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The Housing Opportunities Commission is proud to celebrate Black History Month. This national month of recognition allows us to reflect on the richness and depth of achievements made by African Americans throughout history. We aim to honor the strength, resilience and creativity that are central to the culture and experience of Black people in the U.S. As a salute to the pioneering spirit of the African American community, we invite you to read below about notable trailblazers who have made important contributions to housing.

“During this Black History Month, and for many to come, we must never forget the dream—and fight for a new inheritance, one woven not of exclusion but instead of that universal human spirit that calls us each home.” – Dr. Raphael Bostic

 

Leatrice McKissack

McKissack Leatrice wm

 

Leatrice B. McKissack assumed the management of the family-owned 216 unit College Hill Apartments in 1979. In 1983, after her husband suffered a stroke, she became the CEO of both McKissack & McKissack and McKissack Contracting Company. In 1984, McKissack sued the City of Nashville for racial discrimination and merged her firm with Thompson-Miller, becoming McKissack & McKissack & Thompson. In 1987, she was awarded the design contract for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. That same year, McKissack landed a $50 million contract from Howard University and won the National Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award. In 1991, she formed McKissack Development Corporation to meet the need of affordable housing across the country. In 1993, McKissack won the firm’s first contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority. She recruited her three daughters, all professional engineers, back to the firm and expanded offices to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago.

Beverly Lorraine Greene

Beverly Loraine Greene

 

Beverly Loraine Greene was an American architect. She was believed to have been the first African-American female licensed as an architect in the United States. She received her license to practice architecture in 1942 in the state of Illinois. Her first job was with the Chicago Housing Authority where she worked for the first architectural office led by an African American in downtown Chicago.  Despite her credentials, she found it difficult to surmount race barriers to find work in the city. She and other black architects were routinely ignored by the mainstream Chicago press.  In 1945, Greene left Chicago to move to New York City after being hired by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to help design the Stuyvesant Housing project located in Brooklyn, NY. After only a few days, she quit the project to accept a scholarship for the master's degree program at Columbia University.  She obtained the degree in architecture in 1945 and took a job with the firm of Isadore Rosefield.

Robert C Weaver

Robert C. Weaver

 

Robert C. Weaver was the first African American to be appointed to a U.S. government cabinet-level position. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Weaver to be the first Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As HUD Secretary, Weaver expanded affordable housing programs. In 1968, he advocated for the passage of the Fair Housing Act – which prohibited discrimination against any person in the terms, conditions or privileges of the sale or rental of a dwelling – or in the provision of services or facilities in connection, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status or national origin. Prior to his appointment at HUD, Weaver held key positions related to housing in several other administrations, including those of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. During the Roosevelt administration, he was one of 45 prominent African Americans appointed to positions that helped make up Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet” – an informal group of African American public policy advisers. Weaver directed federal programs during the administration of the New Deal, at the same time completing his doctorate in economics in 1934 at Harvard University.

 

Senator Edward Brooke

Senator Edward Brooke


Senator Edward Brooke
was the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate by popular vote in 1966. He represented Massachusetts in the Senate from 1967 to 1979. Brooke was an important champion of civil rights and fair housing policies--sponsoring, with Senator Walter Mondale, the 1968 federal Fair Housing Act. In his testimony supporting the Act, Senator Brooke cited his difficulties finding a home after he returned from service in World War II to illustrate the racial prejudice in the American housing market. Senator Brooke remained a leading advocate for affordable housing during his time in the Senate, supporting key provisions of the 1974 Housing and Community Development Act. In 2004, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, and in 2009 he was awarded the highest honor Congress can bestow, the Congressional Gold Medal, for his contributions to civil rights and fair housing.

 

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall

 

Thurgood Marshall (1st Thurgood Marshall (1908 – 1993) was a civil rights advocate and the nation’s first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Between 1934 and 1961, Marshall traveled as an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), representing all manner of clients whenever a case involved questions of racial justice. He argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court, prevailing in 29 of them. Marshall argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the McGhee family in McGhee v. Sipes, the companion case to Shelley v. Kraemer. The landmark decision ruled that state enforcement of racially restrictive covenants violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The decision in Shelley v. Kraemer initiated the formal undoing of generations of residential segregation, and evidenced a tangible shift in race relations in the country. Furthermore, it laid the groundwork for a legal strategy toward ending segregation that both activists and courts came to employ in the decades following the Second World War.

Beyond Shelley, Thurgood Marshall made some of the most meaningful contributions to our nation’s jurisprudence on civil rights law as both an attorney—arguing the historic Brown v. Board of Education case—and U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

William Warley

Buchanan v. Warley

 

William Warley was a civil rights activist and editor of the Louisville News, which he founded in 1913, using the paper to speak out against segregated street cars and school inequality. In 1917, Warley was also president of the NAACP Louisville, KY Chapter. In 1915, he entered into a contract to purchase property in a predominantly white area of Louisville from Charles H. Buchanan. When a Louisville ordinance blocked the sale to Warley, Buchanan sued arguing the ordinance enforcing state-sponsored racial segregation was unconstitutional. In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that racial zoning laws were a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment--affirming that the state could not deprive any person of their property or limit their ability to  dispose of their property without due process of law. The decision in Buchanan v. Warley was considered a crucial fist step toward ending racial discrimination in housing in the U.S.