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May 1, 2018

A week after Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination on April 4, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. Wide swaths of many American cities were still smoldering from the devastating riots. King’s assassination had galvanized the nation and effectively silenced the naysayers in Congress, where the bill had been languishing for two years.  The landmark legislation made it illegal to deny housing to anyone based on race, color, religion, or national origin. (The law was eventually updated to include sex and disability as additional protected categories.)

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and to explore its legacy, Fannie Mae interviewed civil rights activists and housing policy experts about the Act’s history and its future.

Featured voices include Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights; Jeffery Hayward, Executive Vice President of Fannie Mae; Anne McCulloch, President and CEO of the Housing Partnership Equity Trust; and Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League.

Lt. Commander Carlos Campbell, a naval aviator and intelligence officer who flew reconnaissance missions during the Cold War, describes trying to rent housing in Arlington, Virginia in 1965, when he was on assignment with the Defense Intelligence Agency. “I would call various places and they always said they had a vacancy,” Campbell recalls, “when I showed up in uniform, there were no vacancies, and I was turned down over a period of about four weeks by 39 places.”

Campbell’s testimony in 1967 before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Housing and Urban Affairs helped Senators Walter Mondale and Ed Brooke rally their fellow lawmakers to the cause of fair housing. In February, 1968 Mondale stood on the Senate floor and spoke about Campbell: “How insane can this policy be when a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy has to go to 39 different places only to find that while he was good enough to protect the Nation, he was not good enough to live with us?”  Still, on April 2, 1968 Mondale wrote to LCDR Campbell that he had “no objective reason for optimism” about the legislation’s passage.

Two days later, King was assassinated, and within the week The Fair Housing Act was the law of the land.  Watch Fannie Mae’s video, April, 1968:  The Fight for Fair Housing below: