Richard Rothstein: “The Color of Law”

Richard Rothstein: “The Color of Law”


ROBERT SELF: Thank
you, Stephanie so much, and thank you all for coming. As Stephanie said, my
name is Robert Self, and I’m the chair of
the history department. And I’m really pleased to have
joined this semester with CSREA and the American
Studies department to sponsor this series
called Segregated– Structural Racism in the
Shaping of American Cities. And Stacey mentioned wealth,
opportunity, and safety. And the way that
this series will work is each of those concepts,
wealth, opportunity, and safety, will be visited
by particular speakers. So today we have, of
course, Richard Rothstein who will talk about a big
overall national story about the role of the
federal government in segregating American cities. And our final two
speakers, Nathan Connolly and Elizabeth Hinton will
address more specific questions of opportunity,
safety, policing, the ways in which urban spaces
are constructed, imagined, policed, regulated, and so on. Cities in North America, and
in particular the regions that became the United
States, have been shaped by forms of
racial segregation and racial inequities since
the colonial era, when slave markets were an indelible
feature of the urban landscape, both North and South. But after the Second
World War, a specific set of forces, institutional
actors, and public policy came together to create
intensified and lasting forms of segregation and stark
racial preferences for whites at the expense of
people of color. This produced what the
historian Arnie Hirsch once called, quote, “the
second ghetto,” using the language of
an earlier era, a space of racial isolation
and disadvantage created by public policy. The federal government itself,
in one of the most honest, if schizophrenic, reports
it has ever delivered, the 1968 Kerner
Commission Report, wrote of this, quote,
“second ghetto,” “White institutions created it,
white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” This a mere 30 years after
that same federal government had put in place many of
the very policies that made the ghetto itself. It is the specific set of
forces, actors, and policies that came together
after World War II to create the modern urban
racial landscape that are the subject of this
speaker series this semester. And so with that brief
introduction to the series, I want to turn to our speaker
today, Richard Rothstein. Mr. Rothstein is a
distinguished fellow of Economic Policy Institute
and a senior Fellow Emeritus at the Thurgood Marshall
Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and of the Haas
Institute at the University of California Berkeley. He is the author most recently,
drawing on that today, of The Color of Law– A Forgotten History of How our
Government Segregated America, which was long listed for
the National Book Award and recently won the 2018
Sidney Hillman Prize. It’s from this work
that he’ll draw today. Rothstein has been for much
of his career a scholar and a policy analyst
of education. In this vein, he is the
author of such books as Grading Education– Getting Accountability Right,
Class and Schools Using Social, Economic, Educational Reform
to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap, and
The Way we Were– Myths and Realities of
American Student Achievement, among a number of other books. The Color of Law
draws on his own work and importantly
on the scholarship of a generation of
sociologists and historians whose documentation
of the federal role in urban segregation,
including government-sanctioned redlining, has been so
central to our understanding of the recent urban past. And with that, let
me say how delighted I am to welcome Richard
Rothstein to Brown. [APPLAUSE] RICHARD ROTHSTEIN:
Thank you, Robert. You know, I tried
out that table. It’s sturdy enough
for someone to sit on. And then probably
this one is, too, although I didn’t
try that one out. And there’s another seat
there, so come on, somebody. Well, thank you, Robert. And as I always
have to say, I also want to thank Robert for
his important research in Oakland, which I drew
on so heavily in doing this work myself. As you all know, in
the 20th century, we made a decision nationally
to abolish segregation in this country. We had a civil rights movement. It began by challenging
segregation in law schools. Civil rights lawyers sued
to desegregate law schools because they figured that if
judges couldn’t understand anything else, they might
be able to figure out that you couldn’t get a good
legal education in a segregated the law school. That was the first case. And then that precedent was
used to challenge segregation in colleges and universities. And then that precedent was
used as the basis for the Brown versus Board of
Education decision that you’re all
familiar with in 1954 that abolished legal segregation
in elementary and secondary schools. And then the Brown decision
gave new impetus and inspiration to a growing civil
rights movement, that over the course
of the next 15 years challenged segregation and
everything from water fountains to buses. You’re all familiar with
the Rosa Parks story, to lunch counters, to public
accommodations of all kinds, interstate transportation. And then at the
end of the 1960s, the civil rights movement
folded up its tent and left untouched the
biggest segregation of all, which is that
every metropolitan area in this country is
residentially segregated. We came to understand in the
1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s that segregation was
wrong, that it was immoral, that it was harmful to
both African-Americans and to whites, even that
it was unconstitutional. And yet, we left untouched the
