National Fair Housing Month in April increases efforts to end housing discrimination and raises awareness of fair housing rights. The month also remembers the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 and his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. The Fair Housing Act also celebrates its anniversary during April.
In 2018, the Fair Housing Act celebrated its 50th anniversary. Designed to protect Americans from discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on color, race, national origin and religion, the act later extended to sex, disability and family status.
From 1966-1967, Congress regularly considered the Fair Housing bill, but failed to garner a strong enough majority for its passage. However, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson utilized this national tragedy to urge for the bill’s speedy Congressional approval. Since the 1966 open housing marches in Chicago, Dr. King’s name had been closely associated with the Fair Housing legislation. President Johnson viewed the Act as a fitting memorial to the man’s life work, and wished to have the Act passed prior to Dr. King’s funeral in Atlanta.
Another significant issue during this time period was the growing casualty list from Vietnam. The deaths in Vietnam fell heavy upon young, poor African-American and Hispanic infantrymen. However, on the home front, these men’s families could not purchase or rent homes in certain residential developments on account of their race or national origin.
Specialized organizations like the NAACP, the GI Forum and the National Committee Against Discrimination In Housing lobbied hard for the Senate to pass the Fair Housing Act and remedy this inequity. Senators Edward Brooke and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts argued deeply for the passage of this legislation. Senator Brooke , the first African-American ever to be elected to the Senate by popular vote, spoke personally of his return from World War II and inability to provide a home of his choice for his new family because of his race.
Legally, the Act was a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 1968 act expanded on previous acts and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, (and as amended) handicap and family status. Title VIII of the Act is also known as the Fair Housing Act (of 1968).
The Act could never have been passed without both the strong leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson and the creation of bi-partisan support in the Senate. The Majority Whip Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minnesota) and the Minority Leader Senator Everett McK. Dirksen (R-Illinois) were instrumental in forging a compromise that led to passage.
To aid community development and enforce the Fair Housing Law, the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was created. The department was established on September 9, 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Department of Housing and Urban Development Act into law. It stipulated that the department was to be created no later than November 8, sixty days following the date of enactment. The actual implementation was postponed until January 13, 1966, following the completion of a special study group report on the federal role in solving urban problems. President Nixon tapped then Governor of Michigan, George Romney, for the post of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. While serving as Governor, Secretary Romney had successfully campaigned for ratification of a state constitutional provision that prohibited discrimination in housing. President Nixon also appointed Samuel Simmons as the first Assistant Secretary for Equal Housing Opportunity.
Fair Housing laws now are enforced by a combination of federal, state, local, nonprofit agencies and organizations, and the tradition of celebrating Fair Housing Month has grown larger and larger.