I’ve been pretty silent about commemorating Black History Month this year, but I aim to correct it with this groundbreaking documentary.
In the years following World War II, millions of Americans moved to the suburbs, thanks to lavish grants to building contractors, cheap loans from the GI Bill, and a Fair Housing law that forced down property values in urban areas if minorities were living there. The result was the all-white suburbs seen in TV sitcoms throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
These places were clean, manicured, happy–and almost exclusively white, even by design.
Though there was no law barring blacks from living in the suburbs, their entrance would often cause harrassment and unrest, mostly due to fears that minority ownership would decrease property values. In fact, the Federal Housing Authority‘s manual explicitly redlined–or devalued–minority families in suburban areas until 1966.
In August, 1957, the Myers family, a middle-class Black family no different than other suburban families, moved into Levittown, Pennsylvania, a suburban planned development located outside Philadelphia. Levitt and Sons designed the first Levittown on Long Island in 1952: the Pennsylvania project would be the second of many. They were designed with an unwritten proviso that it would remain completely white.
The Myers would endure harassment, threats, snubs and worse, simply due to fear and prejudice. A similar pattern happened in “Levittowns” across America. In 1963, it was Levittown, NY‘s turn to integrate, with the same painful results.
The film attached is the 1957 documentary about the Levittown affair, Crisis in Levittown, PA. It shows the citizens of Levittown in its showdown with their black neighbors–a showdown that required intervention by state authorities. The Myers became a symbol of resistence in the civil rights movement–Daisy Parks was even hailed as the “Rosa Parks of the North.”
This film is a great way to show that the way “up” was often not open to many people, for reasons both official and unofficial.