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Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America Hardcover – March 17, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the early 1950s, Mark Satter opened his law practice in the Chicago suburb of Lawndale, but his life's work really began in 1957, the day a black couple, Albert and Sallie Bolton, walked through his doors needing a stay on an eviction from a home they had just purchased. Satter uncovered a citywide scheme, in which landlords sold African-Americans overpriced homes, keeping the titles until black homeowners paid them off, while charging excessive interest rates to insure they never could. Called contract selling, the practice cost thousands of migrating blacks their livelihoods. Mark Satter died of a heart condition eight years after the Boltons crossed his threshold, but nearly 50 years later, his daughter, Beryl, a history professor at Rutgers, picked up where he left off. Setting out to prove that the decline of black neighborhoods into slums had nothing to do with the absence of African-American resources and everything to do with subjugation and greed, Satter draws on her father's records to piece together a thoughtful and very personal account of the exploitation that kept blacks segregated and impoverished. (Mar.)
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"Beryl Satter's Family Properties is really an incredible book. It is, by far, the best book I've ever read on the relationship between blacks and Jews. That's because it hones in on the relationship between one specific black community and one specific Jewish community and thus revels in the particular humanity of all its actors. In going small, it ultimately goes big."
—Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

“This is rich material… Satter balances personal stories, including moments of great bravery, with painstaking legal and historical research. Family Properties is transfixing from the first sentence. The pleasures here are deep and resonate ones… an instant classic.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Satter’s painstaking thorough portrayal of the human costs of financial racism is the most important book yet written on the black freedom struggle in the urban North. Family Properties is a superbly revealing and often gripping book.”
—David Garrow, The Washington Post
“Beryl Satter has taken the hard road to glory in her study of race and housing discrimination in Chicago during the 1950s and ‘60s. Yet somehow she has managed to stay on course, using her considerable investigative skills and unwavering sense of fairness to write a revealing and instructive book… A cautionary tale of government complicity, Family Properties follows the social historian’s dictum of “asking big questions in small places.” It reminds us that history and memory are essential tools for anyone pondering our current predicament.”
The New York Times Book Review
“This sweeping chronicle of greed and racism combines a noble and tragic family history with a painful account of big city segregation and courageous acts of community resistance. In riveting stories and thoughtful analysis, Satter powerfully discloses how manipulation and abuse shattered lives and deepened urban inequality.”
—Ira Katznelson, author of When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold Story of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
“Beryl Satter brings Chicago’s West Side to life in this vivid history of a neighborhood fighting for survival. She gives the urban crisis a human face in unforgettable portraits of the slumlords and the activists and lawyers (including her father) who battled valiantly against them.”
—Thomas J. Sugrue, author of Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North
“This history of a place called Lawndale, on the west side of Chicago, is an archetypal American story of struggle and rise, race and divisiveness, justice denied and then justice achieved. Clyde Ross, Ruth Wells, Mark J. Satter, Monsignor Egan, Jack Macnamara, and the others—these are American heroes. I was privileged to be briefly involved, and I'm so glad to see Family Properties, after all these years, that I could hoot with joy, and then weep.”
—David Quammen, author of Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction

“This is how the story of urban America after the Second World War ought to be written, with gritty realism and no illusions. Here is urban history as a drama of moral conflict and religious passion. Family Properties is a searing and deeply moving work, by a loving daughter and a great historian.”
—Robert Orsi, Professor of Religion and History, Northwestern University
“One of the most contentious issues of twentieth century America was the transformation of middle-class white neighborhoods into African-American slums. The cast of characters is familiar—unscrupulous realtors, heartless slumlords, promiscuous welfare mothers, rapacious drug dealers, corrupt politicians, discriminatory savings and loan associations, and a racist government. But Beryl Satter tells a different story, a nuanced story, and a personal story in this compelling re-examination of a phenomenon everyone knows about and no one understands. Family Properties will change the way you think about history and about causation.”
—Kenneth T. Jackson, Barzun Professor of History, Columbia University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1 edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080507676X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805076769
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #972,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A very timely and revealing book in light of continued patterns of racially segregated urban housing and discriminatory lending practices; as well as in light of President Obama's community work in Chicago's lower class neighborhoods, Sudhir Venkatesh's three books about the Robert Taylor Housing Projects, and the recent Mortgage Melt-down, to name just a few.

