the report indicated.

Among the celebrated black neighbourhoods where black businesses once prospered was Walnut Street in Louisville, Kentucky, where the boxer Muhammad Ali grew up. Also on the list is “The Deuce”, or 2nd Street, in Richmond, Virginia.

“The Deuce” had five black banks, among them the very first black-owned bank in the US, The Savings Bank of the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers, which operated between 1889 and 1910. The bank’s owners also invested in a building and loan company, which issued mortgages, and in a real estate firm enabling African-Americans to buy or rent homes. They also owned a black newspaper and began a retirement home for the black elderly.

“The Deuce” was where the US’s first black-owned insurance company, the Southern Aid and Insurance Company, was founded in 1893, and it remained in business for 90 years, until the 1980s. 

Another American city that once had a bustling black business district is Charleston, South Carolina. The city’s Morris Street area was home to a rooming house, a real estate company and a restaurant, all of which belonged to a wealthy black family, the Brooks. The family also operated the Brooks Motel, a boarding house where Dr Martin Luther King Jnr. and other prominent African-Americans stayed when in Charleston.

The Brooks Motel, and other grand properties once owned by African-Americans in the Morris Street area, have long since been demolished, much to the dismay of locals like Barney Blakeney, a journalist on a Charleston newspaper.

Blakeney does not believe integration was a “bad thing”, as such – but he is saddened at the damage done to black neighbourhoods by flawed federal government urban-renewal policies and by the exodus to the suburbs that helped produce a generation of alienated and out of touch young African-Americans. The “Lost Boys of Integration”, some have called them.

“I know times have changed, and black people must change with them,” said Blakeney. “But losing the culture that brought us together during periods of trouble and hardship, is not the way to go.” And much has been lost.  In 1965, only 8% of black children were born out of wedlock. By 2010, that figure had skyrocketed to 72%. In 1950, the number of African-American women married and living with their husbands was just over 50%. Today, that figure has dropped to just 25%.

Coupled with this crisis in the black family, is an economic crisis, too. Figures show black poverty has increased in the years since integration, not fallen as would have been expected. Fully one third of African-Americans live in poverty, according to a report by the Manhattan Institute think-tank in New York City. And the news is especially bad for the black middle class. A survey found that African-Americans living in the suburbs most often lived in neighbourhoods with whites who were poorer and less educated than they were. 

 Another study found that middle-aged black professionals were three times more likely than were white professionals to find themselves unemployed, impoverished, and in grave danger of dropping a rung down the class ladder into the working classes.

13 responses to “How the 1964 Civil Rights Act cost Black America”

  1. Author Thumbnail William Wooten says:

    Love life in Detroit.

  2. Author Thumbnail Bbstackr says:

    My Goodness, What an imagination! The rise in single parent families has brought about the rise in black poverty. The poverty rate in black households with married parents is less than 5%. What in the world does the Civil Rights Act have to do with black women
    not marrying the men who father their children? Did LBJ tell women to
    have families without fathers? Please explain how white devils prevent black women from marrying black men. Really, today, not 1860.

    • Author Thumbnail Jonathan Scott says:

      Empirical evidence shows the marriage rate is tied to the employment prospects of males. The decline in married African-American households follows the decline in employment for black males, not the other way around. Thus the question becomes, not what does the Civil Rights Act have to do with the decline of married black households, but what does the Civil Rights Act have to do with the decline of employment opportunities for African-American males.

      • Author Thumbnail Bbstackr says:

        The rate of black unemployment has been about double the rate of white unemployment since the 1940s. The Civil Rights act of 1964 did not change that. Care to try again?

      • Author Thumbnail Janice Jones Hutchinson says:

        This is an even better point. I should have done a little research.

    • Author Thumbnail Janice Jones Hutchinson says:

      I think the case made in the article is the removal of the cream of the crop in the neighborhoods robbed the poorer blacks of role models to pattern their lives. I am not sure that is the case , but I think this must be a great article if that is the weakest point you found in the whole 3 page article.

    • Author Thumbnail Margaret Housman says:

      WELFARE IS THE REASON. If you are black or white,married with children and one parent works you may not be eligible for food stamps,energy assistance,medicaid, or welfare funds. IF YOU are single with children the government supports you.

    • Author Thumbnail oldk says:

      As I understand it, the Civil Rights Bill would pay money to ladies with children only if the father was not at home. This financial incentive caused fathers to move out of the house.

  3. Author Thumbnail Janice Jones Hutchinson says:

    I could have written this article just from observation of what has happened to our communities in person and from the media. I desire long life only to see my people living as a proud, united people once again.

  4. Author Thumbnail Semicollegiate says:

    Natura non facit saltum (Nature does nothing in jumps)

    The Powers That Be like big sudden changes that don’t affect them. Big changes are usually disruptive to traditional ways and make folks depend more on the State.

    I could see the crosshairs coming into focus when I read that Dr. King said regroup and do it ourselves. The Powers That Be hate that.

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