Race, Housing, and the Federal Government: Black Lives on the Margins of the American Dream


As historians have increasingly explored the complex historical relationship between race, class, and institutions such as the federal government in shaping contemporary American society, historical sources such as the Federal Housing Association’s Underwriting Manual (1938) provide provocative opportunities for teaching. Brief excerpts from the Manual are a small window through which to examine the underappreciated role of the U.S. federal government in creating and sustaining a racialized version of the American Dream. The result is an opportunity to equip students, as citizens, with the historical thinking skills and sources to examine the enduring historical arc of racial injustice and resistance in the United States that serves as the foundation for the Black Lives Matter movement.



Margaret Bourke-White, “Louisville Flood,” 1937, http://collection.whitney.org/object/8061.

Ta-Neshi Coates, “The Case for Reparations: The Atlantic Monthly, June 2014, 55-71

Thomas J. Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (New York: Random House, 2008)

Federal Housing Administration, Underwriting Manual: Underwriting and Valuation Procedure Under Title II of the National Housing Act, Washington, D.C., February 1938 (available in the public domain via www.hathitrust.org)

David Freund, Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007): 141

Jacqueline Dowd Hall, “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” Journal of American History 91, no. 4 (March 2005): 1233-1263

Reading Like a Historian, Stanford History Education Group, https://sheg.stanford.edu/rlh

Richard Rothstein, “The Making of Ferguson: Public Policies at the Root of Its Troubles” Economic Policy Institute, October 15, 2014, http://www.epi.org/publication/making-ferguson/

Copyright (c) 2016 Richard Hughes