biggest segregation of all, and that’s always
been a puzzle to me. How is it that we accept the
fact that we have residentially segregated metropolitan areas? I’ve lived in many. Every one of them
and I’ve lived in has had clearly
defined areas that were black or almost all black,
white or almost all white. How is it that
we’ve ignored this? We don’t think
it’s a great thing. Most of us think
it’s a bad thing but we don’t feel any obligation
to do anything about it as we did about all the other
forms of segregation that we challenged
in the 20th century. I guess in one sense, it’s
not that hard to understand. It’s a lot harder to challenge
segregation in neighborhoods than to challenge segregation
in water fountains. If you abolish segregation i
water fountains, the next day, you can drink from
any water fountain. The colored and white
signs come down, and we no longer have
segregated water fountains. But if we abolish segregation
in neighborhoods, the next day, well, things wouldn’t
look much different. It’s a harder thing to do. And so what we’ve
done, all of us– and I mean all of
us, myself included– whites and blacks, Democrats
and Republicans, liberals and conservatives,
Northerners and Southerners, is we’ve adopted a
national rationalization to excuse ourselves from doing
something that’s very hard, desegregating neighborhoods. And that rationalization
goes something like this. The forms of segregation that we
abolished in the 20th century, well, those were all
created by government. There were ordinances,
and laws, and regulations, public policies that separated
blacks and whites in schools, and colleges, in
restaurants, in buses, in all of the other
institutions that we challenged. And because this was required,
this kind of segregation was required by
government policy, will, it violated the Constitution. It was a civil rights violation. In the case of the
federal government, that violated where the federal
government was involved. It violated the Fifth
Amendment to the Constitution. In the case of state
and local policy, it was a violation of the 14th
Amendment of the Constitution. And as we came to recognize
that this was a civil rights violation, we understood that
as a constitutional democracy, all of us had an
obligation to remedy it, as citizens of this democracy. Residential segregation,
though, we tell ourselves, is something very different. Residential segregation was
not the creation of government. Residential segregation
was the creation of private people,
private activity. Bigoted white homeowners
wouldn’t sell homes to African-Americans
in white neighborhoods, or real estate agents
and banks operating in the private
economy discriminated in the way in which they showed
homes, or rented apartments, or issued mortgages. Or maybe it’s just
that blacks and whites like to live with each
other of the same race. We all feel more
comfortable living with people who have the
same skin color that we do. Or maybe we tell ourselves
it’s really just a product of income differences. On average– of course,
there are distributions– but on average,
African-American incomes are lower than the average
African and white incomes, and many African-Americans
just can’t afford to move to middle-class
white neighborhoods. All of these individual,
personal, economic, private, bigoted decisions
is what created residential segregation. And if it happened
by accident, it’s not our responsibility
to do anything about it. It can only unhappen
by accident. And therefore, we’ve absolved
ourselves of the obligation to address it. Well, as Robert said
in introducing me, I was a student of
education policy. I knew nothing about
housing before I started working on this
topic, and I still know very little about
it, but I’m learning fast. But I was an education
policy analyst. And in much of the
1990s and 2000s, I was writing denunciations of
federal education policy, which assumed that the only
reason we had an achievement gap between black students
and white students is because teachers
had low expectations. The schools weren’t
held accountable for higher achievement
by black students. And if only we made tougher
accountability policies, tested students more, publicized
the test results, the black-white gap
would disappear. And I wrote many columns
arguing that this was nonsense, that the reason we
have an achievement gap is primarily because of the
social and economic conditions that children from lower
socioeconomic groups, particularly minorities,
come to school with that impedes their learning. And I gave many,
many examples of this in articles that I wrote
and books that I wrote. And Robert mentioned
a couple of them, but I’ll just give one example. We know that African-American
children in urban areas have asthma at four times the
rate of middle-class children. If a child has
asthma, that child is likely to be up at night,
drowsy the next day, wheezing, sometimes sleepless, less
frequently coming to school. Asthma’s the biggest cause of
chronic school absenteeism. And I tried to explain that if
you had two groups of children who are equal in
every respect, two identical groups of
children– same race, same socioeconomic distribution,
same family background, equal in every respect except
one group had a higher rate of asthma, and
therefore is going to come to school more drowsy,
and less often, and more sleepless, that group is
going to have lower average achievement. That seems to me a
simple matter of logic. It’s not to say that
some children with asthma don’t have higher achievement
than typical children without, because there’s
a distribution of outcome for every human characteristic. But on average, if
school means anything, a child who comes to school
