An undeniable "font of phenomenal wealth"
"Cotton grown and picked by enslaved workers was the nation’s most valuable export. The combined value of enslaved people exceeded that of all the railroads and factories in the nation. New Orleans boasted a denser concentration of banking capital than New York City...Given the choice between modernity and barbarism, prosperity and poverty, lawfulness and cruelty, democracy and totalitarianism, America chose all of the above."
- Matthew Desmond, from The 1619 Project
It took just one generation for white slaveholding families to regain their riches after slavery was abolished. Despite the financial losses they experienced after Emancipation, by 1900, the sons of the richest slaveholders were, once again, wealthier than other wealthy families who hadn't own slaves before the war.
The most likely explanation for the restoration of their wealth, according to the study, is the “role of social networks in facilitating employment opportunities and access to credit." The study found that "white resilience to economic catastrophe has been almost impenetrable."
- Reported by Brentin Mock in CityLab, "White Americans’ Hold on Wealth Is Old, Deep, and Nearly Unshakeable"
National Housing Act
The NHA creates the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which insured private home mortgages with innovative loans that made homeownership a wealth-building opportunity for millions of Americans.
Redlining, which refers to the federal Home Owners' Loan Corporation's (HOLC) colored maps indicating communities of color as "high-risk" for mortgage lending, effectively barred Black families from benefiting. Racist restrictive covenants urged by the FHA barred white homeowners from selling to Blacks; real estate agents steered Black families away from white neighborhoods; and harassment and violence persisted. These and other tools were wielded by white residents to maintain neighborhood segregation.
By 1940, 80% of properties in Los Angeles and Chicago had racial covenants prohibiting sales to Black people.
"In 1865, just after Emancipation, it is not surprising that African Americans owned 0.5 percent of the total worth of the United States.
But by 1990, a full 135 years after the abolition of slavery, Black Americans still possessed only a meager 1 percent of national wealth."
- PBS, "RACE: The Power of An Illusion"