Mayor Miner spoke during a Celebration of Unity at the park, giving a 12-minute address regarding the process of redlining, or the government’s refusal to back mortgages in black neighborhoods in the 1930s, which she said has partly helped create the inequality in impoverished neighborhoods in Syracuse today.
Here are the mayor’s full remarks, according to an article on Syracuse.com:
My Grandmother Miner was a devout Catholic in her own peculiar way. For example, she did not believe it was appropriate to go to Mass on Saturday evening because “you are just going to get it out of the way and if that’s the reason you are going, then you shouldn’t go in the first place.” I never had the courage to tell her that was pretty much always my motivation for going.
Those of you who have loved, been loved, and lost that person know what I mean when I say she is a permanent presence in my life. She had a strong sense of right and wrong; I guess one could say of a view of justice. She would not have characterized it that way, but I can. So even though the Pope thought Saturday passed muster — she didn’t and we didn’t go. By the way, that was not her only disagreement she had with the Pope.
When we went to Mass, on Sundays, she liked to sing the hymns — especially the Prayer of St. Francis. Now there was a small problem with this, in my view at the time; she could not sing — not a note, not a tune, not anything, and it did not stop her. She would sing it out right next to me and I would cringe with every word desperate for it to be over. And, that’s how I learned the Prayer of St. Francis:
“Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace (in the song its channel of your peace); where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, and it is in pardoning, that we are pardoned and it is dying that we are born to eternal life.”
As a child, I would listen for her to sing “grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand,” because the song would be over. And now so many years later, I hear those words — and the memory of my opinionated, off-tune grandmother singing them — it signals the place to start to find justice for us; for our City — to understand.
Here, in what we call the Near Westside — we think we all know the data too well — high concentrations of poverty, poorest census tracks, but too few of us know — understand — the multiple causes behind these dubious distinctions.
I have a map in my office from 1937 and it shows this very neighborhood designated “red,” along with other neighborhoods that today suffer from disinvestment. Why Red?
In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to jump start the economy by having the newly created FHA back up local banks in their issuance of mortgages. The FHA adopted a system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability. On the maps, the green areas were those that the FHA would provide 100% backup in cases of default. Blue — 85%. Yellow — 15%. Red — 0%.
Neighborhoods where black people lived were rated “D” and were considered ineligible for FHA backing and colored “Red”. Thus, the term “red-lining” was coined. So if you were a local bank in the 1930’s, frankly up until the late 60s, there was not much incentive to provide mortgages in the yellow or red areas. The FHA explicitly refused to back loans to black people or even others who lived near black people.
This meant that black people in our city were systematically locked out of the “greatest mass-based opportunity for wealth accumulation in American history, African-Americans who desired and were able to afford home-ownership found themselves” closed out. This policy meant that in Syracuse whites looking to achieve the American dream could rely on a legitimate credit system backed by the government and Blacks could not.
Whites like my family. My grandfather came back from World War II, married my grandmother, and in short order got an FHA loan to build a house on 1612 Caleb Avenue — a street in a FHA “blue” neighborhood — Eastwood. He and my grandmother were able to scrimp and save and work hard and parley that into a good life. Now, was the mortgage the only factor for that “good” life? No, but it was a factor.
In fact, when you compare the FHA map from 1930s with our poorest census trackstoday, you see the havoc systematic racist housing policies continue to wreak today. Without the ability to accumulate wealth through home ownership, black families wereworking without a safety net. Thus, when a financial calamity strikes — a medical emergency, divorce, job loss — as it always does for every family, the fall into poverty is precipitous and almost always permanent.
And, of course, we cannot forget the overt racism and bigotry that prevented black people from getting jobs. There was a time where our own City judged candidates for jobs by assuming associations. So if you were related to, knew, or lived next to someone who had a felony conviction or had financial struggles, you would not be hired; thus, effectively eliminating huge swaths of City residents.
This is our history — yours and mine. In order to have a just City, we need to understand it. Understand that poverty is more complicated than simply thinking someone is poor because they do not work as hard as you and I do. Understand that the poverty we see was caused by many decisions which none of us here made, but, for which we are responsible. Those decisions have left a bitter residue in families’ histories and lives. A residue that, someone told me last week quoting Marvin Gaye, “Make [Her] Wanna Holler.”
Syracuse does not exist in a bubble. The frustration and anger is real in our country and here. So, perhaps, the most important question each of us must answer is how then do we move — knowing that anger — from understanding to justice.
For me it starts with believing that justice is possible for everyone. For me it means knowing that it is not a crime to be poor just as it is not noble to be rich.
That death is always a tragedy. That violence is not power. And silence — in the aftermath of violence — is not solidarity.
I believe it means dedicating oneself permanently to the struggle to make justice areality for everyone. It’s more than ranting about select injustices and simply blaming others. And when change does not come fast enough or is not meaningful enough, it means saying what role can I have in making it come faster and being better. It means believing in your own power and understanding your responsibility to make this neighborhood, this City, this world better.
A number of years ago, James Baldwin, the writer, wrote a letter about how to stand for justice in an unjust world. He wrote:
“if the word ‘integration’ means anything, this is what it means, that we with love shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it, for this is your home, my friend. Do not be driven from it. Great men have done great things here and will again and we can make America what America must become.”
I believe that will be true, if we do it together. If each of us is instrument of. peace; and where there is hatred, we act with love; where there is injury, we pardon; where there is despair, we act to bring hope; where there is darkness, we bring light; and where there is sadness, joy.
That we first seek to console, rather than demanding to be consoled. That we seek to understand the other first and to be understood ourselves second, to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, and it is in pardoning, that we are pardoned.
I believe if each of us do this then we can make Syracuse and America what they must become.