The “Fair Housing Act of 1968” (FHA) was signed into law on April 11, 1968, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Meant to complement the “Civil Rights Act of 1964,” the FHA prohibits discrimination in the sale, renting, or financing of property and mortgages based on race, religion, national origin, or sex. The FHA was the subject of countless and tedious debates in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in the months leading up to the assassination of its most ardent supporter, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4, 1968. Seven days after the assassination of Dr. King, the act was passed by Congress, in part to commemorate the civil rights leader and his fight against unfair housing practices and discrimination. In retrospect, the FHA was the last great legislative achievement of the Civil Rights Era.

The struggle to guarantee fair housing for all in the United States has been continuous since the introduction of Jim Crow laws following the abolition of slavery. Between 1900 and 1920, our country witnessed the rapid development and growth of urban areas and factory-based industries, which shifted the basis of the American economy from agrarian and artisan labor to manufacturing. During the first half of the twentieth century, African Americans migrated to the industrialized North as part of the Great Migration in search of upward mobility through educational and economic opportunities. Throughout this period, the impacts of Jim Crow and segregation permeated society and were highly visible. Racism and discrimination in the North were seen as less overt and more subtle but were clearly visible through residential segregation and especially redlining, a discriminatory practice that involves withholding financial services like credit and insurance from potential renters and buyers who live in low-income and minority-majority areas designated as hazardous by financial and real estate institutions.

Before the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the U.S. Supreme Court had intervened to combat racial discrimination in housing in 1917 (Buchanan v. Warley) and again in 1948 (Shelley v. Kraemer). In these decisions, the Court outlawed local and state ordinances that prohibited African Americans from occupying certain sections of cities and white-owned buildings. Yet even after the Court had ruled against unfair housing practices and discrimination, local and state governments – as well as the federal government – continued to perpetuate and institutionalize housing discrimination through laws and policies enacted in the decades before the Fair Housing Act of 1968. For this reason, Dr. King saw the FHA as a core component of the fight against racial injustice.

Since its enactment in 1968, the Fair Housing Act has continued to protect the rights of African American and Brown property renters and buyers throughout the country. In 1988, Congress expanded the 1968 bill through an amendment that prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability or family status. The 1988 amendment encouraged more federal support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD now oversees and responds to complaints regarding housing discrimination, investigating these complaints through its Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.