paying less attention because they haven’t gotten
any sleep the night before is going to do less
well, typically. And there are so many
of these conditions– asthma, lead poisoning,
from living in more polluted neighborhoods and
less well-maintained homes, or stress from
parental economic insecurity or homelessness. And you add them all
up, and they explain most of the achievement gap. But then I began to
think– it took me a while. I’m a slow learner. I began to think that
if you take children with these conditions
and you concentrate them in single schools, so
that every child has either asthma, or
lead poisoning, or stress, or homelessness,
or some combination of these and other socioeconomic
disadvantages, it’s inconceivable that
that school, no matter how high teacher expectations were,
that that school can achieve at the same level of schools
where children come to school well-rested, and without
cognitive deficiencies created by lead absorption, and
unstressed, and in good health, and so forth. So that’s how I
came to this topic. I began to worry about the
concentration of disadvantage in schools. And we call those
kinds of schools, obviously, segregated schools. And I knew that schools were
segregated in this country, racially homogeneous
in large part because they’re located in
segregated neighborhoods. In fact, schools are
more segregated today in this country than any
time in the last 45 years because our neighborhoods
are so segregated. So this was my concern. And then in 2007,
the Supreme Court issued a decision in
the field of education that as an education
policy analyst, I had to read and analyze. And this was a
case that involved the school districts of Seattle,
Washington and Louisville, Kentucky. Both of those school districts
had very, very modest token desegregation plans. The leaders of those
school districts understood the conditions. I was just talking
about, and they wanted to desegregate their
schools to some extent, so they adopted a very
trivial plan in which parents had a choice of which school
to send their child to within the district. But if the choice was
going to further exacerbate the racial concentration
of a school, that choice would not
be honored in favor of the choice of a child
that would ameliorate the racial concentration. So if you had an all-white
or mostly white school and there was one place
left, and both a black and a white child
applied for that place, the black child would be
given some preference, and vise versa. How could you imagine
a more trivial plan? How many times do you
have one place left and you have to choose between
a black and a white applicant? It almost never happens,
but that was the plan. The Supreme Court
denounced the plan. They said it was
unconstitutional. It was a violation of
the Fourth Amendment to take race into account
in pupil assignment. And the reason the
Supreme Court said– John Roberts wrote the opinion– he said well, the
schools in Seattle are segregated because the
neighborhoods in which they’re located were segregated. I thought that was a
pretty wise observation on the Chief Justice’s part. That’s, in fact, why the schools
in Louisville and Seattle were segregated. And they went on to say if the
neighborhoods are segregated, de facto, for all the reasons
that I just described. And if they were segregated
because of private bigotry, and actors in the
private economy, and people’s self choices,
and income differences, it wasn’t the creation
of government. And therefore, it’s not a
violation of the Constitution. It’s just an accident
of demography. And if it doesn’t
violate the Constitution, it’s not permitted to remedy it. Well, as you can see, I’ve
been around for a few years. And I read this decision,
and suddenly, something struck me about a case
I’d read about many years before in Louisville,
Kentucky, one of the districts that was the subject
of this case. In Louisville, there
was a white homeowner in a suburb of Louisville called
Shively, a single family home suburb on the outskirts
of Louisville, who had an
African-American friend who was living in the central
city of Louisville renting an apartment. The African-American friend
was a decorated Navy veteran. He had a wife and a
daughter, a good job. He wanted to move to
a single family home, but as de facto
segregation tells us, nobody would sell one to him. So the white family,
the white homeowner bought a second home in
the suburb of Shively and resold it to his
African-American friend. In those days, that
was about the only way that African-Americans ever
moved into white neighborhoods was if a white family bought a
home and then resold it to it that African-American. And when the
African-American family moved in to this single
family home in Shively, an angry mob, and angry mob
of white neighbors surrounded the home, protected
by the police. They threw rocks
through the windows. They dynamited and
firebombed the home. Despite the fact the
police were present, they couldn’t identify
a single perpetrator. And when the riot was all over,
the state of Kentucky arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed
with a 15-year sentence the white homeowner
for sedition, for having sold a home to
an African-American family. And I said to myself,
this doesn’t sound to me much like de facto segregation. Maybe there’s something that
Chief Justice John Roberts doesn’t know about the
history of how this happened that’s worth investigating. And so I began the
investigation that led to the book, The Color
of Law that Robert mentioned. And what I concluded was
that not only were there thousands of cases like this–
and I’m not exaggerating. I use the word
deliberately– thousands of cases of mob violence
