Unmasking a City: Blacks, Asians and the Struggle Against Segregated Housing in 20th Century Seattle

2017-12-01T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Takashi Michael Matsumaru

This dissertation maps the roots of systemic inequality within Seattle’s housing market, zeroing in on the residential mobility of Japanese and African Americans over the course of the 20th century. It analyzes the experiences that have led Japanese and African Americans to occupy distinctive positions within the city’s housing market, as they fought for belonging in a segregated city. Though they shared the burden of living in segregated neighborhoods through much of the first half of the 20th century, Japanese and African Americans occupied distinct economic positions within the city. While Japanese Americans far outnumbered African Americans until World War II, the segregation of African Americans within the city followed a separate trajectory. Shaped by the legacy of slavery and the nation’s Jim Crow order, African Americans became increasingly set apart within the housing market. Seeing how Japanese and African Americans have navigated a segregated housing market is crucial to understanding the racial dimensions of Seattle’s development. While the ghettoization of Japanese Americans facilitated their incarceration during World War II, the city’s fixation on restricting black mobility during the 1950s and 1960s opened up spaces for Japanese Americans. Rather than simply refuting the model minority image, this dissertation examines how it came to shape Seattle’s housing market after World War II. The city’s open housing movement brought about fair housing laws but also a renewed commitment to property rights and the exclusion of African Americans. Weak and unenforced fair housing legislation – though it opened doors to those of a particular class – led to growing divides. These divides are explored in the last part of this dissertation, which highlights the dimensions of post-civil rights era segregation and the struggles waged by low-income black renters to challenge the city’s raced, classed, and gendered boundaries.