This April the Fair Housing Act will turn 50 years old. Arising in the middle of the civil rights movement, the fight for discriminatory free housing was lead largely by Assemblyman William Byron Rumford Sr.
William Byron Rumford Sr was elected to the California State Assembly in 1948. A Berkley alum, he heavily represented African American and Democratic constituencies of Alameda County, Berkeley, and part of Oakland. Rumford sponsored bills that would end the segregation of California’s National Guard, introduced and succeeding in enacting the California Fair Employment Practices Act which lessened the impact of race on hiring decisions, and garnered national attention with the Good Samaritan Act of 1959.
But Rumford’s biggest contribution, the one in which would bore his name is the Rumford Fair Housing Act. The act was passed in in 1963 by the California Legislature to help end racial discrimination by property owners and landlords who refused to rent or sell their property to “colored” people. The Rumford Fair Housing Act was not accepted with open arms into the California community. In 1964, the California Real Estate Association sponsored an initiative to counteract the effects of the Act, dubbed Proposition 14.
“Neither the State nor any subdivision or agency thereof shall deny, limit or abridge, directly or indirectly, the right of any person, who is willing or desires to sell, lease or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses.” – part of Proposition 14
Citizens protesting for equality in housing
Proposition 14’s attempt to relegalize discrimination was decidedly popular. A petition to have the proposition added to the ballot garnered over one million signatures. This was more than twice the 480,000 signatures that were required. Endorsed even by the Los Angeles Times; the proposition was passed in November 1964. However in 1966 the California Supreme Court declared Proposition 14 unconstitutional. The Fair Housing Act that we know today came just two years later in 1968. It passed with strong support from President Lyndon Johnson just a week after Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination.
As we look back on the life of William Byron Rumford Sr we realize just how crucial his hard work was to establishing fair housing for all. But the fight for equality is far from over. The Fair Housing Act is constantly being amended to include more protected classes such as gender and sexual orientation.