Levittown, the Long Island community where Bill O’Reilly grew up, holds a unique place in history for two reasons: It was the original subdivision, a mass-produced town of neatly uniform, affordable Cape Cod homes that would serve as a model for postwar suburbs for decades to come.
And it was available only to whites.
The latter detail — now at the center of an epic standoff between O’Reilly and Jon Stewart over race, suburbia and the legacy of “white privilege” — wasn’t an innovation specific to Levittown. Racial discrimination in housing wasn’t merely commonplace in the 1940s and ’50s; it was government policy. The Federal Housing Administration helped finance the construction of many suburban places like Levittown on the condition that they exclude blacks. And it underwrote mortgages to white families there with the expectation that their property values would only hold if blacks did not move in.
At first, the requirement that homeowners in Levittown not rent or sell their homes to minorities was included in the deeds to their homes. Yes, homeowners in Bill O’Reilly’s hometown were contractually bound to keep out blacks.