protected by the police to drive African-Americans
out of white neighborhoods, but there were many, many
other federal, state, and local policies, racially
explicit policies that were designed to ensure
that African-Americans and whites could not live near
one another in urban areas. It’s not to say that there
wasn’t bigotry involved. Of course there was,
private bigotry. But there were so
many public policies that were equally as
powerful as the policies of segregated restaurants,
and lunch counters, and buses, and schools that de facto
segregation is another myth. We have a de jure system,
to use the court’s term, of residential segregation. The residential segregation
of every metropolitan area, the racial boundaries
that we see, are a violation of
the Constitution as much as the segregation
of water fountains was. And if that’s the case– and I’m convinced that
this is the case– and if that’s the case, then
it’s a civil rights violation, and we have an obligation, all
of us, as American citizens, to remedy it, if we
want to call ourselves a constitutional democracy. We can no longer use the
excuse that, oh, well, this happened by
private activity. It’s not our responsibility. So let me describe in addition
to the use of the courts, and the police, and the
criminal justice system to enforce racial
boundaries some of the other chief policies that
the federal government used. There were many at the state
and local level as well to enforce segregation. I want to emphasize it’s
not to say that there wasn’t private bigotry involved. All the things that I mentioned
before certainly took place. But our constitution
says that no matter how much private bigotry
there is, no matter how much private activity
to create segregation there is, if the
government embraces it, then it becomes a
constitutional violation. The Bill of Rights exists
to require government to resist private
discrimination, not to embrace it. So let me describe some
of the chief policies that were followed by the
federal government to create the civil
rights violation which is residential segregation. First one I’ll mention
is public housing. Now, I think all of you
know what public housing is. I did before I did
this research, before I began reading about this stuff. Public housing is a place we
think where poor people live, single mothers with
children, lots of them, lots of young men without
jobs in the formal economy, lots of deteriorated
buildings, lots of interactions with the police. Public slums, that’s our
image of public housing. But that’s not how public
housing began in this country. Public housing began in this
country during the New Deal, during the Depression, by
the Roosevelt administration, and it was housing for
middle-class working-class families who had
jobs, good jobs, who could afford
to pay for housing, could afford to pay
rent for apartments. It wasn’t for poor people. Poor people were not
allowed into public housing in those days, when the
public housing first began. The Depression, of course,
had a lot of unemployment. 25% of the workforce
was unemployed, and enormous unemployment. But public housing was
for the 75% who had jobs. But who had no housing,
because no housing was being built in the Depression. There was a big
housing shortage. So the Public Works
Administration, one of the first
New Deal agencies, built public housing
across much of the country, certainly east of the
Mississippi River. The government wasn’t
much involved west of the Mississippi
in those days. Built public housing, and
everywhere it built it, it built it for,
again, working-class white, middle-class families
on a segregated basis, separate projects for whites
and for African-Americans, frequently, frequently
creating segregation where it hadn’t previously existed. Now, that also may surprise you. Certainly, we had a
lot of segregation, informal segregation in the
country in many eastern cities after World War I and the great
migration of African-Americans into eastern cities. But there are also many
integrated neighborhoods, working-class neighborhoods
in particular, near downtown areas because factory districts,
factories, warehouses, service industries
serving them, all had to be located in a central
area near either a railroad terminal or a deep water
port, because that’s where they got their parts and
shipped their final products. And workers who didn’t
have automobiles had to walk to work or take
short street car rides. So if you had a
factory district that had employed workers who
are African-American, and Irish, and Italian, and
Jewish, and rural migrants, and they all had to live in
broadly the same neighborhoods. Not to suggest every other
home was a different race, but broadly integrated
neighborhoods. The great African-American
poet novelist playwright Langston Hughes, whom I hope
many of you are familiar with, wrote in his autobiography
that he grew up in a downtown integrated
Cleveland neighborhood. We don’t think of
downtown Cleveland as being an integrated
place today. But he said in high school,
his best friend was Polish. He dated a Jewish girl. This was not the
norm, but it wasn’t unique either in those
times, much more commonplace than it is today for
high school students. And the Public Works
Administration, the first New Deal agency, demolished
housing in that downtown area of Cleveland to build two
separate projects, one for African-Americans
and one for whites, creating a pattern
of segregation with that and other
projects elsewhere in Cleveland that
were also segregated, creating a pattern
of segregation or reinforcing a
pattern of segregation that otherwise would never have
developed with such strength. In my book, I like to talk about
