Mississippi RV park owners who refused to rent to an interracial couple in 2016 have been charged with violating the Fair Housing Act. Linda and Gene Baker, the owner and manager of the RV park in Belden, are charged under the act that prohibits housing providers from refusing to rent because of race or color, according to a Clarion-Ledger report.
Gene Baker acknowledged to the Clarion Ledger at the time that he asked the interracial married couple to leave his RV park near Tupelo. Baker, who lives in Aberdeen, said he did it only because "the neighbors were giving me such a problem." He could not be reached for comment regarding the latest development.
But he reportedly told Housing and Urban Development officials the eviction had nothing to do with race. Erica Flores Dunahoo is Hispanic and Native American, and her husband, Stanley Hoskins, a National Guardsman who fought in Afghanistan, is African-American.
Dunahoo said she was glad to hear that the Housing and Urban Development had charged Baker.
“Hopefully this will stop stuff like this,” she said. “I don’t understand it.”
Until being kicked out of the RV park, the couple had not experienced mistreatment in Mississippi during their decade together, she said. Marriages between white and black Mississippians were illegal in Mississippi until 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out laws that barred interracial marriage. A year later, the Fair Housing Act made it illegal to refuse to rent to people on the basis of their "race, color, religion, sex or national origin."
In the decades since, cultural barriers have begun to fade.
In 2011, The New York Times featured Mississippi as having one of the nation's fastest growing multiracial populations — up 70 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Two years ago, Dunahoo, then 40, and her husband, Stanley Hoskins, then 37, who have two children, were looking to rent an RV space when she contacted Baker. "We were trying to save money to get our life on track," she said. On Feb. 28, 2016, she arrived at the RV park and gave Baker a $275 check for rent for the month.
"He was real nice," she said. "He invited me to church and gave me a hug. I bragged on him to my family."
The next day, she said Baker telephoned her and said, "Hey, you didn't tell me you was married to no black man." She said she replied that she didn't realize it was a problem. "Oh, it's a big problem with the members of my church, my community and my mother-in-law," she quoted him as saying. "They don't allow that black and white shacking."
"We're not shacking. We're married," she replied. "Oh, it's the same thing," she quoted him as replying.
She said he told her, "You don't talk like you wouldn't be with no black man. If you would had come across like you were with a black man, we wouldn't have this problem right now." She said she replied, "My husband ain't no thug. He's a good man. My husband has served his country for 13 years. He's a sergeant in the National Guard."
Hoskins called the situation "ludicrous." He and Dunahoo, who retained her last name after marriage, went to talk to Baker again. She said she had "prayed and prayed" for Baker to change his mind. He didn't. Baker returned the $275 the couple paid, and they relocated to another RV park where the rent is higher — $325 a month.
Dunahoo said she reported the matter to the NAACP because she believes Baker should not be allowed to turn away interracial couples.
"I just want it to be where everybody is treating everybody equally." Asked if he had a problem with a mixed-race couple, Baker replied, "Oh, no." He said his church lets interracial couples attend. Dunahoo said he told her they could attend their church, but "we're not allowed to be members." Baker explained that if neighbors have a problem, "the best thing you can do is what the neighbors want to do." Asked if he would rent the RV space if another interracial couple showed up, he replied, "I'm closing it down, and that solves the problem."
The charge is slated to be heard by an administrative law judge. If the judge concludes that discrimination has occurred, he or she may award damages to the complainants for their loss as a result of the discrimination as well as impose civil penalties.
"This month we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination because of race," said Anna María Farias, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "This case reminds property owners that they have an obligation to treat all people fairly and demonstrates HUD's continuing commitment to fighting housing discrimination."
J. Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi Law School, said the charges send the message that small-unit landlords must obey the Fair Housing Law, too. Johnson, who represents the couple and consulted with Ole Miss’ Low-Income Housing Clinic, said HUD lawyers were moved by Dunahoo’s story.
"This is a story about a mother devastated by the thought of her daughters ever thinking of themselves as less than," he said. "She refused to just walk away from it as many victims of racism do every day. They have become accustomed to shrugging it off. The good news here is the U.S. government, during the Trump administration, is offended enough by this behavior to take on a case in Belden, Mississippi, in a trailer park with five hookups. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”