Susan Hoffman: Richard Rothstein, in addition to being an author is a senior fellow at the Haas Institute, is a distinguished fellow of Economic Policy Institute and he works on policy issues regarding education and race. He has served as senior fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and was previously a senior fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on law and social policy at Berkeley’s law school.
His book, which I assume many of you have read has been referred to as rare, providing careful analyses of multiple historical documents. It’s been referred to as original and masterful, masterful explication of the single most vexing problem facing black America and that is the concentration of poor and middle class into segregated neighborhoods. We are delighted that that Mr. Rothstein could join us today. He is a member of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society here on campus, a collaborator of ours, and please give him a warm welcome today.
Richard Rothstein: 01:45 Thank you Susan and, thank you for attending here and engaging in this conversation with me. With regard to Susan’s introduction as, I guess some of, you know, when you’re an old retired guy you get lots of useless titles. And so you’ve heard a few of them. But, I do want to also comment on what other things she said. I’m going to talk not about the single most vexing problem facing black America, but, the single most affecting problem facing white America. This is not, I frequently get asked to talk during Black History Month and this was not about black history, it’s about white history. And I want to spend some time explaining to you why.
02:35 In the 20th century as you all know, we had the Civil Rights Movement. It began by challenging racial segregation in law schools because civil rights lawyers 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 school. And then they used that precedent to challenge racial segregation in colleges and universities. Those precedents bled eventually to a 1954 decision, with which you’re all familiar, Brown vs. Board of Education that abolished legal segregation in elementary and secondary schools. And then the Brown decision gave impetus to an already existent and growing civil rights movement that eventually went on to abolish segregation. And not only with litigation and with legislation, but with marches and demonstrations and civil disobedience, people lost their lives.
03:43 And it went on to abolish segregation in everything from lunch counters, to water fountains to buses to interstate transportation to public accommodations. We came to understand that racial segregation was wrong, that it was immoral, that it was harmful both to blacks and to whites, that it was incompatible with our self conception as a constitutional democracy of equals. And yet at the end of the civil rights movement, we folded up, shop, went home and left untouched the biggest segregation of all, which is every metropolitan area in this country is residentially segregated. I’ve lived in many of them. Every one that I’ve lived in had clearly defined areas that were either all white or mostly all white or all black or mostly all black.
04:42 How could it be that having understood that racial segregation was wrong, immoral, harmful to both blacks and whites and incompatible with our self conception as a constitutional democracy that we left untouched the biggest segregation of all. It’s not that we’ve tried to desegregate neighborhoods and failed. We’ve never tried. It’s never been part of the civil rights agenda. I think in one sense it’s perhaps not difficult to understand and that is that racial segregation of neighborhoods is much more difficult to undo than racial segregation of water fountains. If you abolish segregation of water fountains, the next day anybody can drink from any water fountain. If you abolish segregation in neighborhoods the next day things wouldn’t look much different. It’s much harder thing to attack.
05:35 And so what we’ve done, all of us, and I mean all of us, I include myself, you liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, northerners and southerners. What we’ve done is we’ve adopted a national excuse, a national rationalization for excusing ourselves from addressing the biggest remaining segregation of all that in many ways overwhelms all the others that we previously addressed. And that excuse goes something like this.
06:05 We tell ourselves that racial segregation of schools or buses or water fountains, those were all required by government policy, by ordinance, by legislation, by regulation. As such, any time either the federal, state or local governments required such segregation it violated the constitution. The 5th or the 14th amendments, it was a civil rights violation and we were obligated in society to undo it. But residential segregation, we tell ourselves, that’s something different. That wasn’t created by government law regulation policy. That was something that just sort of happened by accident. It happened because, private homeowners, white homeowners wouldn’t sell homes to African Americans in white neighborhoods. Or actors in the private economy, real estate agents, banks, discriminated in their policies. Real estate agents wouldn’t show homes to families in opposite race neighborhoods. Banks wouldn’t extend mortgages to African Americans. These were private economic activities.
07:12 Or maybe we tell ourselves, people just like to live with each other of the same race. They like to live with each other, who look like them. Not that all African Americans look like each other and not the all whites look like each other, but that’s what we tell ourselves. Or maybe we say that racial segregation happens simply because of economic differences. African Americans on average, not all, but on average, have lower incomes than average white incomes, and so they too frequently can’t afford to move to middle class white neighborhoods.