self-satisfied smug places. I don’t know if
Providence qualifies, but Cambridge, Massachusetts
is one that I talk about. The area between
Harvard and MIT, the central square neighborhood,
was about half black and half white the 1930s. It was an integrated
neighborhood. The Public Works Administration
demolished housing there to build two separate
projects, one for whites, one for African-Americans, creating
a pattern of segregation, and with that and
other projects also segregated in the Boston area,
that otherwise would never have developed with such strength. During World War II, hundreds
of thousands of workers flocked to centers
of war production to take jobs in
the war industries. Jobs had been scarce
during the Depression. The war industries absorbed
a lot of the unemployment. Workers flocked from all over
the rural areas of the South, and the Midwest, the Western
states, the Southwest, to take jobs in war industries. And they overwhelmed
the communities where they were located, where
these plants were located. And if the government wanted
the ships, and the planes, and the tanks, and the Jeeps
to continue to be produced, it had to produce housing
for these workers, so it did. It produced separate
housing, segregated housing for African-Americans
and whites. Frequently, they were
working in the same plants, but separate housing for
African-American and white war workers, creating a pattern
of segregation in some places and reinforcing the
pattern in others that otherwise would never have
existed with such strength. And in my book, again, I pick on
a place, the San Francisco Bay Area. A community called Richmond,
a small suburb of Berkeley was the center of shipbuilding
on the West Coast, had very few African-Americans
living there. There were some domestic
workers who were typically related to Pullman
Car Porters who were living in an integrated
West Oakland area who were living in Richmond
before that, but very few African-Americans. It was a community of 20,000. And by the end of the war,
the shipyards in Richmond were employing 100,000 workers. And if you add in the families
that they brought with them, it was probably an influx
of 300,000 people or so into Richmond, and no
community like that can absorb 300,000 people
in a period of four years. If the government wanted
the shipyards to continue, it had to build housing for
those workers, and it did. It built segregated housing. Segregated housing frequently
for the African-American workers was mostly
located along the railroad tracks in the industrial area. It was shabby housing. The city of Richmond announced
that the African-Americans who came to Richmond to work in
the shipyards during the war would have to leave
at the end of the war. And it built housing for the
white shipyard workers closer to the more residential
areas, and close to shopping, and other amenities, and
frequently more stable housing. And this was done all over the
country wherever there were war plants, segregated housing. After World War II, there
was still an enormous housing shortage. Not only was no housing
built during the Depression except for the few public
projects that I mentioned. During World War II,
it was prohibited to use construction materials
for civilian purposes except for housing
for war workers. So there’s an enormous
housing shortage, and then millions of
returning war veterans were coming home
needing housing, so we had an enormous
housing shortage. People were doubled and tripled
up living with relatives, both African-Americans
and whites living in open fields
and Quonset huts. President Truman, who succeeded
Roosevelt as president after World War II, had to
address this housing crisis, and so he proposed a vast
expansion of the National Public Housing Program. And remember, public housing
was still at this time mostly for people who
could afford to pay rent. This was not a program
for poor people. These were returning
war veterans who had jobs in the post-war
boom, employment boom, but there was no
housing for them. And so he proposed a vast
expansion of the public housing program for returning
war veterans, and conservatives
in Congress wanted to defeat Truman’s
1949 Housing Act, not because they
didn’t want to serve poor people– there weren’t
poor people to speak of. A few, but not too many
living in public housing. Not for racial reasons, because
it was always segregated. They didn’t object to that. They wanted to defeat
it because they thought that public housing
was socialistic, that the private market should
take care of the housing needs of returning war veterans,
even though the private market wasn’t doing so. And so they came up with
a strategy that we call– it’s a term maybe some of you
have heard, the poison pill strategy. A poison pill
strategy is a strategy where opponents of
a bill in Congress put forward an amendment which
can garner majority and pass. But then when the
amendment is attached to the bill and the full bill
as amended comes before the two Houses of Congress,
a different majority, because of that amendment,
then votes against the bill and sends it down to defeat. So conservatives in Congress,
led by a then Senator from Ohio Robert Taft, who
was called Mr. Conservative, proposed an amendment
to the National Housing Act of 1949 that said
that from now on, no more racial discrimination
in public housing. Couldn’t segregate
public housing anymore, had to be a
non-discriminatory program. Of course, it was a cynical
amendment he proposed. He didn’t want public
housing at all. But he planned that he and
his fellow conservatives would vote for this amendment. They would be joined by
Northern liberals who would also vote for the amendment. That would create a