This author has put her finger on the pulse of America's ugly under current and her pen where her mouth is. Mixing family history with sociological facts, Ms. Satter reconstructs the shameful framework of a part of America's racist past that haunts us even as it continues to bear devastating negative fruit for mostly black urban communities across the land, even today.

The overriding fear after reading this book is that this experiment in the most hidden, persistent and pernicious of systemic racism has undoubtedly been that it has been responsible for laying the foundation for a generation of poverty and social misery whose pattern, like an evil template has been repeated throughout the country in almost every major metropolitan area of the U.S.

Arguably, it has been this pernicious pattern that in large measure has been responsible for the hole that other Americans seem to think the black working and underclass has dug all on its own, solely as a result of its own decadent and mal-adaptive behavior.

While the jury still remains out on the final details of the particular shape of America's black social meltdown and the full genesis of its overall pathology, Ms. Satter's book makes a big dent in undermining the logic of that conventional wisdom and makes it unmistakably clear that past racism in U.S.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America
This is one terrific book -- focused, hard-hitting and extremely readable. I will not go into details; a growing number of glowing reviews from the New York Times,the Washington Post and others take care of that. In brief, Satter has written an instant classic about exloitative contract sales to blacks that were common in many cities from World War II to the late 1960s. This is a must read for anyone wanting to understand why America's big cities turned out the way they did.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm in the mortgage business and have always wondered why certain communities are in their current condition. This book basically explains it and more. If you're in the real estate industry, this is definitely a book you should read. It really motivated me to do everything within my power to educate and assist those who have trouble defending themselves. The book basically just made me want to do something. I really appreciate the author taking the time to write this story. I've recommended this book to at least a dozen people.
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Format: Paperback
"You don't know what Chicago is like...You're going to be wiped out." ~ Bayard Rustin to Martin Luther King

In Family Properties, Beryl Satter chronicles in immaculate detail the demoralizing course navigated by two neighborhoods through an exhaustive history of real estate exploitation and speculation in Chicago. The history would span more than five decades becoming institutionalized in municipal and federal bureaucracies leaving behind impoverished communities mired in resource inequity through policies which nourished a rapacious and discriminatory housing market. Within the postmortem examination of the legal maneuvering of Mark Satter, the nonviolent civil engagement of the Chicago Freedom Movement and the economic reprisal of the Contract Buyers League, there is anchored a growing and unshakable pessimism about the framework of American justice as it concerns poverty stricken people using standard legal and political tools to level the field of economic opportunity while finding themselves crushed from both ends by public and private sector.

When statistical evidence proves the victims of speculation are overwhelmingly Black and still the court renders a decision which asserts there is no clear condition of racial inequality in federal lending or speculative pricing practices, the expectation of judicial reprieve becomes an arbitrary, expensive and ultimately futile pursuit. Racial and social bias will factor into the sympathy afforded the plaintiff and the burden of proof required to reach a favorable judgment. The dissatisfaction is further magnified by a federal government which uses secrecy and deception to place its redlining practices just beyond the statute of limitations applicable to the case.
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Format: Hardcover
Blacks have been screwed by whites for four centuries, so what can we learn from still another book -- this one focusing on housing and economic discrimination half a century ago? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
Beryl Satter, a Rutgers University historial, has written an almost epic work that explains just how systematically black familes were exploited in the decades after the Second World War. Central to her story is the role played by white contract sellers, who provided black families with overpriced rundown houses that they could not afford. As soon as they missed a payment, the contract seller, who held title to the house, would evict the family and resell it to another black family.
Although this took place in Chicago, probably the most segregated city in the country, this practice took place throughout the nation. The Federal Housing Administration had redlined neighborhoods where even just a few blacks lived, making very hard for anyone to get a mortgage. This placed black families entirely at the mercy of the contract sellers, who, in effect, robbed these families of their savings.
Satter has meticulously researched her subject, but managed to write an eminently readable books. If you are curious about how the big city slums evolved during the post-war decades, this is the book for you.
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