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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Grace Towns Hamilton, July 19, 1974. Interview G-0026. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Urban League works to ensure housing for African Americans Atlantans

Hamilton discusses how in addition to issues such as education and voter registration, housing was a central concern of the Urban League when she was the director of the Atlanta branch during the 1940s and 1950s. Hamilton explains here how the League was intent upon making sure housing was available to African Americans in the city, although integration of housing was not their primary concern. In addition, she describes how a title from the Federal Housing Administration helped them to accomplish their goals.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Grace Towns Hamilton, July 19, 1974. Interview G-0026. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
So the report on schools, and the voter registration drive. What were the other … ?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
And the other big area that I think we made some fundamental … [interruption] The other was opening up land for housing, which was a major part of our program during the years I was there. And the concept was that we had to make areas all around the city available for Negro occupancy, and I'm sure the efforts of our housing secretary opened up the big northwest for …
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you go about opening that area so blacks could move in?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
Oh, that's a big … I can't tell you that. I have to go and let you talk to Tommy, who was the … Robert Thompson was our director of housing. And we talked about it, and then the board was back of it. And then we'd find people who were interesting in finding and acquiring land. We organized a corporation. I say we, an organization was … was organized as a part of this effort. And in order to buy a big enough tract, great big tract that's now out … and …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was it private real estate developers that you …
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
No, in fact it was a company which bought the land and held it for development, see. And that was …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did they make a … did the corporation make a profit?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
They didn't actually even … yeah, they made a profit, but they didn't actually develop it. But the point was that it was in ownership which was sympathetic and which was strategically located, so that developers would have to take that into account. Then, I don't know in detail, but much of the same thing was done about the northwest. (To friend in room.) What do they call the northwest, Mattie? Crestwood Forest? That was that development, wasn't it? That's out in the… I don't know whether you know the city.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yeah, a little bit.
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
This is the northwest area of Negro expansion.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you trying to challenge residential segregation in any way? Were you trying to make ?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
No, we were primarily … at that time we were primarily concerned that there be living space for Negros all over the city.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Rather than …
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
And we were very careful not to say "areas for Negro residences," but "areas that would be available to Negroes," see. Because at that time there was a great shortage of housing for people. There hadn't been any building all during the war, and the federal programs to encourage housing were very… were … white people got the major benefit of them. And so it was all part of …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you able to get any F.H.A. money for those kind of things?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
Yeah, to it. At the time we really … There was a very generous title of F.H.A., 608's, and the government provided ninety per cent of the cost. That included land, development, the whole bit. And when the League got into it and we did an analysis of how many F.H.A. 608 loans had been made in Atlanta, I think the total out of some six thousand, less than a hundred units. And then the Aiken project and the West Lake Gardens helped … That log jam was broken. And that development, High Point was developed as a part of the push and the expose. And I guess this was developed by Aiken and subsequently by the Marsh Brown. But, I think the … no, the Aiken project for this was the only one. I think it's beginning to come back to me now. Out of some several thousands there were, over … in Atlanta, there were sixty-six units that had been approved, until our … until our staff, really. So we did … we were instrumental in breaking that log jam, and getting some housing available under this generous F.H.A. title.