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Power, Prose, and PurseLaw, Literature, and Economic Transformations$
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Alison LaCroix, Saul Levmore, and Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190873455

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190873455.001.0001

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Raisin, Race, and the Real Estate Revolution of the Early Twentieth Century

Raisin, Race, and the Real Estate Revolution of the Early Twentieth Century

(p.287) 12 Raisin, Race, and the Real Estate Revolution of the Early Twentieth Century
Power, Prose, and Purse

Carol M. Rose

Oxford University Press

Lorraine Hansberry’s hit play of 1957, A Raisin in the Sun, centered on the decision of an African American family in Chicago, the Youngers, to move to a house in a white neighborhood. The play is set in the post–World War II era, but many of its scenes and actions relate back to real estate practices that began at the turn of the century and that continued to evolve into the midcentury and to some degree beyond. During those decades, housing development and finance increased dramatically in scale, professionalization, and standardization. But in their concern for their predominantly white consumers’ preferences for segregation, real estate developers, brokers, financial institutions, and finally governmental agencies adopted standard practices that excluded African Americans from many housing opportunities and that then reinforced white preferences for housing segregation. Many seemingly minor features of the play reflect the way that African Americans had been sidelined in the earlier decades’ evolving real estate practices—not just the family’s overcrowded apartment, but also more subtle cues, such as the source of the initial funds for the new house, the methods for its finance, and the legal background of the white homeowners’ effort to discourage the purchase. This essay pinpoints these and other small clues, and describes how standardizing real estate practices dating from the turn of the century effectively crowded out African American consumers like the Youngers, with consequences that we continue to observe in modern patterns of urban segregation.

Keywords:   Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun, race relations, housing segregation, real estate, urban segregation

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