majority, a combination of northern liberals and
conservative Republicans in favor of integration. And then when the
full bill came up before the House of
Congress, Houses of Congress, requiring an integrated
public housing program, the conservatives would flip
and vote against the final bill. They would be joined now
by Southern Democrats, who were all in favor of
segregated public housing, but not integrated
public housing, so the entire bill
would go down to defeat. So that was their
poison pill strategy. Liberals had to
decide what to do. Were they going to support
the integration amendment, as many of them wanted? Not all, but many
of them wanted to, understanding that
if they did, there would be no public housing built
because the full public housing program went
[? down in ?] defeat. Or would they oppose the
integration amendment to guarantee the continuation
and vast expansion of public housing? It was a difficult,
difficult decision. There was an enormous housing
crisis, just as we have today. To solve the
housing crisis, they were going to have to
sacrifice integration. And which way were
they going to go? Well, they debated for a while. And eventually, they
decided, northern liberals decided to vote against
the integration amendment. The leading liberal at
the time in Congress was Paul Douglas, a
senator from Illinois. He was joined by the
leader of this faction, Mr. Civil Rights in the
United States Senate, Hubert Humphrey, who had
made a name for himself by insisting on a
civil rights platform in the Democratic
Party, a civil rights plank in the Democratic
Party platform in the previous
presidential election. Douglas got up on the
floor of the Senate and made a speech along
the following lines. He said, I want to say
to my Negro friends that you’ll be better off
with segregated housing if this amendment
is defeated than you will be with no housing at all
if the amendment is passed. It was a difficult decision. In retrospect, although I’m
not minimizing the difficulty of this decision, I’m not
sure that we were better off, that anyone was better off
by the vast reinforcement of racial segregation
that took place as a result of the vast
expansion of the Public Housing Act in 1949. As a result of that act,
much of the public housing that was built in this country
that we’re all familiar with took place. Giant towers in many cities
of the country, as some of you may recall up the Pruitt-Igoe
Projects in St. Louis that became quite famous for
their deteriorating state. It was actually not the
Pruitt-Igoe Projects. There was no such thing. There were two projects. Pruitt was for
African-Americans, Igoe was for whites. And very soon after all of
these projects were built, a development occurred
that was quite surprising to most observers and
to housing officials, and that was that all the white
projects suddenly developed large numbers of vacancies. The Igoe Project,
virtually empty. The black-designated projects
had long waiting lists. Even the most bigoted local
public housing officials couldn’t justify and
sustain the situation where in the same city, some
projects were virtually empty and others had
long waiting lists. So in the beginning of
the 1950s, late 1940s, all of the projects were
opened up to African-Americans. Soon, public housing
became in most cities a predominantly
African-American institution. And about the same time, and
then development occurred. Industry, remember, had to be
located near deep water ports on the river or near
railroad stations. Industry left the cities. No longer did it need to be
located near rail terminals or ports. Highways were being built.
They could get its parts and ship its final
products by truck, so industry moved out of
cities into rural areas and suburban areas. The result was that
the people who are now living in the cities, public
housing residents as well as others, increasingly
African-American, no longer had access to good
industrial jobs. They became poorer. Incomes declined. They can no longer pay
the rent in public housing that they had been
paying before. Public housing came
to be subsidized. Once it came to be
subsidized, government stopped investing in it,
stopped maintaining it. The projects deteriorated. The housing crisis
for poor people became so great that public
housing officials decided that any middle-class
people who were remaining in public housing
should be evicted to make a place for the poor. And so we wound up concentrating
poor people in public housing, and that’s how we got the
deteriorated concentrations of poverty and public
housing that we know today. But that’s not how
public housing began, and that’s not how
it needs to be, if we think about its origins. Well, the question I
want to address now is, why did all the vacancies
occur in the white projects and not in the black projects? And that was because of
another federal program that was perhaps
even more powerful in creating racial segregation
than the segregated public housing program. And that was a program of the
Federal Housing Administration that was explicitly on a
racially explicit basis designed to move white
families out of urban areas into single family
homes in the suburbs. It was a racially
explicit program. And this is how the entire
suburbanization of the country took place in the 1940s,
and ’50s, and early ’60s. And you’re familiar with this. All over the
country, the suburbs were built at this time. The most famous of them,
the one I talked about a lot in the book is Levittown,
east of New York City. You’ve all heard
of that, I assume. But maybe some of you
remember hearing a song that Pete Seeger used to
sing about the little boxes on the hillside
