In Chicago during the 1960s, there was a well-established African American population – over three quarters of a million – who had successfully established themselves relatively well off financially compared to African American communities in other large cities.
While still only making half of what local whites would make, their per capita income was higher than Blacks in every other American city apart from Detroit. Of course, success is always relative. Racist institutions and habits both played their part in keeping the community from gaining true equality with their white neighbors.
In fact, ’white neighbors’ itself is a bit of a misnomer. Due to the racist practice of redlining the white and black populations of Chicago were largely segregated. If an African American family wanted to purchase a home, they found it almost impossible to obtain a traditional mortgage at reasonable interest rates.
The alternative they had to pursue was to buy a home on installment payments; similar to the way people would purchase a television or a refrigerator reviews of the terms of these arrangements indicate that they were very harsh.
Missing a payment would result in eviction – just as if they were mere tenants. Plus, the costs were onerous. Research paid that in Chicago black families paid 70 plus percent more for their housing than white families did, despite their much lower household income! With this type of financial disparity, clearly the prospect of purchasing luxuries such as refrigerators and televisions was dim.
In late 1968, many buyers in this situation banded together to form the Contract Buyers League. On December 1st of that year they organized a payment strike, where several hundred of these contract buyers stopped making their payments at the same time. As a result of this, many of the real estate agents involved renegotiated the terms of many of the contracts with fairer terms.