The Racist Origins Of America’s Suburbs And The Story Of The First Black Family To Move In

Published November 19, 2017
Updated December 20, 2017
Published November 19, 2017
Updated December 20, 2017

For Sale: A New Way Of Life

Myers Family At Home

George D. McDowell/Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, Pa.Bill and Daisy Myers in their Levittown home. Levittown, Pa. August 19, 1957.

Life in Levittown changed slowly. The Myers stayed in their home through it all, preserving through the good and the bad alike. Not every person in the town, of course, was a racist, and they found some solace in the support of a few friendly new neighbors.

In the meantime, they filed court orders for protection against the others, who made having a parade of Confederate flag-waving cars drive past their homes singing “Old Black Joe” and “Dixie” an everyday part of their morning routine.

In time, William Levitt sold his stake in his company, and his communities became less segregated. Today, the town is still mostly white, but the once-xeroxed houses have started to change, and the people in them have started to change with them.

But, 60 years ago, the Myers family exposed what Levittown really represented — and what was really happening in post-war America.

Levittown had changed the American way of life. It created a country full of suburbanites, where every family needed a car to commute to a decent job. It turned cities into places you visited in the morning for work, and home into a place far away, where a nuclear family could feel safe.

The Myers family exposed the dark reality underneath that peaceful facade that William Levitt had forged. When they moved in, the friendly faces painted all over the suburbs were peeled away and exposed for what they really were: a white flight from America’s diversity.

An escape from the variety and complexities of the nation, into a place where the calming monotony of rows upon rows of white picket fences and white faces kept the people from having to live next to anyone who wasn’t the same as them.

After this look at William Levitt and the birth of the suburbs, see what white flight to the suburbs did to America’s cities with this look at 1970s New York. Then, see civil rights photos that depict the struggle for equality in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer, teacher and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked, and can be found on his website.