“Housing Is Everybody’s Problem”
The Forgotten Crusade of Morris Milgram
Places Journal, October 2017
On a Saturday evening in November 1964, nattily dressed couples filed into the Marriott Motor Lodge in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, for a dinner dance. The occasion was the 10th anniversary of their civic association, and the birthday of the small crescent-shaped subdivision they called home, built like so many others in the postwar housing boom of the 1950s. Over London broil and green beans almondine, the couples listened to a soloist sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and clapped as the association president gave out awards. Then it was time for the after-dinner speech. To introduce the featured speaker, the builder of the subdivision came forward, an intense, dark-haired 48-year-old named Morris Milgram, familiar to most of the homeowners gathered in the room.
As Milgram began his introduction, guests scanned the biography in the dinner program listing the speaker’s accomplishments: the first field secretary of the Congress of Racial Equality. A participant in the first Freedom Ride. Deputy director of the March on Washington, held in August a year earlier. When Milgram finished, Bayard Rustin took the stage, to ringing applause.
The very fact of his presence is startling. Why was Bayard Rustin, a national leader of the civil rights movement, addressing a homeowners’ association in suburban Philadelphia?
A quick scan of the motor lodge banquet room that night would have yielded another surprise. The guests were a mix of blacks and whites, sitting at the same tables, chatting and laughing. Such easy sociability between people of different races was, to put it mildly, anomalous in suburbia — or anywhere in America — at the time. But these fellow homeowners were then living side by side in Concord Park, one of the first private, integrated housing developments in the country, established years before the 1968 Fair Housing Act would make racial discrimination in housing against the law.