07:46 All of these individual, personal, private nongovernmental decisions, economic forces, demographic trends is what’s created racial segregation and we say what happened by accident can only unhappen by accident. It didn’t violate the constitution. The Constitution doesn’t prohibit private discrimination. And therefore it’s not a civil rights violation and we’re under no obligation to do something about it, that we think it’s too bad. I don’t think there’s anybody here in this room who thinks it’s a good thing that we’re so racially segregated, but we don’t feel any obligation to do anything about it.
08:25 Well, I spent most of the last many decades studying education policy. I was not an expert in housing policy or in residential arrangements. I knew a lot about education policy. I spent a lot of time writing articles and books denouncing the most commonplace education policy views in the country in the 1990s and 2000s in particular. During those decades, it came to be the consensus view that the reason we had an achievement gap between African American and white children, where African American children typically on average scored lower on standardized tests than white children, um, was because teachers had low expectations of them. They weren’t held accountable for students’ achievement and therefore they let African American children off the hook. And if only we tested children more and held teachers accountable for those test scores, the achievement gap would disappear.
09:35 And that view was embraced in national policy. The no child left behind law. The no child left behind law embraced that view. And I spent a great deal of time denouncing it, saying it was other nonsense. And I wrote article after article, column after column explaining why the predominant cause of the achievement gap was the social and economic differences the children came to school with. It had nothing to do with teacher expectations.
10:15 And I won’t go into length about it because that’s not the topic of this lecture. But just for example, we know that African American children in urban neighborhoods have asthma at four times the rate of middle class children. And if a child has asthma, the child is likely to be up at night. Sometimes wheezing, comes to school drowsy the next day, sleepless, maybe even doesn’t come to school with all — asthma’s the largest single cause of chronic school absenteeism. And I tried to explain, if you had two groups of children who are equal in every respect, identical groups, same race, racial breakdown, same social and economic characteristics, same family structure, identical in every respect, except one of those groups was different in this way, it had a higher rate of asthma than the other, that group was inevitably going to have lower average achievement.
11:08 It’s not that some children with asthma don’t have higher achievement than typical children without, because there’s a distribution of outcomes for every human characteristic. But if school means anything. If you have a group of children coming at the school more sleepless, more drowsy, that group is going to achieve at a lower level than an identical group to comes to school well rested and frequently.
11:32 Well, I explained many, many of these characteristics that predict lower achievement of four characteristics that were more commonplace among African American children living in urban neighborhoods where there’s lead poisoning that has a measurable effect on cognitive ability or homelessness or stress from family economic insecurity. There are dozens and dozens of the characteristics of lower class status in this country that predict lower school achievement. And if you add them all off, they explain the achievement gap, most of it. No matter how high teacher expectations are, they can’t make higher expectations, can’t make children with asthma come to school well rested.
12:20 And then I began thinking about all this. I’m a slow learner. I was thinking about this for a while, for many years, even decades, as I said. It occurred to me that if you have a school where every child is coming to school with one or more of these conditions, it’s inconceivable that that school can produce students with the same average achievement as schools where every child, or almost every child, is coming to school well rested and healthy and well nourished and secure and in stable homes. And we call schools where we concentrate children like that segregated schools. And the reality is that schools today are more segregated than they have been at any time in the last 45 years in this country. And they’re segregated because the neighborhoods in which they are located are segregated.
13:14 So as an education policy analyst, it was incumbent upon me to look into neighborhood segregation as an educational problem. I wasn’t yet particularly interested in housing. I read an article saying that housing policy is education policy. Well, as I was thinking about this in 2007 I read the Supreme Court case that concerned two school districts, one in Louisville, Kentucky and the other Seattle, Washington, and the leaders of both of those school districts understand, understood what I’ve just been talking about, about the harm that school segregation does. And so they implemented in both districts are very, very token school desegregation policy.
14:01 In both of those districts, parents were given a choice of which school in the district that child would attend. But if the child’s choice was going to exacerbate racial segregation, that choice wouldn’t be honored in favor of a choice of a child who would not do so. So if you had an all white, or mostly heavily white school, and there was one place left in the school and both a black and a white child applied for that one place, the black child be given some preference to help to desegregate the school. It was a trivial trivial program. Now, how often did you have one place left in the school and both the black and the white child apply for it.
