Sunday Sermon: De Facto Versus De Jure Segregation

Richard Rothstein describes the agency underlying segregation (boldface mine):

The federal government led in the establishment and maintenance of residential segregation in metropolitan areas.

  • From its New Deal inception and especially during and after World War II, federally funded public housing was explicitly racially segregated, both by federal and local governments. Not only in the South, but in the Northeast, Midwest, and West, projects were officially and publicly designated either for whites or for blacks. Some projects were “integrated” with separate buildings designated for whites or for blacks. Later, as white families left the projects for the suburbs, public housing became overwhelmingly black and in most cities was placed only in black neighborhoods, explicitly so. This policy continued one originating in the New Deal, when Harold Ickes, President Roosevelt’s first public housing director, established the “neighborhood composition rule” that public housing should not disturb the pre-existing racial composition of neighborhoods where it was placed.

This was de jure segregation.

  • Once the housing shortage eased and material was freed for post-World War II civilian purposes, the federal government subsidized relocation of whites to suburbs and prohibited similar relocation of blacks. Again, this was not implicit, not mere “disparate impact,” but racially explicit policy. The Federal Housing and Veterans Administrations recruited a nationwide cadre of mass-production builders who constructed developments on the East Coast like the Levittowns in Long Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware; on the West Coast like Lakeview and Panorama City in the Los Angeles area, Westlake (Daly City) in the San Francisco Bay Area, and several Seattle suburbs developed by William and Bertha Boeing; and in numerous other metropolises in between. These builders received federal loan guarantees on explicit condition that no sales be made to blacks and that each individual deed include a prohibition on re-sales to blacks, or to what the FHA described as an “incompatible racial element.”

This was de jure segregation.

  • In addition to guaranteeing construction loans taken out by mass production suburban developers, the FHA, as a matter of explicit policy, also refused to insure individual mortgages for African Americans in white neighborhoods, or even to whites in neighborhoods that the FHA considered subject to possible integration in the future.

This was de jure segregation.

  • Although a 1948 Supreme Court ruling barred courts from enforcing racial deed restrictions, the restrictions themselves were deemed lawful for another 30 years and the FHA knowingly continued, until the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, to finance developers who constructed suburban developments that were closed to African-Americans.

This was de jure segregation.

  • Bank regulators from the Federal Reserve, Comptroller of the Currency, Office of Thrift Supervision, and other agencies knowingly approved “redlining” policies by which banks and savings institutions refused loans to black families in white suburbs and even, in most cases, to black families in black neighborhoods – leading to the deterioration and ghettoization of those neighborhoods.

This was de jure segregation.

  • Although specific zoning rules assigning blacks to some neighborhoods and whites to others were banned by the Supreme Court in 1917, racial zoning in some cities was enforced until the 1960s. The Court’s 1917 decision was not based on equal protection but on the property rights of white owners to sell to whomever they pleased. Several large cities interpreted the ruling as inapplicable to their zoning laws because their laws prohibited only residence of blacks in white neighborhoods, not ownership. Some cities, Miami the most conspicuous example, continued to include racial zones in their master plans and issued development permits accordingly, even though neighborhoods themselves were not explicitly zoned for racial groups.

This was de jure segregation.

  • In other cities, following the 1917 Supreme Court decision, mayors and other public officials took the lead in organizing homeowners associations for the purpose of enacting racial deed restrictions. Baltimore is one example where the mayor organized a municipal Committee on Segregation to maintain racial zones without an explicit ordinance that would violate the 1917 decision.

This was de jure segregation.

  • You may recall that in the 1980s, the Internal Revenue Service revoked the tax-exemption of Bob Jones University because it prohibited interracial dating. The IRS believed it was constitutionally required to refuse a tax subsidy to a university with racist practices. Yet the IRS never challenged the pervasive use of tax-favoritism by universities, churches, and other non-profit organizations and institutions to enforce racial segregation. The IRS extended tax exemptions not only to churches where such associations were frequently based and whose clergy were their officers, but to the associations themselves, although their racial purposes were explicit and well-known.

