Rumford Fair Housing Act: History & Amendment

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia is an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting. She also has a BSChE.

The Rumford Fair Housing Act was passed in California in 1963 to protect minorities, the disabled, women, and others from unfair housing practices that were prevalent at the time. This lesson will examine this Act and the attempts made to repeal it.

The Rumford Fair Housing Act

The Rumford Fair Housing Act is a law that was passed in California on September 20, 1963. It is also called the California Fair Housing Act, or AB 1240. The goal of this law was to end unfair discrimination against people of color who were seeking housing, which was a common occurrence at the time. All too often, white landlords would not rent apartments to ''colored people'', and white property owners would not sell houses to them as well. The Rumford Act stated that ''the practice of discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, or ancestry in housing accommodations is delcared to be against public policy.''

William Byron Rumford

The Rumford Fair Housing Act is named after William Byron Rumford, an African American California assemblyman who acted as its sponsor. Rumford was born in 1908 in Arizona, but later attended college in California, where he became a pharmacist. He became the first African American member of the state assembly in 1948. He wrote the Rumford Act in 1963, which then became law.

Attempts To Nullify The Rumford Act

It probably isn't much of a surprise that, as soon as the Rumford Law was passed, groups of white real estate salespeople took action to oppose it. It was not long before the California Real Estate Association (CREA), came up with Proposition 14 in response to the passing of the Rumford Act.

Proposition 14

Proposition 14 was a proposal to add an amendment to the state constitution of California. The amendment would repeal the Rumford Act and preserve ''the right of any person...to decline to sell, lease or rent...property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses.'' So, in other words, Proposition 14 would make all forms of housing discrimination legal once again, prioritizing the ''rights'' of real estate owners over state citizens looking for housing.

Proposition 14 found support from not only those in real estate, but also from the California Republican Assembly, The John Birch Society, and The Los Angeles Times. However, it did not receive the support of California Governor Edmund ''Pat'' Brown. An ugly and bitter campaign ensued, and Proposition 14 was finally put on the November 1964 ballot for a vote. It passed, with just over 65% support.

The Watts Riots

The passage of Proposition 14, however, did not go over well for the state of California. The federal government cut off all funds it was previously allotting to the state for housing assistance, and, finally, in 1965, the Watt Riots occurred in Los Angeles. The passage of Proposition 14 was thought to be a factor that led to these riots, and, ironically, forty million dollars of the property so cherished by predominantly white owners was destroyed.

Watts riots
Watts riots

Supreme Court Ruling

After the riots and unrest, it didn't take long for Governor Brown to call on the California Supreme Court to determine whether or not the state would keep Proposal 14 as its law. But this law wasn't only challenged on a state level. The California Supreme Court found that Proposal 14 violated the federal Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment; specifically, the equal protection clause. This angered many California residents, and in 1966, Governor Brown didn't get re-elected. Instead, Ronald Reagan was elected as Governor, but he opposed both Proposition 14 and the Rumford Act. So, finally, the case went to the federal U.S. Supreme Court.

Reitman v. Mulkey

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision made by the California Supreme Court in the 1967 case, Reitman v. Mulkey. The Mulkeys were a couple who believed that a landlord, Reitman, refused to rent to them because of their race. The U.S. Supreme Court found the landlord in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and in doing so, it cited similar cases that it also considered to be violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, one of which was McCabe v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Co. In that case, a state statute that allowed railroad carriers to offer cars to only whites, but not people of color, was found to be federally unconstitutional. However, Proposition 14 was not officially repealed until the 1974 election.

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