Detroit is not the only American city to face persistent residential segregation, but it is among the worst: it has ranked among the 10 most segregated metropolitan areas in the United States since the mid-20th century. As Detroit's black population skyrocketed during the Great Migration from the South, the cities whites fought what they called the Negro invasion with every tool at their disposal. From 1945 to 1965 whites attacked at least 250 black families usually the first or second to move into all-white neighborhoods breaking windows, burning crosses and vandalizing homes. When white Detroiters could not win by fighting, they fled to the suburbs. Indeed, for a half-century beginning in the 1950s, Detroit lost nearly half of its population, almost all whites. Those who left the city cited various reasons: desire for a little green space, new housing, better schools, freedom from crime. Few of them acknowledged the racial motive behind white flight, that words like freedom from crime were code for moving away from blacks. In fact, many believed that Detroit's pattern of racial segregation was simply a matter of market forces. Or they attributed the whiteness of the suburbs to black racial inferiority: blacks, they said, did not have the discipline to own homes. Still others assumed that blacks didn't move to the suburbs because they couldn't afford it. But those explanations were just convenient myths. Blacks and whites alike wanted to own their own homes and gardens, find better schools for their children and live on safe streets. But unlike whites, blacks did not have the freedom to move where they pleased. Detroit had many all-white suburbs with affordable housing, but qualified black homeowners could not get mortgages to move there. Whites, meanwhile, benefited from enormous homeownership subsidies through the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration; blacks did not, at least until the late 1960s, when local, state and federal laws that forbade housing discrimination were passed.The private sector played its part, too: loans and mortgages to minorities or for houses in racially mixed or black neighborhoods were deemed actuarially unsound, too risky an investment for lenders and builders. Even after the anti discrimination laws of the late 1960s, real estate brokers surreptitiously maintained the color line in housing through steering, in which they directed whites to white neighborhoods and blacks to minority communities or places undergoing racial transition.


Source: Thomas J. Sugrue, a professor of history and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, Author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit.