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VNV Tuesday – A Tale of Two “Cities”: Concord Park, Trevose, PA 5/8/18

Morris Milgram was a dreamer and an activist first, a homebuilder second.

An ardent antifascist and peace activist, member of the Student League for Industrial Democracy and Student Strike Agains the War, Milgram was expelled from the City College of New York in 1934 after leading protest against a visiting delegation of fascist students. In the late 1930s, Milgram served as New Jersey executive secretary of the Workers’ Defense League… During World War II, …Milgram became the national secretary of the WDL. The WDL had a long record of supporting racial equality, which it saw as inseparable from “labor’s rights.” …Closely allied with CORE and the March on Washington Movement, Milgram advocated nonviolent civil disobedience. Source: Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North by Thomas Sugrue, p. 230-31

By 1947, with a wife and a young family, Milgram made the decision to take mainstream employment and started working for his father-in-law’s construction firm. Although he did not have a background in any area of construction (his degree, completed at Dana College, was in economics), he spent four years learning the ins-and-outs of marketing, tax codes, zoning laws, and construction finance, all while working with his father-in-law to build housing for whites-only in the Philadelphia suburbs. It was not a happy choice for him (“my conscience hurt”), but it was, according to his father-in-law/boss, the way things were done. After his father-in-law died in 1952, Milgram decided to pursue his dream of creating open housing, an interracial alternative to Levittown.

The dream was the easy part; the reality was far harder. Banks and investors had zero interest in supporting an integrated housing project; in his first year of trying to fund the project, he only raised $14,000. Fortunately, being in a Friends’ stronghold helped to save the project. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) introduced him to George Otto, a builder, Quaker, and the chair of the Philadelphia Friends Social Order Committee. Otto was interested in and sympathetic to Milgram’s dream, and they formed a corporation together, which enabled them to sell stock shares to friends and associates. Although the story of Concord Park will always be Morris Milgram’s story, the contribution of George Otto cannot be underestimated. He came from an old Quaker family and had connections throughout the Quaker community, particularly with Quakers as wealthy as himself. Between the two, with Milgram providing the moral argument, “Put your money where your heart is” and Otto providing the reassurance that this was a sound investment, $150,000 in venture capital was soon raised. A board of directors was formed, made up of six white and three black men, and with the initial capital two tracts of land were purchased: 50 acres in Trevose, PA (and only about 11 miles from Levittown), as well as a smaller plot of 9 acres in northeast Philly.

An article printed in a Fellowship of Reconciliation publication

Raising the initial capital was only the first battle; from there, Milgram had to ensure that mortgage financing was available. At this point, the project almost crashed and burned as more than 20 banks and financial institutions turned them down. For bankers, the conventional wisdom was that blacks lowered property values, so it made no sense to them to provide the financing. After much searching and with the corporation on the brink of ruin, one bank came through. A New York bank, with experience lending to African-Americans, agreed to finance some of the mortgages.

Milgram’s Concord Park homes were similar to those in Levittown, an intentional decision by Milgram, but because he lacked the economies of scale and the vertical integration of Levitt and Sons, they were slightly more expensive. Despite that, when his model home opened in 1954 (decorated by the same designer the Levitt’s used), 25,000 passed through in four months, 95% of whom were white. Milgram had marketed heavily to white communities (although not always mentioning that this would be open housing) and relied on word of mouth throughout black communities. However, when actual applications started coming in, Milgram was dumbfounded to discover that of the first 60 applicants, 50 were black. He had anticipated that securing the first sales to white families would be difficult, but he had not taken into account the pent-up demand for suburban housing for black families. “I woke up one night in a cold sweat and said to myself, ‘Morris, you s.o.b., you’re building a ghetto.'” (Sugrue, p. 233)

Morris Milgram, 1972; Concord Park brochure 1954

With the dream of integrated housing once again in danger, the board of directors for Concord Park were faced with a difficult decision. Did they set aside their initial goal and instead meet the demand of black buyers? Could they afford to wait for white buyers to move in? Finally, in 1955, the board made a difficult, controversial decision. They established a quota system, with 45% of the homes to be sold to black families and the remaining balance (55%) to white buyers. Milgram himself had suggested a 50/50 split, but one of the black board members, a former president of Florida A&M, suggested the 55/45 split to assuage white fears about losing the majority. By 1958, all of the 139 houses in Concord Park were built and sold; the ratio had been maintained.

