The Civil Rights Act of 1968, commonly called the Fair Housing Act, which outlawed discrimination in the sale, rental, financing and advertising of housing based on race, color, religion, sex (1974), national origin, disability (1988) or family configuration (1988), was signed by President Lyndon Johnson on this date in 1968, one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Jewish organizations, notably the American Jewish Congress and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, took an early leadership role in the campaign for this law, and in every state “there is evidence of some major contribution from Jewish groups,” according to analyst Duane Lockard, including “money to finance campaigns, staff to coordinate and direct activities, lobbying and intralegislative assistance, substantial legal advice and assistance in the drafting and in the defense of civil rights laws.” Anti-Semitic discrimination in housing had peaked and begun to fade in the 1940s and early 1950s — and Jewish housing developers such as William Levitt (Levittown) had actively practiced racist discrimination in building the American suburbs — yet Jewish support for the legislation, within Congress and through the civil rights movement, was solid and critical. Passage of the bill was also strongly influenced by the March 1, 1968 publication of the Kerner Commission report on “race riots” during the 1960s, which pointed to housing segregation as moving America “toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” The legislation gave no strong tools of enforcement, however, and has sadly failed to produce racially integrated neighborhoods throughout the country.
“Integration has certainly not hurt us . . . (but) any homebuilder who chooses to operate on an open occupancy basis, where it is not customary or required by law, runs the grave risk of losing business to his competitor who chooses to discriminate.” —William Levitt