14:39 But the Supreme Court said it was a violation of the constitution to do this thing. It was a violation of the constitution because as John Roberts said, Chief Justice John Roberts who wrote the controlling opinion, he said the schools in Louisville and Seattle are segregated because the neighborhoods in which they are located the segregated. I thought that was a pretty wise observation on the chief justice’s part. It’s true. And then he went on to say, neighborhoods in Louisville and Seattle are segregated for all the reasons that I just described because of private bigotry and actors in the private economy and people liking to live with each other of the same race and economic and demographic trends. And he said, if government wasn’t involved in creating segregation, it would be a violation of the constitution for government to try to remedy it.
15:28 Well, I thought about this decision for a while and, because of like, I could see, not usually the audiences I speak with, like many of you, I’ve been around for a while. I remembered reading about a case some years before in Louisville, Kentucky, one of the two districts that this Supreme Court case involved. And in Louisville, Kentucky, there was a suburb called Shively, single family homes, all white. And a homeowner in that white suburb had a friend living in the city of Louisville renting an apartment. The friend was a decorated navy veteran. He had a wife and the child. He wanted to move to a single family home, but nobody would sell him one. So the white homeowner in this suburb of Shively bought a second home in the same suburb and resold it to his African American friend, so he wouldn’t have to go through a real estate agent.
16:22 And when the African American friend and his wife and daughter moved into this home, an angry white mob surrounded the home, protected by the police. They threw rocks through the windows, despite the police presence. They couldn’t identify a single perpetrator. They eventually dynamited and firebombed the home and the police still couldn’t identify a single perpetrator. But when this riot was all over, the state of Kentucky arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed the white homeowner for sedition for having sold a home in a white neighborhood to a black family. And I said to myself, this doesn’t sound to me much like de facto segregation. If the entire criminal justice system, the courts, the police, the prosecutors are being used to enforce racial boundaries, maybe there’s something about the history of residential segregation the Chief Justice John Roberts doesn’t know.
17:20 And so I began to investigate it further. And it led to the book that Susan described to you, it’s called The Color of Law. And in The Color of Law, I document that not only was there this incident, Louisville. In fact, just taking cases where police protected violence drove African Americans out of homes in white neighborhoods. There were hundreds and hundreds of them, each one of them violating the 14th amendment to the extent that the police were and prosecutors were involved. Judges were involved. Not only was there violence that maintained racial boundaries protected by government, but there were many, many other policies followed by federal, state and local governments, racially explicit to ensure that African Americans and whites could not live near each other in any metropolitan area in this country.
18:14 Because I was able to show this in the book, and I will describe to you some of the other major policies that the government followed. The notion of de facto segregation is an utter myth. There is no such thing. Get racial segregation in neighborhoods was created in an unconstitutional fashion by federal, state and local government. As such, it’s a civil rights violation and remains a civil rights violation because the policies that government followed in the 20th century was so powerful that they determined the racial boundaries of today. And because it’s a civil rights violation, the racial concentrations that we have in every metropolitan area violate the constitution. We, all of us as American citizens have an obligation, an obligation to reignite the civil rights movement, to demand that we remedy it.
19:08 Well, let me describe in the few minutes I have a this afternoon some of the major policies that government followed in addition to sponsored violence to ensure racial segregation, and that demonstrate that we have an unconstitutional system of segregation, that there is no reality to the de facto myth that we’ve all, all of us adopted.
19:32 One of them I wanted to describe to you is public housing. I know that everybody here, I assume, like I did before I did this research thinks they know what public housing is. It’s a place where poor people live. It’s a place with lots of single mothers, with children, lots of young men without jobs in the formal economy. Lots of police confrontations, deteriorated buildings. Less, not well-maintained structures. That’s not how public housing began in this country. Public housing began this country during the New Deal in the Roosevelt administration and the Depression as a program not for poor people. Poor people were not permitted into public housing. It was a program for working and middle class families who paid the full cost of the housing in their rent.