made of ticky tacky, and they all look the same. That was another
development that was just as large
as Levittown that was south of San Francisco. Los Angeles became the symbol of
suburbanization in the country. Communities like Panorama City,
or Lakewood, or Westchester, west of Los Angeles, or all
of these giant developments as well as many smaller ones,
thousands of them in between, were created by the Federal
Housing Administration for whites only on a
racially explicit basis during this period. Take Levittown, for
example, or Westlake, which is the name of the
little boxes on the hillside, or any of the
others I mentioned, Henry William Levitt, who
was the builder of Levittown, or Henry Doelger, who was
the builder of Westlake, could never have
assembled the capital to build 15,000 homes,
17,000 homes in one place for which they had no buyers. No bank would be crazy
enough to lend Levitt the money for that kind
of a speculative venture. The only way that Levitt,
and Doelger, and any of the other builders could
have developed the capital to build these giant suburbs as
well as smaller developers who built smaller subdivisions,
the only way they could get the capital to do this was by
getting the federal government to guarantee their bank loans. And they had to go to
the Federal Housing Administration– Levitt did, the other
developers did– submit their plans
for the development, make a commitment to the
Federal Housing Administration never to sell a home
to an African-American. This was a condition of
the federal guarantee. The Federal Housing
Administration even required Levitt
and these other builders to place a clause in the deed
of every home prohibiting resale to African-Americans or
rental to African-Americans. On that basis, Levitt got
the bank guarantee he needed. He built 17,000 homes in
one place, had buyers. He eventually got buyers
and sold the homes, who had FHA mortgages,
or VA mortgages, if they were returning
war veterans. The mortgages were so favorable,
on a 30-year amortization basis, that these
families could pay less in their monthly housing charges
than they had been paying for rent in public housing
before they were subsidized to move into these developments. And this is how the
suburbanization of the country occurred on an all-white basis. There were many returning war
veterans, African-Americans, who could have
afforded those homes. They were modest,
inexpensive homes. Levittown, for example, and
these other developments I’ve been talking about, were
typically 750, 850 square feet. They sold at the time for
$8,000, $9,000, $10,000 apiece. In today’s inflation-adjusted
dollars, that’s about $100,000. Any working-class
family can afford to buy a home for $100,000. That’s about twice–
that’s less than twice the national median income, with
a 30-year amortized mortgage, and for returning war
veterans, no down payment. But only whites were
permitted to do so. African-Americans were
required to continue living in urban areas,
renting apartments, either in public housing
or in the private sector. These homes that were
purchased by white families with federal subsidy over the
next couple of generations gained in value,
as you all know. You can’t buy a home in these
suburbs today for $100,000. They now sell for $300,000,
$400,000, $500,000, frequently much more, unaffordable
to working-class families of any race, of either
race, of six, seven times national median income now. The white families
who were subsidized by the federal government on
an explicitly racial basis to buy these homes
gained, as these houses gained in value, equity,
wealth from the appreciation of the value of their homes. They used that wealth to send
their children to college, to weather medical
emergencies, or maybe temporary unemployment bouts. They used it to subsidize
their own retirements, and they used it
to bequeath wealth to their children and
grandchildren, who then had down payments
for their own homes that otherwise would have
been unaffordable to them. African-Americans, who are
prohibited from participating in this racially explicit
wealth generating program, continued to live in
urban areas, as I say, in rented apartments. The result is that today,
African-American incomes on average are about 60%,
60% of white incomes. There’s a whole other story
about government policy to create that income gap. I won’t keep you here for
another few hours telling you that story. It’s a different lecture. African-American incomes
as 60% of white incomes. African-American wealth is
only 10% of white wealth. And whatever the reasons
for the 60% ratio is, that enormous disparity
between the 60% income ratio and the 10%
wealth ratio is entirely attributable to
unconstitutional federal housing policy
that was practiced in the mid-20th century that we,
all of us as American citizens, have an obligation to
remedy, and we’ve never even attempted to remedy. It’s not that we’ve tried
to remedy racial segregation in neighborhoods and failed. We’ve never even tried. As I said, the civil
rights movement abandoned the effort
of desegregation at the end of the 1960s. Well, there were many, many
other policies besides the two or the three that I focused on. One is the use of
police-protected violence to drive African-Americans out
of white neighborhoods, the use of public housing to create
patterns of segregation, the Federal Housing
Administration subsidization of
white homeownership in suburban areas, many
other policies in addition to those three that federal,
state, and local governments utilized to create
segregation or sometimes to reinforce informal
segregation that already existed. It would have been so
easy, so easy to have a different history. It would not have
