Rhonda Y. Williams: The Harbinger of Housing & Human Rights in the 21st Century

In her post for the National Civil Rights Museums’ 50 Voices for 50 Years series, Professor Rhonda Williams recalls Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy on fair housing. Williams advocates for affordable housing in the United States amidst rampant gentrification and push out in urban enclaves, calling those committed to racial justice to action against structural inequality and exclusive housing policies. She writes:

History and contemporary conditions provide abundant evidence that what and who we value are indisputably influenced by race and socioeconomic class, both of which can affect not only whom we live next to and where geographically we live, but also how we live. In what kind of neighborhoods? (E.g., near highways, industrial plants, toxic dumps, or not?) With what resources and amenities? (E.g., near grocery stores with fresh, nutritious foods, healthy restaurants, parks and cultural institutions, or not?) And, with what kinds of opportunities and life chances.


Dr. King and others understood this. Indeed, a confidential first draft of a press release addressed to the President, Congress, and Supreme Court of the United States and dated February 6, 1968, speaks to Dr. King’s hopes for an “Economic and Social Bill of Rights” that included, “The right of a decent house and the free choice of neighborhood.”[3] In order to help achieve this, the Poor People’s Campaign called on the federal government to construct “500,000 low-cost housing units per year until slums were eliminated.”[4] In this way and others, King advocated and defended the human rights of the most marginalized and exploited people in the United States, no matter their race.


While the provision of housing has been included as part of the international right to an adequate standard of living under Article 25 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights since 1948 and under Article 11 of the U.N. General Assembly’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights since 1966, it is not, yet, a 21st century reality.[5] We still live in a society, country, and world that overwhelmingly protect, seemingly at all costs, capital and profit over human and planetary well-being.


This is not by happenstance, but by design.

Read the full post on the National Civil Rights Museum website and check out their 50 Voices for 50 Years series.

Photo Credits: Flickr


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