For years, the dream played out just as Milgram had hoped. There was no violence as the Concord Park houses sold, and the development had social clubs; residents played bridge together; a babysitting cooperative was formed. It was 1950s suburbia in every imaginable way for the black and white residents. For a period of time, the ratio was maintained, in part because Milgram had owners sign an agreement which allowed the corporation to take responsibility for the resale. In 1968, the Fair Housing Act was law, and quotas became illegal; by the 1970s, cookie cutter tract housing, so necessary during the post-WWII housing shortage, lost their popularity, and white occupants of Concord Park started moving out…because they could. Although fair housing was by now the law of the land, housing discrimination still existed, but black buyers could still buy in Concord Park. So they did; the last, original white homeowners moved out in 2000, but Concord Park had become a majority-black development years before.

Next week: Was Concord Park a success or failure? And more Milgram…

Fighting Back: “Democrats will never stop fighting to ensure health care is a right for all.”

 
 

The Weekly Democratic Party Address was delivered by Congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts.

(Rep. Clark highlighted the one year anniversary of the House Republicans casting their votes for the monstrosity of Trumpcare which would have had devastating impacts on the American people.)

“Right after voting to take health care away from millions of Americans, Republicans boarded party buses in front of the Capitol and drove to the White House for a champagne toast.

“While they were celebrating, families across the country began to panic about how they would care for themselves and their loved ones.” […]

“The Trumpcare repeal bill would have caused soaring costs; pushed 23 million Americans off health coverage; shredded protections for those with pre-existing conditions; and imposed a crushing age tax on older Americans. This vote caused anxiety and fear. […]

“We know the security of the American family starts with the ability to access affordable, quality health care. No one should have to choose between the health of their family and their ability to put food on the table or make a mortgage payment.

“Democrats will never stop fighting to ensure health care is a right for all, not a privilege for a few.”

(CSPAN link to Weekly Democratic Address: here)

VNV Tuesday – A Tale of Two “Cities”: Levittown, PA 5/1/18

Levittown PA: Filling a need (as long as you were white)

Last week, I intended to write about two contrasting approaches to the extreme housing shortage that developed after the end of WWII, but as I started writing, it became obvious that the background about discriminatory housing practices needed to be explained and expanded first. With last week’s post in mind, this then is a snapshot of the development of Levittown, PA (never incorporated as a town, Levittown spans four different municipalities and three school districts). Next week, I’ll profile a second “city” which took a far different approach.

Fighting Back: “Republicans are trying to sabotage your health care.”

 
 

The Weekly Democratic Party Address was delivered by Senator Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire.

(“Republicans in Congress have tried repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They failed, but they’ve found other ways to weaken – and, frankly, to sabotage – the law.” -Sen Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH))

“The [actions of the administration] have destabilized the market. As a result, health insurers say they have no choice, in the weeks ahead, but to sharply increase premiums. This will have a devastating impact on consumers in the individual marketplace,”

“The sharp rise in health care premiums is a crisis that was manufactured in Washington, and Washington can fix it”

(CSPAN link to Weekly Democratic Address: here)

VNV Tuesday – Housing Segregation: An Overview (Part One) 4/24/18

Aerial view of Levittown, PA:  Built quickly using assembly-line techniques; affordable; and for whites only.

It is often assumed that segregation by race in cities and suburbs (particularly in the north) was and is a result of “natural” processes, even when those processes are the ugly expression of white fear. White flight to the suburbs, the logic goes, may be reprehensible, but it’s a predictable result when white people, guided by prejudice, felt their neighborhoods were in danger of being “taken over.” In reality, that does not accurately describe what happened in urban and suburban areas. The segregation of areas by race was more than a choice made by individuals; it was abetted and reinforced by private and public policies, laws, and regulations. (Note: The following post is, for the most part, about northern cities; southern cities may have followed similar patterns, but I haven’t researched southern cities enough to say that with any certainty.)

Fighting Back: “We will never stop fighting the GOP’s assault on our nation’s vital environmental protections”

 
 

House Democratic Party Leader Nancy Pelosi on Earth Day 2018:

Each Earth Day, people around the world join together to celebrate the beauty of God’s creation, and to reaffirm our responsibility to protect and preserve our environment for generations to come.

Amid rising temperatures, surging seas and record floods, fires and storms, Earth Day reminds us that bold, ambitious global leadership is needed now more than ever to combat the growing climate crisis. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration and Republican Congress have given special interests a free pass to push their dirty energy agenda. The Trump Administration’s culture of corruption, exemplified by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, has weakened critical environmental protections, enabling polluters to poison our communities and threaten the health and well-being of our families.

