In the mid-20th century, federal, state and local governments pursued explicit racial policies to create, enforce and sustain residential segregation. The policies were so powerful that, as a result, even today blacks and whites rarely live in the same communities and have little interracial contact or friendships outside the workplace.
This was not a peculiar Southern obsession, but consistent nationwide. In New York, for example, the State legislature amended its insurance code in 1938 to permit the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to build large housing projects “for white people only” — first Parkchester in the Bronx and then Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan. New York City granted substantial tax concessions for Stuyvesant Town, even after MetLife’s chairman testified that the project would exclude black families because “Negroes and whites don’t mix.” The insurance company then built a separate Riverton project for African-Americans in Harlem.
A few years later, when William Levitt proposed 17,000 homes in Nassau County for returning war veterans, the federal government insured his bank loans on the explicit condition that African-Americans be barred. The government even required that the deed to Levittown homes prohibit resale or rental to African-Americans. Although no longer legally enforceable, the language persists in Levittown deeds to this day.
State-licensed real estate agents subscribed to a code of ethics that prohibited sales to black families in white neighborhoods. Nationwide, regulators closed their eyes to real estate boards that prohibited agents from using multiple-listing services if they dared violate this code.