20:22 Public housing was built not as a welfare program for the poor, but as a way to address a housing shortage in the Depression because working families, and there were many of them, we know that enormous unemployment, 25% of the workforce was unemployed. Public housings for the 75% with good, stable jobs. But they couldn’t find housing because there was no economic activity. Construction had ground to a halt, and there was a big housing shortage. So the Public Works Administration, the first New Deal agency, attempted to address this housing crisis by constructing public housing for working families who would pay the full cost of the housing and the rent. It was not a subsidized program.
21:04 But everywhere at the public works administration built this housing. It created separate projects for blacks and whites, creating segregated projects. I’m not talking about in the South, I’m talking about in the North, in the Midwest, wherever the Public Works Administration built housing, it built it on a segregated basis, frequently — creating segregation where it hadn’t previously existed. Now, that may surprise some of you. But we had a lot of integration in mid-20th century in urban areas. I’m not suggesting that we didn’t have a good deal of segregation as well formally, particularly in places like Chicago and Detroit.
21:43 But in much of the country in downtown areas, we had integrated neighborhoods for the simple reason that most employment was factory employment. The manufacturing sector was the most powerful sector at at that period in the country. And employment had to be located in factories that were near deep water ports or railroad terminals, because that was the only way that plants could get their parts and ship their final products. And if you have the downtown area, which had a factory district, located near a port or a railroad terminal. The factory district had Irish workers and Italian workers and Jewish workers and African American workers, they all lived in roughly the same neighborhoods so they could walk to work. They didn’t have automobiles in those days. Sometimes they could take short street car rides. I’m not suggesting that every other home in these neighborhoods was of a different race. But these were broadly integrated neighborhoods. Everywhere the Public Works Administration went, it created segregated housing in these neighborhoods.
22:46 The great African American poet novelist, a playwright, Langston Hughes, with whom I assume many of you are familiar wrote in his autobiography how he grew up in an integrated downtown Cleveland neighborhood. We don’t think of downtown Cleveland as being an integrated place today. He said his best friend in high school was Polish. He dated a Jewish girl. This may not have been the norm, but it certainly wasn’t unique in the integrated environment of many urban areas at that time. But the Public Works Administration went into that neighborhood of Cleveland and created two separate projects, one for blacks, one for whites, creating a pattern of segregation that hadn’t previously existed. And with those and other projects, public projects that were built in Cleveland created a pattern of segregation throughout the city that persists to this day.
23:40 In my book, The Color of Law, I like to talk about self satisfied smug places like this one. But I’ll start with another Cambridge, Massachusetts, you may have heard of that one. The area between Harvard and MIT, the Central Square neighborhood was an integrated neighborhood in the 1930s, about half black and half white. But the Public Works Administration demolished housing in that neighborhood, creating separate projects, one for whites, one for blacks and with other projects in the Boston metropolitan area, created a pattern of segregation that persists to this day.
24:18 During World War II, there was still an enormous housing shortage, especially because we had hundreds of thousands of workers who flocked to centers of war production to take jobs in war plants, that were soaking up the unemployment that existed in the country at that time. They frequently, almost always, overwhelmed the communities where these war plants were located. Such a rapid influx of workers coming to a single place, that if the government wanted the tanks and the airplanes and the jeeps and the ships to be produced, it had to somehow find a way to house these workers who were flocking suddenly to these centers of war production.
24:59 And the government did. It built housing for workers all across the country, everywhere, segregating it. Segregating workers who were working in the same plants, same shipyards, same aircraft factories, but separate housing, creating patterns of segregation that hadn’t previously existed. And here on the West Coast, and in this particular area is the best example, because there was a very small African American population in the West Coast, prior to World War II. Historians divide up the migration of African Americans out of urban areas, out of the south into urban areas into two great migrations.
25:45 The first great migration took place around World War I. Very few African Americans came to the West Coast during the first great migration. The big influx of African Americans to this part of the country took place in the second great migration during World War II for these war plants. The Bay Area, for example, had an African American population of about 1% in 1940 and by 1950, it was 6% — quite an enormous increase due to the war industries.
26:15 Well, north of here, you may have heard of a suburb of Berkeley called Richmond. It was the center of ship building on the West Coast, small community, 20,000, all white. There were a few African Americans living on its outskirts, working as domestics in white families’ homes. But, basically it was a white community. There was no ship building in Richmond before the war. By the end of the war, the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond were employing 100,000 workers. They came with their families. A community of 20,000 can’t possibly absorb an influx of 300,000 or more in a period of four years. The government couldn’t keep these shipyards going unless it provided housing for the workers. And it did.
