The patterns of dispossession and exclusion in Durham’s rural areas had their urban counterparts. Racial discrimination by institutions at the federal, state, and local level, combined with individual prejudice, ensured that homeownership, access to capital, and neighborhood-level investments in the city would favor white people throughout the 20th century. These policies and practices had deep implications for food security. From 1900-1964, social relations in Durham were rigidly shaped by Jim Crow laws and customs, which dictated segregation of schools, transportation, eateries, and public facilities, and outlawed interracial marriage. Although North Carolina did not legislate housing segregation, other tools of discrimination developed to ensure the neighborhood color line in Durham and in cities across the country.
As early as the 1920s, new suburban developments in Durham required white buyers to agree to a list of conditions attached to the deed of the land and home. These “deed restrictions” included an explicit prohibition against Black ownership or residence in the homes, except as domestic servants. Called “racial covenants,” this practice was legal until 1948, and existed in Durham neighborhoods such as Forest Hills, Hope Valley, Duke Forest, Watts Hospital Hillandale, Glendale Heights, and more. Some deed restrictions also dictated a minimum size of housing and lots and prohibited multifamily housing, ensuing class segregation as well.190-191
Local real estate agents adopted the ideology that racial and economic homogeneity were necessary to maintain neighborhood property values and stability. As a result, they directed clients only to neighborhoods that matched their racial and economic background. This was an industry practice known as “steering.” The National Association of Real Estate Boards Code of Ethics was explicit about the role of real estate agents in maintaining segregation, stating that: “A realtor should never be instrumental in introducing in a neighborhood…members of any race or nationality…whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in the neighborhood.” This industry guidance remained in effect until 1950. 191-193
Although Black people represented a steady third of the population in Durham between 1900-1950, Black Durhamites had no elected political representation in local city government until the late 1950s. This lack of representation contributed to racial discrimination in the distribution of public amenities and nuisances. For example, white neighborhoods had far more amenities like public parks and received public infrastructure such as water, sewer, and paved roads much earlier than Black neighborhoods. Public nuisances like trash incinerators (used to burn the city’s trash before the use of landfills) were all located in Black neighborhoods. This impacted the quality of life, property values, and incentives for investment in Black neighborhoods.194
Local patterns of discrimination were institutionalized on a national scale as the federal government created a host of new housing programs in the mid-20th century. It began during the Great Depression in the 1930s, when the federal government assessed that growing homeownership opportunities was one of the best ways to expand the middle class and help stabilize the economy. To prepare the government to enter the housing industry, federal agents from the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) were dispatched to 228 cities across the country, including Durham, to work with local real estate agents on ‘neighborhood securities maps.’ These maps used a color-coded system to rate neighborhoods according to levels of risk for lending. Green areas were considered the most stable, then blue, yellow, and the areas deemed unsuitable for lending were colored red- which is the origins of the term “redlining.” In Durham, and in every city the country, the redlined areas were home to people of color and the poorest white neighborhoods. The reasoning deployed in the ratings was explicitly racially discriminatory. Black neighborhoods, mixed-race neighborhoods, and those at threat of ‘invasion’ were all redlined. The area descriptions for each map also noted the local presence, or lack thereof, of public amenities and the quality of housing.195-196
The HOLC securities maps served as a model for both private and public lenders from the 1930s onward. On the private side, HOLC maps were widely distributed amongst banks, where they were used to inform lending decisions and as a template for locally generated discriminatory securities maps. On the public side, the HOLC rating system shaped the lending practices of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), created in the Housing Act of 1937, and a major new housing program from Veterans Administration, authorized by the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944. These two programs completely reshaped the residential housing market in the United States. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill, made mortgages available to millions of WWII veterans with little to no down payment and very low interest terms because the loan was insured by the government. The majority of these homes were located in the new suburban developments occurring across the country, which were also largely financed through the federal government. However, with discriminatory lending guidelines and restrictive covenants against potential Black buyers, these homeownership pathways largely excluded the one million plus Black World War II veterans. Moreover, the GI Bill did not issue home loans on the reservations of Native Peoples, which excluded many Native veterans from homeownership opportunities. The same patterns of discrimination were true of the FHA. Between 1935 and 1968, less than two percent of federally insured home loans were for Black people. As a result of these policies, people of color were systematically denied the same crucial opportunity to build wealth and stability through homeownership as white people.197-200
All of these layers of housing discrimination occurred during the Jim Crow era, where one of the most entrenched racial taboos was the prohibition on interracial dining. Although most white people in Durham regularly ate and celebrated food prepared by Black cooks and chefs, “eating with Negroes…means to most white Durhamites ‘social equality,’ which they contend must not be permitted.” Although most Jim Crow laws were passed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Durham adopted an official city ordinance banning interracial dining in 1947. The impetus for this ordinance is unknown. However, as Black soldiers returned from fighting abroad for their country in World War II, many felt emboldened to defy Jim Crow customs at home. This dynamic may have prompted new segregation laws.200-201