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Dorothy Mae Richardson, Community Activist

This is the third post in our Black History Month series. Be sure to read last week’s post, a profile of Samuel J. Cullers, the first Black urban planner. 

Dorothy Mae Richardson

Life: 1922-1991

Birthplace: Ft. Morgan, CO before soon moving to Pittsburgh

Education: Allegheny High School, Pittsburgh ‘40.


Dorothy Mae Richardson was a community activist who introduced a new model of community development. 

As part of the “urban renewal movement” in the 1960s, many lower-income neighborhoods were knocked down and their residents were forced to move into public housing. The financial industry largely regarded these neighborhoods as unfit for investment, but Richarson refused to see her community perish. 

“I could see houses starting to lean, windows rotting away. The solution was not to tear down the whole neighborhood and move everybody into public housing. The solution was to fix the houses.”

Richardson spearheaded a resident-led campaign for better housing in her Pittsburgh neighborhood. She and her Central North Side neighbors formed the Citizens Against Slum Housing. The organization united financial institutions and government officials in a successful effort to revitalize their neighborhood. Their work had national implications that changed the country’s approach to urban redevelopment and inspired a new model of community-based development.

“It all got started because of one block club…We were sick to death of all the terrible houses, the slum landlords and the rats. We planned to clean up 24 houses. We got the landlord to agree to the plan, and he gave us the spray and stuff to kill the rats and cockroaches. We got through five houses and ran out of the stuff and he reneged on his promise…”

Citizens Against Slum Housing raised $750,000 in grants from area lending institutions, and the funds were used to create the Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Pittsburgh in 1968. NHS went on to successfully secure a $1 million revolving loan from these institutions to facilitate homeownership and fund home repairs. 

Richardson’s advocacy served as the impetus for the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and the formation of the congressionally chartered Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation in 1978. 

The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 encourages commercial banks and savings associations to help meet the credit needs in the communities in which they work, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. The Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, known as NeighborWorks America, is a nonprofit organization that supports community development and promotes reinvestment in older neighborhoods in cooperation with the community, residents and local governments.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Richardson continued her work as a community organizer, educating and inspiring other community leaders. 

Continuing this Work Today

Today, NeighborWorks America continues to help create opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives, and strengthen their communities.

To honor her legacy, NeighborWorks America created the Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership in 1992 to recognize outstanding community leaders around the country for their contributions to affordable housing and community-based development. 

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