been difficult. Take the example of
Levittown that I gave. What if the Federal
Housing Administration had followed its
constitutional responsibilities and said to Levitt, OK, we’ll
only guarantee your bank loans if you sell homes on a
non-discriminatory basis. There were African-Americans
who could have afforded to move into Levittown. I told one story in
the book, in my book, about an African-American
family that owned a trucking business that
delivered the materials, sheet rock, to Levittown when
it was being built, but they were prohibited from
buying homes in the suburb that they were building. What if the federal
government had said that? You can only sell homes, you can
only have this bank guarantee if you sell on a
non-discriminatory basis. There would have been some
bigoted white families who said, I don’t want to live
in an integrated development. I won’t buy a home. Levitt said if he had followed
a non-discriminatory policy, if he’d been allowed to, he said
no white families would move. That was crazy. That was nonsense. The reality is there was such
an enormous housing shortage that for any white
family who declined to move into an
integrated development because they didn’t want
to have black neighbors, there were 10 waiting in
line to take its place. And the same thing was true
with the Public Housing that was built that I described earlier. If that had been done
on an integrated basis, I don’t think there would have
been many families who would have refused to move into them. Remember, they were living
in integrated neighborhoods before that, in many cases. But if there had,
there would be many who wanted to take his place,
because there was such an enormous housing shortage. So it would have been so
easy to avoid the segregation that we have today. And the segregation
we have today has enormous consequences. It’s the underlying cause of
so many of the social problems that we face in
this country today. I began this talk by talking
about the achievement gap in schools and why
racial segregation is a major contributor to
that achievement gap. It’s an important contributor
to the health disparities between African-Americans and
whites, that African-Americans live in less healthy
neighborhoods, have shorter life
expectancies as a result, higher rates of heart disease. It’s certainly a big cause
of the violent confrontations between police and young
men, which could not exist if we weren’t
concentrating the most disadvantaged young men
in single neighborhoods without access to good
jobs or even transportation to get to those jobs. And I think it also is the
cause of the very dangerous political polarization that is
threatening our very existence as a democracy in this country. The political polarization
is not entirely racial. It attracts racial
lines, as you all know. And how can we ever develop
a common national identity if so many African-Americans
and whites live so far distant from one another
that they have no ability to empathize with each other,
to understand each other’s life experiences? So the price that we pay
for this devil’s bargain that we made, that
Paul Douglas made, he may have had no choice, but
the price we pay is enormous. Today, of course, as
I began by saying, it’s much more
difficult to remedy this than it was to remedy the
other forms of segregation that we addressed
in the 20th century. The structures that we created,
the segregated structures that we created,
you can pile on top of those race-neutral policies
that simply reinforce it. For example, we
have a big program in this country to develop
low-income housing, affordable housing. We have another enormous
housing crisis today, just like Paul Douglas faced. It’s much easier to
build affordable housing even if it’s
race-neutral on its face in low-income segregated
neighborhoods, and so that’s what we do. We reinforce
segregation by building low-income affordable
housing primarily where it’s easiest to build,
where developers don’t have to hold a hundred community
meetings explaining to neighbors why they’re
bringing black and brown people into your neighborhood. Lands is cheaper there. It’s easier to rent apartments
in segregated neighborhoods, because there are lots
of low-income people who can walk by and see
a sign in the window. If you put those developments
in a middle-class neighborhood, it’s harder to rent. You have to advertise them. So it’s much easier
to take the shortcut and reinforce segregation
by continuing policies that while today,
race-neutral, reinforce the segregation of the past. There are many,
many other policies that we could follow if
we were intent on creating desegregation. For example, we should be,
as a remedy to the wealth gap that we created as a result of
these explicit racial policies, we should be subsidizing
qualified African-Americans to buy homes that are
otherwise unaffordable to them in higher opportunity
neighborhoods. That would be a
narrowly crafted remedy to a specific
constitutional violation, and in light of the history
I described, would have to be upheld by the courts. So the policies to
remedy this are easy. What’s not easy is developing
the political will, the new civil rights movement
that’s necessary to address it. And the reason that
my advanced years on running around the country
talking about this is I want to encourage you to
think about a new civil rights movement in which you can
participate that will begin to raise awareness of this issue
and address the remedy that we, all of us as American citizens,
have an obligation to embrace. So I think we have time
for questions, do we? And thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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