Feb 7, 2010
Historian Beryl Satter speaks Monday evening at Mt. Sinai Hospital in North Lawndale, the neighborhood where much of the action occurs in her widely acclaimed book, Family Properties, which was released last year.
The book grew out of the author’s curiosity about her father, Mark J. Satter, born and raised in then-Jewish Lawndale. A scrappy left-wing lawyer, Mark Satter crusaded in and out of court against the extremely exploitative system of contract buying (enabled by the FHA’s refusal to insure mortgages in black areas), featuring crushing terms that forced African American homebuyers into debt peonage, a system that inevitably engendered slum conditions. After Mark Satter’s premature death in 1965, the book follows the story as Martin Luther King moves into the neighborhood the next year to organize against housing discrimination and slums, and a couple years later as the Contract Buyers League, spurred by Monsignor John Egan and led by Lawndale residents like Ruth Wells, initiated a major organizing campaign including two federal lawsuits.
A couple themes of historic continuity emerged in Beryl Satter’s talk with Andrew Patner on WFMT last year (mp3). One is the long history and crushing impact of systematic denial of credit to African Americans, stretching from southern sharecropping to northern redlining and, today, to predatory lending and a foreclosure crisis which has hit Lawndale hard.
The other is the way well-fought but unsuccessful campaigns build on each other and create momentum. Mark Satter faced repeated frustration, King’s campaign was deemed a failure, the Contract Buyers League lawsuits were unsuccessful – but all contributed to two signal victories against housing and credit discrimination, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, won under the leadership of yet another scrappy West Sider, Gale Cincotta.
Beryl Satter will discuss her book in Mt. Sinai’s Glasser Auditorium (1500 S. California) at 5 p.m., Monday, February 8; a reception follows at 6:30.
Lawndale Christian Development Corp. has said that Mark Satter’s story will be honored in the Martin Luther King Exhibit Center that is being built as part of the Dr. King Legacy Apartments, affordable housing now under construction on the site of the two-flat where King lived during his Chicago campaign.