In America we judge by American standards, and by this yardstick we find that the black man lives in incredibly inadequate housing, shabby shelters that are dangerous to mental and physical health and to life itself. It has been estimated that 20 million black people put $15 billion into rents, mortgage payments, and housing expenses every year. But because his choice is largely limited to the ghettos, and because the black population is increasing at a rate which is 150 percent over that of the increase in the white population, the shelter shortage for the black person is not only acute and perennial, but getting increasingly tighter. Black people are automatically forced to pay top dollar for whatever they get, even a 6-by-6 cold-water flat.
Urban renewal and highway clearance programs have forced black people more and more into congested pockets of the inner city. Since suburban zoning laws have kept out low-income housing, and the federal government has failed to pass open-occupancy laws, black people are forced to stay in the deteriorating ghettos. Thus crowding increases, and slum conditions worsen …
Here we begin to understand the pervasive cyclic implications of institutional racism. Barred from most housing, black people are forced to live in segregated neighborhoods, and with this comes de facto segregated schooling, which means poor education, which leads in turn to ill-paying jobs … These are the conditions which create dynamite in the ghettos.
Read “Dynamite,” from the October 1967 Atlantic.
Where Ghetto Schools Fail
by Jonathan Kozol, October 1967
Jonathan Kozol was a fourth-grade teacher in Roxbury, a predominantly black neighbor-hood of Boston, before he became the best-selling author of Death at an Early Age, an indictment of inner-city education. He was fired for teaching the poetry of Langston Hughes. In an excerpt from his book, published in The Atlantic, he describes his school’s “unspoken assumption” that it was shameful to be black.
When my class had progressed to the cotton chapter in our geography book, I decided to alter the scheduled reading. Since I was required to make use of the textbook, and since its use, I believed, was certain to be damaging, I decided to supply the class with extra material in the form of a mimeographed sheet. I did not propose to tell the children any tales about lynchings, beatings, or the Ku Klux Klan. I merely wanted to add to the study of cotton-growing some information about the connection between the discovery of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin and the great growth of slavery.
I had to submit this material to my immediate superior in the school … Looking over the page, she agreed with me immediately that it was accurate. Nobody, she said, was going to quibble with the idea that cotton, the cotton gin, and slavery were all intertwined. But it was the question of the “advisability of any mention of slavery to the children at this time,” which, she said, she was presently turning over in her mind. “Would it,” she asked me frankly, “truly serve the advantage of the children at this stage to confuse and complicate the study of simple geography with socio-economic factors?” Why expose the children, she was asking essentially, to unpleasant facts about their heritage?