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Political imagery and reality

By Joseph L. Bass

Is it possible for politicians to seriously harm a group while convincing them they are helping? Skillful politicians do this, often with the help of the mainstream media. Consider popular views of race relations during President Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency.

Any documentary produced by the mainstream media will include two segments dealing with FDR’s relationships with black Americans. One will be his wife, Eleanor, flying in a plane piloted by a Tuskegee airman. The other will show lines of black Americans weeping during Roosevelt’s funeral procession.

But is this the whole story? Did FDR’s administration improve the economic, political wellbeing of black Americans or did it degrade it?

Bu there is another aspect of the New Deal that often goes unreported. The federally created Homeowners Loan Corporation, in collaboration with banks, created what is known as “red-lining.”

It is well known that to create employment and personal income New Deal programs built roads from inner cities. They also built homes on what had been farm land, creating suburbs. “White flight” is a term used to explain how these suburbs became white suburbs. But is this the whole story?

Red-lining was used to get white families to move into the suburbs and concentrate black families in what had been integrated neighborhoods. For example, before the New Deal, Brooklyn had been the least segregated area of the city. By 1950, through red-lining, it was the most segregated.

Red-lining was used to segregate all major American cities, beginning during the New Deal, and this banking and loan policy continued until recent years.

How did the New Deal red-lining program work in New York? First federal government employees and later state employees canvased neighborhoods identifying specific addresses of black families. A red line was drawn around any neighborhood with one black family living in it.

Standards for making home loans within red-line neighborhoods were different from standards outside of red-line neighborhoods. First, the property value of neighborhoods within red lines dropped, encouraging white people to move.

Banks would make home loans to black Americans only within the red lines. Banks would make home loans to white families only outside the red lines. Of course, all the new suburbs were outside the red lines.

Other bigoted New Deal practices had negative impact on black Americans. Because of limited educational opportunities for blacks and segregationist employment practices, the best job opportunities were reserved for white workers.

Neighborhood development projects were almost exclusively built outside red line neighborhoods. For example, New York city built 250 neighborhood parks during the Depression, but only two were built in black neighborhoods.

How different is this information of the Franklin Roosevelt presidency and his New Deal in comparison to the information usually promoted by the mainstream media?

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety1@aol.com.