27:03 In Richmond, going down through Albany and here into Berkeley, the government built housing for war workers for shipyard workers — segregated housing. Housing for African Americans was along the railroad tracks that, you know, come along the bay and in the industrial area. Housing for white war workers were closer to San Pablo and shopping districts in the white residential areas of these communities.
27:36 We can confidently say that this segregation created segregation in the West Coast that otherwise would never have existed because there was no real significant, informal segregation that existed before the government came in and segregated workers, who as I say, were working in the same plants. And Portland, Seattle, here in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, the segregation in all of these communities can be traced directly to the creation of segregated housing by federal authorities during World War II. By the way, after World War II, the federal government ordered that the housing that was created for war workers be either demolished or turned over to local housing authorities. Most places in the country local housing authorities took over the housing and used it for its citizens who needed it. Berkeley refused to take it over.
28:38 Much of the land that was devoted to this housing was owned by the University of California. The city of Berkeley said that maintaining this housing would change the character of the community and it was not willing to take it over. The University of California said that the housing was unsuitable for residential areas, for residences, on a permanent basis. And so it refused to allow the housing to be maintained. It was demolished and in its place we now have University Village, which is apparently suitable for residences of graduate students and of University families.
29:24 The city of Berkeley had a social worker whose job it was to place African Americans who had been living in the housing projects for the ship yards, to place them in public housing in Oakland to make sure that they left the community. And this was the policy of the city of Berkeley.
29:45 Well after World War II, there was still an enormous housing shortage in the country. And, not only had there been no housing built during the Depression except for the public projects that I described. There were few. And, during the war, it was actually prohibited to use construction materials for civilian purposes unless it was for war workers, people working in war plants. And then after World War II, as you know, millions of returning war veterans came home needing housing. There was an enormous housing shortage. War veterans were living in open fields and quonset huts doubled and tripled up with relatives. They wanted to start the baby boom, but that was more difficult because they didn’t have any private places to live.
30:33 And, this was an enormous crisis that President Truman needed to address. And, he proposed in 1949 as the situation didn’t seem to ease at the end of the war, he proposed the vast expansion of the public housing program of the country. And remember, we’re talking about public housing that was not subsidized. This was not for poor people. This was, he was talking about housing for returning war veterans who had jobs in the postwar economy, African Americans as well as whites. The whites had better jobs, but the African Americans were employed as well. They could afford housing, but there was no housing available for them. So President Truman proposed the vast expansion of the National Public Housing Program.
31:20 The story I’m going to tell you now is probably the most important thing I’ll have to say this afternoon to you, so I’ll hope you’ll think carefully about it. Conservatives in Congress wanted to defeat Truman’s public housing program. And so they came up with a strategy, a congressional strategy that has been used in other occasions as well. It’s something we call a poison pill strategy. A poison pill strategy is one where opponents of legislation come up with an amendment to the legislation, which they think can get a majority and will be passed. But then when the full bill comes up before Congress with this amendment, the amendment itself makes the bill unpalatable to a different majority and the entire bill goes down to defeat. So the amendment is called a poison pill.
32:08 And conservatives in Congress, some of you will remember Robert Taft, a senator from Ohio, who’s called Mr. Conservative, proposed the following amendment. He proposed an amendment that said that from now on, public housing has to be desegregated, no more racial discrimination in public housing. This was the amendment he proposed. It was a cynical proposal. He didn’t want public housing at all. He thought that public housing was socialistic, that the private sector should be taking care of the needs of returning war veterans. Not that the private sector was doing so. But he put forward this amendment, expecting that his conservative colleagues would vote for the integration amendment, all cynically. He expected that he would get some northern liberals to vote with him on this amendment. The combination of the conservatives and northern liberals would create a majority. The amendment would then be passed.
33:08 And then when the full housing bill came up before the floor of Congress, providing for a desegregated housing program, the conservatives would flip and vote against the final bill. They would be joined by southern Democrats who were in favor of segregated public housing, not integrated public housing. So the entire bill will get down to defeat. So northern liberals, those who were in favor of integration had a very difficult choice. There was an enormous housing crisis. I’m not minimizing the difficulty of the choice they faced. There were homeless people as we have today. As I said, people living in open fields doubled and tripled up with relatives.
