I first read Family Properties while living in Ann Arbor, studying Urban Planning. It served as a catalyst for conversations about housing policy, what it means to fight for justice, and how my own Jewish identity is related to the systems that dictate how our cities grow, shrink, and change. It gave me a human understanding of how land contracts, red-lining, and ‘block busting’ affected specific people and populations in Chicago. While this book is based in and about Chicago, there are many parallels to our fair city. The human touch and personal story in this book has informed the way that I understand Detroit’s past and present moment.
“Historians who write about close friends or relatives do so at their peril. Personal engagement, so essential to the memoir, can confound historical judgment and scholarly detachment, especially when family honor hangs in the balance. Beryl Satter, the chairwoman of the history department at Rutgers University in Newark and the proud daughter of one of the central characters in “Family Properties,” has taken the hard road to glory in her study of race and housing discrimination in Chicago during the 1950s and ’60s. Yet somehow she has managed to stay on course, using her considerable investigative skills and unwavering sense of fairness to write a revealing and instructive book.”
I couldn't agree more with the NY Times book review's assessment... and I look forward to revisiting this book, this time while living in Detroit and alongside DJJnicks. In reading and discussing Family Properties together I hope we can all put Beryl Slatter’s excellent writing to good use in our efforts to organize for justice and Tikkun Olam here in Detroit.
The NY Times editorial board just published a very relevant editorial: ‘The Racist Roots of a Way to Sell Homes.’ Check it out, if the article piques your interest, Family Properties is for you!
Oren Brandvain is DJJ Organizing Team Co-Chair, Project Analyst: Develop Detroit Housing Partnership Network, AVODAH Chicago Alumni(2010-2011) as well as a retired Habonim Dror Camp Tavor Camp Camper and Counselor (1996-2008)