"Without The Least Provision": Black and Desegregationist Resistance to Systemic Racial Discrimination in Private and Public Housing in Trenton, New Jersey, 1938-1965

E. Rosie Driscoll

Abstract


Most historical scholarship on race and housing in the 20th-century United States examines public housing and private housing separately or focuses on large metropoles. This study seeks to understand the relationship between public and private housing discrimination, segregated residential patterns, and desegregationist advocacy in mid-20th Century Trenton, New Jersey. To do so, it utilizes archived documents of local civil rights organizations, correspondence between activist groups and local public officials, and local newspaper articles along with secondary literature on race and housing. This thesis argues that the introduction of federal public housing programs in the 1930s, intended to increase quality housing access, allowed Trenton’s government officials to place black residents in segregated projects, thereby reinforcing existing segregated residential patterns. Simultaneously, financial institutions and realtors infringed upon black Trentonians’ agency in the private market through discriminatory lending and realty practices that discouraged integration. City leaders’ segregationist attitudes furthered systemic racial discrimination, confining black Trentonians of all socio-economic classes to poor quality, overcrowded housing. Black and segregationist activists resisted segregationist practices by asserting their right to fair representation as taxpayers through letters, community meetings, and public demonstrations. By the 1960s, they gained an ally in Trenton’s mayor, but the mass exodus of white Trentonians in the postwar period prevented integration efforts from coming to full fruition. These findings suggest that racial discrimination in private and public markets coalesced to systemically limit black families’ ability to access decent and sufficient housing conditions throughout the country.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14713/njs.v5i1.154

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