This was de jure segregation

  • Churches were not alone in benefitting from unconstitutional tax exemptions. Consider this example: Robert Hutchins, known to educators for reforms elevating the liberal arts in higher education, was president and chancellor of the tax-exempt University of Chicago from 1929 to 1951. He directed the University to sponsor neighborhood associations to enforce racially restrictive deeds in its nearby Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhoods, and employed the University’s legal department to evict black families who moved nearby in defiance of his policy, all while the University was subsidized by the federal government by means of its tax-deductible and tax-exempt status.

This was de jure segregation.

  • Urban renewal programs of the mid-twentieth century often had similarly undisguised purposes: to force low-income black residents away from universities, hospital complexes, or business districts and into new ghettos. Relocation to stable and integrated neighborhoods was not provided; in most cases, housing quality for those whose homes were razed was diminished by making public housing high-rises or overcrowded ghettos the only relocation option.

This was de jure segregation.

  • Where integrated or mostly-black neighborhoods were too close to white communities or central business districts, interstate highways were routed by federal and local officials to raze those neighborhoods for the explicit purpose of relocating black populations to more distant ghettos or of creating barriers between white and black neighborhoods. Euphemisms were thought less necessary then than today: according to the director of the American Association of State Highway Officials whose lobbying heavily influenced the interstate program, “some city officials expressed the view in the mid-1950’s that the urban Interstates would give them a good opportunity to get rid of the local ‘niggertown.’”

This was de jure segregation.

State policy contributed in other ways.

  • Real estate is a highly regulated industry. State governments require brokers to take courses in ethics and exams to keep their licenses. State commissions suspend or even lift licenses for professional and personal infractions – from mishandling escrow accounts to failing to pay personal child support. But although real estate agents openly enforced segregation, state authorities did not punish brokers for racial discrimination, and rarely do so even today when racial steering and discriminatory practices remain.

This misuse of regulatory authority was, and is, de jure segregation.

Local officials have played roles as well.

  • Public police and prosecutorial power was used nationwide to enforce racial boundaries. Illustrations are legion. In the Chicago area, police forcibly evicted blacks who moved into an apartment in a white neighborhood; in Louisville, the locus of Parents Involved, the state prosecuted and jailed a white seller for sedition after he sold his home in his white neighborhood to a black family. Everywhere, North, South, East, and West, police stood by while thousands (not an exaggeration) of mobs set fire to and stoned homes purchased by blacks in white neighborhoods, and prosecutors almost never (if ever) charged well-known and easily identifiable mob leaders.

This officially sanctioned abuse of the police power also constituted de jure segregation.

  • An example from Culver City, a suburb of Los Angeles, illustrates how purposeful state action to promote racial segregation could be. During World War II, the local state’s attorney instructed the municipality’s air raid wardens, when they went door-to-door advising residents to turn off their lights to avoid providing guidance to Japanese bombers, also to solicit homeowners to sign restrictive covenants barring blacks from residence in the community.

This was de jure segregation.

Other forms abound of racially explicit state action to segregate the urban landscape, in violation of the Fifth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Yet the term “de facto segregation,” describing a never-existent reality, persists among otherwise well-informed advocates and scholars. The term, and its implied theory of private causation, hobbles our motivation to address de jure segregation as explicitly as Jim Crow was addressed in the South or apartheid was addressed in South Africa….

Yet these slum conditions were supported by state action, by overcrowding caused almost entirely by the refusal of the federal government to permit African Americans to expand their housing supply by moving to the suburbs, and by municipalities’ discriminatory denial of adequate public services. In the ghetto,

  • garbage was collected less frequently,
  • predominantly African American neighborhoods were re-zoned for mixed (i.e., industrial, or even toxic) use,
  • streets remained unpaved,
  • even water, power, and sewer services were less often provided.

This was de jure segregation, but white homeowners came to see these conditions as characteristics of black residents themselves, not as the results of racially motivated municipal policy.

After decades of government action to economically oppress black people, it just might take some corrective action to remedy the situation. This wasn’t policy neglect, this was a case of repeated policies designed to economically isolate blacks. But Intelligent Designer forbid, we might actually do something–’reverse racism’ don’t you know…

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