Contract Buyers League – Black History Month

Contract Buyers League – Black History Month

I illustrated this to contribute to a poster book called “Celebrate People’s History”, which will be published by Feminist Press next year. This book is being spearheaded by artist Josh Macphee and features over a hundred great artists speaking on moments of social justice and resistance, not just individuals. To find out more about the book, follow Feminist Press. Follow Josh’s work at Just Seeds here.

I first came across the CBL after reading Tanheisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” (The Atlantic, 2014); then again through Beryl Satter’s book “Family Properties”. The Contract Buyers League was formed in 1968 by Black residents of North Lawndale Chicago, priest Jack Macnamara, and young organizers.

Black folks have been robbed for hundreds of millions by what is known as contract lending for housing in Chicago. To buy a house you need a mortgage which you pay into over time, can renegotiate, and pay a fair price for. This can be obtained by getting a loan from a bank, by saving a large sum of money, or from wealth passed down. Black folks were consistently refused by banks , rarely had wealth passed down, and often worked many jobs to afford a down payment. In Chicago, they were also limited to where they could live after and during the great migration (1917-1960) from the Southern US to cities like Chicago (and NY, Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, etc).

Enterprising white businessmen made contracts that allowed Black folks to live in a home. But, these men bought a home for 6 or 8 thousand dollars and would sell it to Black families for double or triple that cost. If the Black families missed one payment during the first year or the 15th year the businessmen could come take the house back and flip it again to another Black family. As a result Black families worked twice or three times harder than whites to buy and live in a house. The contract owner also assumed no responsibility for repairs, licenses, or taxes. In fact, they would often require Black home owners to make additions to their homes costing them even more. As a result Black housing became worn down, they had less time to care for their kids, and this was used as a way to talk down to or label their neighborhoods “ghetto’s”.

So, Jack, college students, and Black residents organized. They formed the “Contract Buyers League” to stop this madness in their city.They went around helping folks understand the language written in the contracts, gathered resources, strategized in large meetings, withheld money from these thieving contract owners, and helped some 400 families renegotiate their monthly payment and contracts so that they could own their homes. How did they do it? They embarrassed the owners, picketed, faced physical and verbal violence, spoke to the media, enlisted the help of progressive lawyers, and they organized.

Note, the white businessmen had the support of not only local white residents who didn’t want Black folks living near them, but the local police department, the mayor, judges, lawmakers, banks, and the US Federal government through the FHA.

Sources: To read learn more bout their work and the vicious cycle of “redlining” see: Family Properties by Beryl Satter, The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, Code Switch’s podcast episode “Location, Location, Location”, Tanehisi Coates article “The Case for Reparations”,  articles by The Chicago Tribune’s and the Chicago Reporter. And the

Process sketch:

Drawn with pencil, paper, photoshop, and the ipad pro
Want to see more of my illustrations from Black History Month? Click HERE

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