The FWD: Black Leaders in Housing

Photo credits, left to right: Roger Smith – Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; CalHFA; U.S. HUD; Grassroots Economic Organizing; Lisa Rice, LinkedIn; Bon Secours; Getty Images; LISC; Library of Congress; Library of Congress

The FWD #144 • 836 Words

Honoring the Black trailblazers who have shaped the world of housing

HousingForward Virginia is proud to celebrate Black History Month. This is a month to acknowledge and reflect upon the richness, accomplishments, and achievements of Black people throughout the history of the nation. We want to honor the resilience, innovation, and work that Black people have contributed to our shared national culture and experience. We invite you to learn about just a few of the many Black trailblazers and leaders in the housing world—local and national.

“I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.”

Morgan Freeman

Hilyard Robinson (1899-1986) was one of the most successful Black architects in Washington, D.C. during the 20th century. He helped to address the housing needs of Black people—both poor and affluent—and became a renowned designer in public housing. He is widely known for his Langston Terrace Dwelling housing project located in Washington, DC and the airbase for the famed Tuskegee Airmen. Read more 

Robert C. Weaver (1907-1997) was the first Black person to be appointed to a U.S. government cabinet-level position. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Weaver to be the first Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As HUD Secretary, he expanded affordable housing programs and advocated for the passage of the Fair Housing Act. Read more 

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972) was a pastor and activist who served 12 terms in the House of Representatives for the state of New York and the first Black person to be elected from New York to Congress. Powell had a confrontational approach to racial discrimination and fought for underserved communities. Powell’s work in housing revolved around his support for affordable housing and rent payments. Read more 

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was a civil rights advocate and the nation’s first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Marshall argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the McGhee family in McGhee v. Sipes, the companion case to Shelley v. Kraemer. These landmark cases ruled that state enforcement of racially restrictive covenants violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment helped to undo the generations of residential segregation, and evidenced a tangible shift in race relations in the country. Read more

Senator Edward Brooke (1919-2015) was the first Black person elected to the U.S. Senate by popular vote in 1966, representing Massachusetts. Brooke was an important champion of civil rights and fair housing policies. He helped to cap the percentage of income that a resident would pay in public housing which became the building block for all federal housing programs since. Read more  

In 1977, Patricia Roberts Harris (1924-1985) was sworn in as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—becoming the first Black woman to hold a cabinet position. During her time at HUD, Secretary Harris launched a Neighborhood Strategy Program and fought to ensure critically needed resources were targeted to blighted neighborhoods, improving housing conditions and stimulating business activity in urban America. Read more 

Alma Barlow (1993) was the founder and leader of the Richmond Tenants Association and an outspoken advocate for the rights of public housing tenants. She rose to prominence as the head of the tenants association and became an exceptionally influential and respected advocate for the rights of underserved communities. Read more 

Vernard “Vern” Henley (1929-2014) became the first Black elected president of the Virginia Bankers Association in 1994. Henley supported numerous housing related organizations throughout the Richmond community for decades and has a grant named in his honor at Vibrant Communities Drive Change (VCDC) where he was a long time board member and chairman. Read more

Lisa Rice serves as the President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA). Rice has played a major role in advancing fair housing principles and to preserve and broaden fair housing protections such as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act  and by establishing the Office of Fair Lending within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Read more 

Charles and Shirley Sherrod helped pioneer the land trust movement in the U.S., co-founding New Communities Land Trust, a collective farm in Southwest Georgia that was created as a safe haven for Black farmers during the civil rights movement. Read more 

Tia Boatman Patterson is the Executive Director of the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA). Through her partnerships and collaborative efforts, she has helped make affordable housing more accessible and decreasing California’s homelessness rate. Read more

Maurice Jones served as Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from April 2012 through January 2014 and as Secretary of Commerce and Trade of Virginia in January 2014. He now serves as the President and CEO of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), one of the country’s largest organizations supporting projects to revitalize communities and catalyze economic opportunity for residents. Jones will step down from this position in March 2021 to pursue ventures focused on career pathways for Black Americans. Read more

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