Why Reparations?

The Importance of Reparations in Asheville

See that big red area in the middle of the map? The one that looks like a heart with a big hunk ripped out? That was Black Asheville in 1937, when the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) made such maps to show degrees of loan worthiness as part of FDR’s efforts to prevent further home foreclosures during the Great Depression. Homeowners in desirable areas could refinance at much lower interest rates and for longer terms.

This was just one of many government policies that systematically deprived Black Americans of opportunities to amass and pass on wealth. It is this state-sanctioned theft over decades that underlies the call for reparations.

The HOLC deemed that breaking heart “hazardous,” and would not refinance its homeowners’ loans. The green areas at the farthest edges of the map were most desirable, and the HOLC notes mentioned the absence of “Negro” inhabitants there, as well as the majority Black population in the red areas. Stuck with their higher interest rates, many Black Ashevillians lost their homes. Entire communities disappeared in the guise of “urban renewal.” (For more, see “Reparations Are Due” from the Racial Justice Coalition and “Uprooted: Urban Renewal in Asheville” in Mountain Xpress.)

Federally Sponsored Racism in Social Security & the GI Bill

That’s not all. On a national level, the newborn Federal Housing Administration subsidized the building of subdivisions full of new homes — on condition that none of them be sold to African Americans. The GI Bill’s education and mortgage benefits for vets returning from WWII didn’t help Black soldiers who faced redlined neighborhoods, discrimination at local banks, racism in university admissions, and sheer lack of capacity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Even Social Security, linchpin of FDR’s New Deal, contained implicitly racist provisions demanded by Southern politicians. During Congressional hearings in 1935, the NAACP testified that the proposed exemption of domestic and agricultural workers would disproportionately affect African Americans. The Social Security Act passed anyway, leaving 65% of Black workers ineligible for benefits. (Source: “How the GI Bill’s Promise was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans” from History.com and “Viewing Social Security Through the Civil Rights Lens” in The Crisis from NAACP.org.)