OCTOBER 20, 1958
NEW LONDON, Conn.—I am sure that every New Yorker was shocked the other day to read that Harry Belafonte and his charming wife and baby were finding it practically impossible to get an apartment in New York City except in what might be considered segregated areas or in a hotel. I have long been saying that in the North we have only one step to take to meet the Supreme Court order of non-segregation in schools, and that is non-segregation in housing. In New York State we have the laws necessary to achieve non-segregated housing if we saw that they were diligently respected.
There was a time when prohibitions against various racial groups were more prevalent than today. For instance, Jewish groups were much more concentrated in specific areas than they are now; and the same kind of thing was true of the Italians, the Irish or the Germans. Gradually these barriers have broken down, until it now remains for us to see that the barriers against our Puerto Rican and colored population also disappear.
There are beginnings to encourage us. The Committee on Civil Rights in Manhattan, for example, has issued a pamphlet on housing co-ops which may be the answer for a number of people. Some private builders who are planning and constructing co-op apartments are particularly interested in seeing that there is no discrimination in any project where they have invested their money. These cooperatives, of course, vary in price and location; some are in the suburbs, others can be found in the city. Many of them, however, are not in areas conveniently located for individuals of special interests. Therefore it is important that we press for the general freeing from restrictions of all New York City property.
Real estate people often frighten themselves and their clients by saying that property taken over by a Negro family forces the whole area quickly to become a Negro area and that property values go down. This, of course, depends upon the white people in the area. If they move out from places because of prejudice or fear, the character of the neighborhood inevitably will change and the value of the property may decrease. But if they learn to live with their neighbors without discrimination of any kind, they will soon find that their neighborhoods become simply mixed neighborhoods—neither all-white, nor all-Negro, nor all-Jewish, nor all-Italian. We are a mixture of races in New York City, and every neighborhood should in normal course become a mixed neighborhood.
I can think of nothing I would enjoy more than having Mr. and Mrs. Belafonte as my neighbors. I hope they will find a home shortly where they and their enchanting little boy can grow up without feeling the evils of the segregation pattern. Discrimination does something intangible and harmful to the souls of both white and colored people.