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Historical Amnesia

Have we forgotten what is almost too painful to remember? It's been Fifty Years since Dr. King came to Chicago to focus the attention of the nation on equality in housing and ending racial segregation. To make his point, Dr. King's staff conducted multiple tests of real estate offices in white Chicago neighborhoods with shocking, but not surprising, results.

Soon after, Dr. King marched in those same Chicago neighborhoods where real estate testing was conducted. His courage and those who marched with him, was met with cowardice and contempt. His peacefulness was met with unmatched vitriol and violence. Dr. King and all the marchers walked with discipline and dignity in a way that summoned the conscience of America. In so doing, he elevated the issues of open housing and ending segregation to equal stature with all of the other Civil Rights issues of his day. Unfortunately, Open Housing, now Fair Housing, remains the most elusive of all Civil Rights issues.

So what do we do now?

First: Step-up the struggle against those who perpetuate and maintain segregation. In segregation-created neighborhoods, hopelessness walks the streets, instead of children. Segregation produces broken neighborhoods where there are few opportunities to work, shop, learn, or play safely, where peoples' lives and homes are under water. We need to find ways to breathe life back into America's dying neighborhoods, to help families whose lives, because of the crippling disease of segregation are caught in a downward spiral of despair.

Second: We must prevail against those forces which promote only inaccessible housing or create unacceptable delays for reasonable accommodations that make health and neighborhood services out of reach.

Third: Remember that when we and our clients bravely stand up against injustice we are riding on the same bus as Rosa Parks, walking over the same bridge as John Lewis or marching on the same streets of Chicago as Dr. King.

Fourth: Most municipal and county governments and housing authorities have ignored their responsibility of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. The free lunch of neglect and defiant disregard of the law is over.

Fifth: Remembering Civil Rights history, demonstrate with dignity, discipline and courage to accomplish the elusive goals of justice and equality but make sure the world can tell the difference between those who seek justice and those intent on destroying it. Anyone who tries to diminish the work, scope and impact of the fair housing law and those who enforce it, is forgetful of the past, blind to the housing inequities of the present, deaf to the cries of the broken and steals the gift of hope from the future. Together, let us heal wounds, soften pain and give those hurt by discrimination reason to hope.

Bernard Kleina