33:48 They had to decide whether to support the integration amendment as many of them wanted to do, but ensuring then that no public housing, no further public housing would be built because the bill will go down to defeat or oppose the integration amendment in order to get public housing on the continued segregated basis. They made the latter choice. I’m not minimizing the difficulty of the choice that they made. I don’t usually talk to audiences that will remember the players involved, but I see many of you will.
34:20 But the leading liberal and Congress at that time was senator Paul Douglas, a senator from Illinois. He 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 if we defeat the integration amendment and you get the housing you need, then you will be if we pass the integration amendment and you get no housing at all.” He proposed the devil’s bargain. It was accepted. Liberals voted against the integration amendment. The final housing bill was passed leading to the vast expansion of public housing. Much of the public housing we know in the country today was passed under this 1949 Housing Act as a segregated program.
35:07 The federal government used that vote in Congress against the integration amendment as its basis, as its justification, for continuing to segregate all housing programs, not just public housing, all housing programs for the next 15 years. And you’re familiar with this public housing that was built under this. Again, remember initially just for working families who could pay the full cost of housing and their rent, not for poor people.
35:34 Perhaps the most famous of them is Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis. It became the symbol of deteriorated public housing in the country. It was actually two projects. Pruitt was for African Americans. Igoe was for whites — two separate projects. And very soon after this happened, after these projects were built in the early 1950s under the 1949 Housing Act, a development occurred that was quite surprising to many people. And that was large numbers of vacancies developed in the white projects and long waiting lists in the black projects. Pretty soon the situation became so conspicuous and untenable, even the most bigoted public housing official couldn’t justify a situation. We’re in the same city. Some projects were very truly empty and the others had long waiting lists. All the projects were opened up to African Americans.
36:26 At about the same time industry left the cities. This was the time that the highways were being built. They no longer needed to locate plants near deep water ports or railroad terminals. The African Americans who were now being concentrated in public housing and in rented apartments in urban areas no longer had access to good industrial jobs. Poverty increased. The government had to begin subsidizing the public housing. They could no longer afford to pay the full cost of housing and their rent. Once the government began subsidizing public housing, they’d stopped maintaining it, stopped investing in it. The projects deteriorated and we got the kind of public housing that we all identify with public housing today. But that’s not how public housing started and that’s not the way it has to be.
37:19 In any event, the question that I hope is in your minds at this point, or maybe you have the answer if you’ve read my book, but the question that may be in your mind is, “Why did all these vacancies occur in the white projects and not in the black ones?” These are all people who had jobs in the post war economy. As I say, the whites had better jobs, but they all had jobs. The reason for this was another federal program, which was even more powerful in segregating the country than public housing or even violence against the African Americans who moved to white neighborhoods. And that was a program of another New Deal agency, the Federal Housing Administration, still exists today, designed explicitly with an explicit racial purpose to move the entire white working class population out of cities into single family homes in the suburbs. This was an explicit racial policy by the federal government. That’s how the country came to be suburbanized in the 1940s and 50s and into the 60s. We were not a suburban country before the FHA entered the scene in this way.
38:29 And you’re again, familiar with these projects. Levittown, the most famous east of New York City, you all know that. Here in this area, some of you, I’m sure heard a song that Pete Seeger used to sing written by Melvina Reynolds about little boxes on a hillside and made the ticky tacky and they all look the same. That was a project just about as large as Levittown in Daly City called West Lake. 15,000 homes. Levittown was 17,000 homes. After World War II, when the Kaiser shipyards no longer were producing ships for the war and shut down. Kaiser got into the housing business and built an equally giant development outside Los Angeles, for example, the Westchester area. Panorama City was another one. Lakewood in Los Angeles, near the McDonald Douglas Plant, Long Beach. These suburbanized the country, there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of these projects.
39:32 A developer like William Levitt, to take that example, could never have assembled the capital to build 17,000 homes in one place for which he had no buyers. There was no precedent for it. Nobody knew if this suburbanization idea would work, no bank would be crazy enough to lend them the capital for that kind of a speculative venture. The only way that these suburbs could be built, whether it’s Levittown or the little boxes or Panorama City or any of the others in between the two coasts, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them, was builders like Levitt went to the federal housing administration, submitted their plans for the development. Those plans had to include a commitment never to sell a home to an African American. They even had to include a commitment that the federal housing administration required, that each of these homes have a clause in every deed prohibiting resale to African Americans or rental to African Americans.
