The News Tribune: How racism kept black Tacomans from buying houses for decades

The News Tribune, August 11, 2018: How racism kept black Tacomans from buying houses for decades

Honorably discharged after serving in the Korean War, the young man looked to settle down in Tacoma with his wife.

If only they could convince someone to show them a home.

If they got to a house first, the real estate agent would leave upon seeing them.

They learned to park down the street and wait for the agent to approach the house. Then they’d make their move: Drive up and catch him between his car and the front door of the house so he couldn’t leave.

But even that hadn’t landed them a home.

The ex-soldier was Harold Moss, who one day would become the first black mayor of Tacoma and president of the Tacoma NAACP. His then wife, Bil Moss, years later would become the first executive director of Planned Parenthood of Pierce County.

But in the 1950s they were just another black couple fighting discrimination in an uphill battle to buy a home in Tacoma.

“We felt blackballed,” Bil Moss said in a recent interview.

Like many African Americans across the nation, the Mosses were victims of redlining.

Under the practice from decades past, banks typically lent only to white people in certain neighborhoods. Immigrants and people of color, as well as many who lived near them, were largely excluded from the housing market and denied the equity, financial security and generational wealth that homeownership provides.

On maps that lenders and real estate agents used, some neighborhoods were “redlined” — literally marked in red — to designate them as the city’s least safe housing investments. Neighborhoods with apartment buildings, widely varying construction styles or a general run-down appearance were seen as poor returns.

But in the eyes of many of the country’s bankers, nothing downgraded an otherwise acceptable neighborhood like the presence of black families, records from the time show over and over again.

“Nativism and racism is at the heart of the grading and the theory behind the grading,” said Robert Nelson, a graduate of University of Puget Sound and director of the digital scholarship lab with the University of Richmond.

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