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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Look Back on REALTORS® Black History

While the country celebrated black history in the month of February, we also reflected on decades of strained race relations. The Fair Housing Act was signed into law in 1968 — a short 44 years ago. Prior to that, the experience of black and other minority REALTORS® was greatly different than today.

Throughout the 1950s, the Indianapolis Board of Realtors – what we know today as MIBOR – subscribed to an unwritten rule that no REALTOR® could show and sell majority owned homes to “colored families” unless two or more other colored families lived on the same block.

Minority groups were forced into segregated neighborhoods across Indianapolis, and minority agents were forced to improvise in order to help their clients buy and sell homes. They would knock on doors; make phone calls or simply show up to addresses listed in the Sunday paper to see if families were looking to sell their houses.  

Agents were constrained in other ways as well. Prior to the signing of the Fair Housing Act, it was common practice that minority real estate agents only worked for minority-owned firms.  Moveover, the minority agents were not members of the Indianapolis Real Estate Board. Therefore, agents did not have access to the Board’s listings.

When I joined the industry in 1977, there had been a housing discrimination lawsuit filed with the Human Rights Commission. I was asked by the executive director of the Commission to apply to a local white/majority-owned real estate company to test their hiring and office policies. I was warmly received by that company and offered the opportunity to join a handful of other minority REALTORS® in central Indiana to prove myself as a REALTOR®. Actions by the Human Rights Commission caused many majority-owned companies to take a positive approach toward equal housing by promoting and displaying the Equal Housing logo sign in their office and marketing materials.

Robbie Williams and Beth Blake
Celebrate MIBOR's Centennial
at the 2012 Centennial Celebration.
Our centennial year has been a time of much reflection. In recalling our history, we know this painful past is part of the industry and societal reality of that time. Today, it’s exciting to know that anyone can freely choose to find meaningful work by serving their communities as a REALTOR®. I’m proud to say that we’ve accomplished much in these short years. In the month of February, we celebrated those who worked in a less open, fair and just environment, battling for equal rights and equal housing opportunities. Today’s REALTORS® have the choice and satisfaction of serving communities ALL throughout the state.  

Robbie Williams, 
Member and former Director, 
Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of REALTORS®

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