40:28 This was not the action of rogue bureaucrats. This was written in the federal policy manual of the Federal Housing Administration. It was called the Underwriting Manual. It was distributed to appraisers all over the country whose job it was to evaluate the applications of developers for bank guarantees, for federal bank guarantees, for their developments, and the manual prohibited recommendation of a bank guarantees for developments that would be integrated. It even prohibited recommendations of bank guarantees for all white developments that might be located near where African Americans were living. Because in the words of the manual, it would run the risk of infiltration by inharmonious racial groups. That’s what the federal manual said. Where did this notion of de facto segregation comes from? It’s utter nonsense.
41:19 These policies that I describe — the violence protected by the police, the public housing, the concentrated African Americans with lower and lower incomes in urban areas and the federally sponsored white only suburbanization of the country is what’s responsible for the segregation that we see in this country today. There were many, many other federal, state, local policies. I don’t have time to go into. We have the jury system of segregation, one that’s as unconstitutional, as much a civil rights violation, as the segregation of water fountains.
41:59 Now, the policies have ongoing effects. This is not simply, what I’ve been talking to you about, it’s not simply a historical curiosity. They continue to determine the racial boundaries of today. And let me just give you one example of how that happens.
42:18 The homes in these suburbs, that I just described, Levittown for example, or West Lake and Daly City. They sold for around eight, nine, $10,000 in the early 1950s, late 1940s. In today’s inflation adjusted money, that’s about a hundred thousand dollars. These were modest homes, 750 square feet typically for working class families. Those homes today, they no longer as you know, sell for $100,000, not here in Berkeley, not in West Lake, not in Levittown. They now sell for, depending on the area of the country, you know, 300, 400, $500,000 and some places much, much more, Like here.
42:59 The white families who purchase those homes with a federal subsidy, it was an enormous advantage to them to do so. They could move out of public housing, and pay less in their monthly housing costs than they were paying for rent in public housing. The white families who moved into these suburbs, purchasing homes for the equivalent of $100,000 in today’s money, that’s twice national median income. Any working class family can afford to buy a home for twice national median income, especially if they were returning war veterans from whom no down payment was required. Those families over the next couple of generations gained equity from the appreciation of their homes.
43:43 They use that equity, whether it’s two, three, 400, $500,000 maybe they spent some of it remodeling, still substantial equity. They used it to send their children to college. They used it to take care of emergencies, whether temporary unemployment or medical emergencies. They used it to subsidize their retirements and they used it to bequeath wealth to their children and grandchildren, so they would have down payments for their own homes. African Americans who were prohibited by federal policy, by explicit federal policy from participating in this wealth generating exercise continued in large part to remain renting in urban areas from which they gained no equity appreciation.
44:34 The result is that today African American incomes on average are about 60% percent of white incomes. That’s another whole lecture about how that happened, that 60%. I’m not going to hold you here for that one, but let’s just take the 60% income ratio as a given. You would think, with a 60% income ratio, there would also be a 60% wealth ratio. But in fact, the African American wealth average today is 10% of white household wealth, and that enormous disparity between a 60% income ratio and a 10% wealth ratio is entirely attributable to unconstitutional federal housing policy that was practiced in the mid-20th century that was never remedied and that we’ve never attempted to remedy.
45:34 The wealth gap that I’ve just described is the major determinant of ongoing social racial inequality in this country today. Wealth is a much more important determinant of economic security than income. If you have unemployment, temporary unemployment, you’ve got wealth, you can weather that temporary unemployment. If you don’t, you’re pushed further down the social scale, on a permanent basis, the socioeconomic scale on a permanent basis. But it’s not just the inequality that results from the wealth gap that is a consequence of the racial inequality and segregation that we’ve created with these policies.
46:13 I described at the very beginning of this talk how segregated neighborhoods are a major cause of the achievement gap in schools that we spend so much time worrying about. Racial segregation is an important cause of disparities in health and life expectancy between whites and African Americans, who have shorter life expectancies, higher rates of heart disease in large part, not entirely, but in large part because they live in more polluted, less healthy neighborhoods.
