Levitt’s Legacy (Part II)

In a previous blog entry, I described how in 1953, the Federal Government backed William Levitt and his sons when they essentially sought to create a whites only suburban enclave about 30 miles North of Philadelphia, PA. Overtime, however, slight racial progress was made, and in 1968 The Fair Housing Act made it illegal for banks and other lending institutions to discriminate against people based on their race, religion or sex. Regardless of what the law said, some white folks were not going to let Negroes move into their suburban sanctuaries without a fight.

On Aug. 19, 1957, Mr. William Meyers, a black man, paid $12,000 for a house on 43 Deepgreen Lane in the Dogwood Section of Levittown, PA. Mr. Myers was a World War II Veteran and worked at a refrigeration firm. His wife, Daisy, was a college graduate, and together they had three young children. The Myers probably knew that some whites would be hostile towards their presence. However, nothing could have prepared them for the hostility they faced after a local newspaper, the Bucks County Courier Times, ran a story about how they were the first black family to move into Levittown. Within a short period of time between 200-1000 angry white people surrounded their home.

20 Aug 1957, Levittown, Pennsylvania, USA --- 8/20/1957-Levittown, PA- Little knots of people are gathered outside the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Myers, Jr., the first Negro family to move into the 15,000-home, all-white community of Levittown.  The Myers moved into their new home yesterday with their three children, after a week of disturbances and protests.  There was no no disorder.  Myers, a World War II veteran, is an equipment tester for a refrigeration firm.  He told newsmen he will try to be a good neighbor. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Whites standing outside the home of William and Daisey Meyers.  The Meyers were the first Black family to move into Levittown, PA in 1957 Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

They wanted them to leave and were willing to do just about anything to get them to vacate the premises. Someone even offered Mr. Meyers $15,000 to move, but he made it clear that he was not going anywhere. For 14 days, people threw Molotov Cocktails and stones at the Myers home. Their windows were broken out, and people yelled racial epithets as they drove by. When the local police could not ensure their safety, the Governor of Pennsylvania, George M. Leader, called in the State Troopers.

A number of whites vocally supported the Meyers family.   They tried to comfort them and assure them that not all whites were racists. However, there was a cost for being a “Nigger Lover.” Klan members burned crosses on the front lawns of whites who accepted the first black family and sprayed KKK on their houses.

Mr. Myers and his family members moved to New York 1961. Nonetheless, racial integration continued as more blacks moved into the area and white Levittowners began to slowly, reluctantly began to accept people of color.

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