Henry Patterson was the first Philadelphia director of the United Negro College Fund and was active in a number of organizations, including the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Swarthmore Friends Meeting. He was a prolific letter writer who retained copies of letters that he wrote and also responses he received. The materials donated to HSP by Patterson’s widow include these letters as well as other sources related to his interests in topics such as civil rights, anticommunism, and Japanese internment.
In 1954, he wrote the series of letters highlighted in this lesson to persuade the venerable members of the President’s Committee on Government Contracts (including Vice President Richard Nixon and Cabinet Secretary Maxwell Rabb) to use their collective authority to prevent the builders of Levittown, Pennsylvania, from creating an all-white suburban development.
- Students will be able to cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
- Students will be able to determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
- Students will be able to assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.
- Students will be able to identify and evaluate conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations in United States history from 1890 to the present.
- Students will be able to evaluate how continuity and change have influenced United States history from 1890 to the present.
Background on Henry Patterson
Homogeneous: being the same or similar
Housing Discrimination: the inability to live in the house or neighborhood you desire based upon race or economic class
Restrictive Covenants: legal document ensuring racial discrimination
1. Introduce students to the topic and review the vocabulary. Preview important information for students to look for while reading.
2. Break students into small groups and distribute a packet of the primary sources to each group.
3. Have students read over the primary sources.
4. Assign or review the following questions with students (This work can be done individually or in groups. Students could be provided with these questions on paper to answer as a potential assessment):
- What are the general points that Patterson uses to persuade members of the President’s Committee on Government Contracts to become involved in the Levittown affair? How does Patterson attempt to make personal connections with the intended recipients of his letters?
- According to the American Friends Service Committee report, what has been the role of the federal government in supporting residential segregation?
- What is the purpose of the President’s Committee on Government Contracts?
- What steps do the recipients of the letters tell Patterson they will take?
- According to Loren Miller, a California lawyer and specialist in housing discrimination, what are the similarities and differences between the events in Levittown and those in Little Rock?
- Restrictive covenants (legal documents ensuring racial segregation) were declared unenforceable by the Supreme Court in 1948, yet Levittown was permitted to develop as an all-white enclave. What does the correspondence between Patterson and members of the Committee on Government Contracts indicate about the limitations of federal intervention in securing equal access to housing?
- Is Patterson correct in asserting that residential segregation was a product of federal government policy?
- Was residential integration a goal worth prioritizing during the 1950s? Is it still an important objective today? Are people today more or less free to choose where they want to live than they were in the 1950s?
5. Assessment and Conclusion: Have students write or discuss whether they see that Patterson’s actions could have had any affect on their lives?
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