In “Urban Expressways and the Central Cities In Postwar America” by Raymond A. Mohl, University of Alabama at Birmingham, the case is made well that when the U.S. highway system was built in the 1950s and 60s (the actual design of the system dated back to the 1930s), there was a deliberate plan to dislocate black families living in neighborhoods within major cities, much the way the Israel government tends to dislocate Palestinians (although in more brutal, blunt ways):

Highway promoters and builders envisioned the new interstate expressways as a means of clearing slum housing and blighted urban areas…By the 1960s, federal highway construction was demolishing 37,000 urban housing units each year; urban renewal and redevelopment programs were destroying an equal number of mostly-low-income housing units annually. The amount of disruption, a report of the U.S. House Committee on Public Works conceded in 1965, was astoundingly large.

As planning scholar Alan A. Altshuler has noted, by the mid-1960s, when interstate construction was well underway, it was generally believed that the new highway system would “displace a million people from their homes before it [was] completed.” A large proportion of those dislocated were African Americans, and in most cities the expressways were routinely routed through black neighborhoods.

Dislocated urbanites had few advocates in the state and federal road-building agencies. The federal Bureau of Public Roads and the state highway departments believed that their business was to finance and build highways, and that the social consequences of highway construction were the responsibility of other agencies.3 As one federal housing official stated with dismay in 1957: “It is my impression that regional personnel of the Bureau of Public Roads are not overly concerned with the problems of family relocation.”4 Indeed, during most of the expressway-building era, little was done to link the interstate highway program with public or private housing construction, or even with relocation assistance for displaced families, businesses, or community institutions such as churches and schools.

The victims of highway building tended to be overwhelmingly poor and black. A general pattern emerged, promoted by state and federal highway officials and by private agencies such as the Urban Land Institute, of using highway construction to eliminate blighted neighborhoods and redevelop valuable inner-city land. This was the position of Thomas H. MacDonald, director of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) during the formative years of the interstate system. Combating blight with highways was also the policy of New York’s influential builder of public works projects, Robert Moses.

Highway builders were clearly conscious of the social consequences of interstate route location. It was quite obvious that neighborhoods and communities would be destroyed and people uprooted, but this was thought to be an acceptable cost of creating new transportation routes, facilitating economic development of the cities, and converting inner-city land to more acceptable or more productive uses. Highway builders and downtown redevelopers had a common interest in eliminating low-income housing and, as one redeveloper put it in 1959, freeing blighted areas “for higher and better uses.”

For those who are still not convinced, feel free to look at our other posting from July 2014 which shows a secret RAND Corporation advisory to the U.S. Government on ways it can break rising black political power by scattering black families away from their pre-1950s united urban centers!

Read the full report at http://www.prrac.org/pdf/mohl.pdf


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