46:45 Racial segregation is the primary cause of the outrageous violations of rights in the criminal justice system that results in the disparate incarceration of young black men who would never get involved in the kinds of confrontations with police that they do if they weren’t being concentrated in single neighborhoods where we take the most disadvantaged young men in this country, without jobs in the formal economy or access to those jobs with good transportation or access to quality educations and concentrate them in single neighborhoods. We would not have those kinds of confrontations otherwise.
47:25 And I’d also suggest that racial segregation is a contributor, not the sole cause, but the contributor to the very dangerous political polarization that we have in this country today, which in part tracks racial lines. It’s not the sole cause of it, but that’s a good part of it. And it’s inconceivable that we can never develop the kind of common national identity that’s essential to preserving this democracy. If so many African Americans and whites lived so far from each other that they have no ability to understand each other’s life experiences, to empathize with each other, to, as I say, develop a common national identity.
48:07 So the consequences of these civil rights violations that are still unremedied are enormous. The policies needed to undo it or not hard to figure out. They’re very easy to figure out. If we were motivated to redress racial segregation, we could do it fairly easily. What’s difficult is developing the new Civil Rights Movement that’s necessary to demand those policies.
48:32 I mentioned before the devil’s bargain that Paul Douglas made in 1949. We’re doing it still today. We have a program, for example, the largest program of subsidy to low income families, who are disproportionately African American, called the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). It’s a tax credit that’s issued by the Treasury Department to developers of low income housing. Those developers disproportionately, overwhelmingly place those low income housing developments in already low income segregated neighborhoods — the same kind of devil’s bargain that Paul Douglas made. They place it in those neighborhoods cause it’s easier to do. If they care about solving the housing shortage and they do, the easiest way to address the homelessness crisis is to reinforce segregation because developers find it easier to build low income housing in already low income segregated neighborhoods. The land is cheaper there. They don’t have to have 100 community meetings explaining to residents why they’re bringing black and brown people into their neighborhoods. They can put a sign up in the window and when an apartment’s for rent and poor people will walk by seeing it. Can’t happen if they’re placing those developments in higher opportunity communities.
49:55 So we make the same bargain that we made in 1949. We solve the housing crisis by perpetuating segregation. The same thing is true of the other major subsidy we have for low income families. And that’s the, the Section 8 program and I’m sure you’ve heard of. But those subsidies to families to rent housing that they otherwise could not afford disproportionately places them in already low income, segregated neighborhoods. Landlords legally or illegally refuse to accept Section 8 voucher families in higher opportunity neighborhoods. And we have zoning ordinances that prohibit the construction of townhouses or apartments or even single farm family homes on small lot sizes in so many all white single family home neighborhoods.
50:46 Reversing those kinds of policies, as I say, is an easy thing to understand how to do. We could place a priority on placing low income housing tax credit developments in higher opportunity neighborhoods. Not all of them. We should still provide housing in existing low income neighborhoods, but we should start to place more of it in high opportunity neighborhoods. In order to do that, we’d have to change the zoning ordinances that prohibit that kind of construction. We could subsidize, to take an extreme example. We could subsidize African Americans who were denied the opportunity to move into single family homes in all white suburbs in the 20th century. Subsidize them to purchase those homes. Working class families in those neighborhoods that are now unaffordable to working class families of either race, but would easily have been affordable to working class families of either race of African Americans in the mid 20th century.
51:45 The tragedy of all this is it was so difficult, so difficult to do. It would have been so easy to avoid. We had an enormous housing shortage in the 20th century, as I’ve described. If the federal housing administration had told Levitt, it was the only guarantee his bank loans, if he sold those homes on a nondiscriminatory basis, he would have had to do so. He would have had no choice. There may have been some bigoted whites who wouldn’t have wanted to live in an integrated development, but the housing shortage was so great that for everyone who refused, there would have been 10 who wanted to take its place.
52:20 And if that simple requirement had been imposed, that constitutionally required requirement, that the loans be guaranteed, provided a nondiscriminatory policy was adopted, this country would look entirely different today, entirely different. And the same thing is true of all the other policies that I described. So the policies to undo it are easy, the political will is difficult. And it won’t happen until all of us participate in a new civil rights movement to make it happen. So thank you very much for your attention.