We will never stop fighting the GOP’s assault on our nation’s vital environmental protections or their disregard for the air our children breathe and the water they drink. Democrats will continue to join cities, states, entrepreneurs and the American people to develop innovative strategies that honor our responsibility to build a healthier, more sustainable world for our children and grandchildren.”

~

VNV Tuesday – We Need to Keep Bending That Arc; Lives Depend On It 4/17/18

H/t to Eric Foner, author of the book, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (all citations listed as “Foner” refer to this book) and current events for inspiring today’s post.

First, some history. The fugitive slave clause of the Constitution came about at the behest of the SC delegation:

On August 28 the convention considered the fugitives from justice clause. Butler and Charles Pinckney attempted to amend this provision “to require fugitive slaves and servants to be delivered up like criminals.” Roger Sherman sarcastically countered that he “saw no more propriety in the public seizing and surrendering a slave or servant, than a horse.” James Wilson objected that this would cost the free states money. Significantly, this opposition came from two delegates who usually sided with the South. Butler wisely “withdrew his proposition in order that some particular provision might be made apart from this article.”57… …Immediately after this vote [on a commerce-related issue], Butler reintroduced the fugitive slave clause. Without debate or recorded vote, it too passed. 61 The last bargain over slavery had been made. The northerners who had opposed the fugitive slave provision only a day before were now silent. Source: The Covenant with Death and How It Was Made, Part 2

Fighting Back: “Democrats are fighting back and we are going to defend Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.””

 
 

The Weekly Democratic Party Address was delivered by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

(Sen. Whitehouse talks about the Republican #TaxScam)
blurb

“The massive tax giveaway Republicans pushed through Congress and President Trump signed into law late last year turns Tax Day into payday for the most well off, delivering enormous giveaways to the wealthy and well-connected. Since the Republicans passed their tax bill, corporations have spent more than $235 billion buying back stock. That’s a staggering 37 times as much as they have spent on workers’ bonuses or wage increases.”

(CSPAN link to Weekly Democratic Address: here)

Fighting Back: John Lewis – “Speak up and speak out in the face of injustice”

 
 

The Weekly Democratic Party Address was delivered by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

(Congressman John Lewis of Georgia delivered the Weekly Democratic Address. In this week’s address, Lewis commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by reminding Americans to commit themselves to standing up in the face of injustice. )
Rep. Lewis:

“In the past 50 years, as a nation and as a people, we have made progress. But there are new forces trying to take us back, trying to turn back the clock, trying to take us to a darker time.

“Times like these can seem overwhelming, but I ask you to recommit yourself to the way of love, the way of peace, and the way of nonviolence.

“I ask you to look in your heart and to trust that justice will prevail.

“If Dr. King were with us today, he would continue to push our country to respect the dignity and the worth of every human being – no matter where they are born, no matter their race, age, religion, or gender identity.

“He would argue that we have a right to know what is in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.

“He would preach that we have a mission, an obligation, and a mandate to leave this country and this little planet a little cleaner, a little greener, and a little more peaceful for generations yet unborn.

“Most importantly, if Dr. King were alive, he would ask each of us to speak up, to speak out in the face of injustice, and he would demand that each and every one of us to do our part and do it well.

(CSPAN link to Weekly Democratic Address: here)

Fighting Back: “This march cannot be a moment. It must be a movement.”

 
 

The Weekly Democratic Party Address was delivered by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

(Senator Cory Booker (NJ) delivered the Democratic weekly address, talking about gun violence.)
TRIGGER WARNING: CSPAN included the end of the “president’s” weekly address with this clip.

Senator Booker

Gun owners and non-gunowners, Republican and Democrat, old and young, agree that there are common sense things that we can do to drive down gun violence in our country, including loopholes that allow people of ill will or criminals to obtain guns, whether it is domestic violence loopholes or background check loopholes that allow people who may even be suspected of being terrorists, to load up trucks full of weapons in our country. […]

We have work to do. This march cannot be a moment. It must be a movement. […]

This is a movement that should unite all Americans. It should not divide us. This is a movement that reflects our hallowed traditions, and it is a movement that I know is on the right side of history. Let us continue in our fight. Let us not be moved as we march in the right direction. Let us bring safety and security to our communities. Let us hail the truth of our nation. That we are a place that treasures life, that will preserve liberty, and that will find for every community, from Newark to Newtown, from Camden to Columbine, from Patterson to Parkland, that we are a nation in which every one of our communities is safe, strong, and resonates with the hope and promise of America.

(CSPAN link to Weekly Democratic Address: here)