A Cornerstone of Civil Rights
By Rachel Wentworth
and Ben Hover
As Lansdowne celebrates its 125th Anniversary this year, we should all celebrate another important anniversary in Lansdowne history. On April 11, 2018 civil rights and housing advocates across the nation will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act. Passed shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Act of 1968 enshrined in Federal Law a means to ameliorate the decades of redlining, racial steering, and racial discrimination in the purchase and renting of properties.
For residents of Lansdowne, the passage of the act signified the next step in fighting racial discrimination in Lansdowne. Before the legislation was passed, civil rights activists in Lansdowne, Upper Darby, Yeadon, and other communities in Eastern Delaware County banded together to fight the discriminatory practices used by realtors, banks, and unfortunately some of their neighbors.
In 1956, before fair housing legislation existed at either the state or federal level, a handful of residents of eastern Delaware County worked toward building a grassroots coalition of individuals to support racial integration in their communities. Originally titled the Southeast Delaware County Area Committee of Friends Suburban Housing, the group based in Lansdowne soon changed their name to The Committee for Democracy in Housing of Lansdowne and Vicinity in 1957.
The initial goal of this group of neighbors was to provide non-financial encouragement and support to Black families seeking to buy homes in the area, and to white sellers who suffered reprisal because of their commitment to open housing. At the time, Bryn Mawr civil rights activist and real estate broker Margaret Collins had founded a real estate firm named Friends Suburban Housing, Inc. to help Blacks gain nondiscriminatory access to housing in the suburban communities outside of Philadelphia.
The Committee for Democracy in Housing of Lansdowne and Vicinity helped to strengthen Collins’ efforts and to build local support for fair housing laws through newspaper ads, picketing properties, and providing physical escorts to Black families. The Committee also actively lobbied for state and federal fair housing legislation, writing to their legislators, speaking out to the community, publishing public service announcements in local newspapers, writing letters to the editor, and even appealing directly to President Lyndon Johnson. They not only spoke out publically against discrimination, but also urged their friends and neighbors to welcome African Americans into their communities and to embrace integration. These progressive individuals literally stood by their new neighbors to assure that they felt safe and welcome in the neighborhood. Members of the Committee physically accompanied the first Black families moving into Delaware County, putting their personal safety at risk by staying in new residents’ homes to offer protection in case they were met with violent opposition by white neighbors.
Mrs. Cary Isard, a founding member of the Committee wrote following an incident in Folcroft in 1963 where three days of rioting by Whites destroyed the property of an African-American family, “In all probability, another episode of such magnitude will be avoided through more effective police action. But the underlying causes-the fears and prejudices which make any such action necessary in the first place, can only be removed by bold creative programs and courageous leadership.” Although the changing of attitudes towards racial integration have faced setbacks in Lansdowne-including a Federal Lawsuit against the Lansdowne Swim Club that was resolved in 1989 – our community is proud to be at the center of racial integration and working towards the goals of complete racial equality.
Currently, the organization founded by many Lansdowne residents continues to enforce the Fair Housing Act of 1968 under the current name of Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania. As the oldest fair housing council in the nation, the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania is especially proud to celebrate 50 years of federal fair housing law and will also be commemorating the agency’s 62nd year of promoting freedom of housing in the region. In the years since its founding, the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania has had the satisfaction of seeing its goals for fair housing legislation come to fruition and has worked ever since to help ensure the rights provided by this vital civil rights law are upheld.
If you are anybody you know has faced discrimination in lending, purchasing a home, or in renting a property, learn about your rights by contacting the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania.
Or, if you are a housing provider and would like to learn more about maintaining compliance under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, please reach out the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania.
Rachel Wentworth is the Executive Director of the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania.
For more Information: http://www.equalhousing.org/
P.O. Box 558
Fort Washington, PA 19034