On the Effects of Brown

To make it available on the web, I am posting this commentary originally aired on Dec. 10, 2003 together with a footnote describing the literature:

ON THE EFFECTS OF BROWN
Steve Gottlieb

It is easy to forget how recent are the pathologies that so many of us now routinely associate with black “ghettos”.

My dad taught music in a high school in Brooklyn. Because of the way music was handled, he had almost everyone who came through the school in his classes. When the district boundaries were changed in the early 60s he reacted with relief. The black kids who now came to the school were much easier to handle than the white toughs who now went to other schools.

In my youth black leather jackets were much scarier than black skin.

I am suggesting that the pathologies we associate with poor black ghettos are a product of the past half century.

Before Brown v. Board there was an entirely separate black economy. Riots and lynchings made it a dangerous world for blacks. But you could have all your needs taken care of without ever stepping outside of the black community from hair cuts to a plot in a cemetery. There were black doctors and black hospitals, black stores and black insurance companies. Some black communities were quite successful. Jealous whites burned the black district in Tulsa among others. Slaves had been trained in all the needed skills and one looked to their descendents until poorer whites forceably ejected them after the Civil War. In that black economy, however limited, blacks were masters in their own house.

By the time of Brown, large changes were affecting the black community. Blacks came north for jobs that had been opened by World War II. They moved into cities near those jobs.

Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration built the roads that opened up the suburbs. That led to an exodus. We burned a lot of gas in our old 1937 Chevy getting to old friends who’d moved out.

But the Federal Housing Administration red-lined the suburbs. That is, if you were white, you could have your mortgage guaranteed. If you were black, you were not welcome. The suburbs from their origins were lily white not because of white flight from blacks but because a house in the country had been an American dream which whites, but not blacks, were now able to realize.

They couldn’t move to the suburbs, and going all the way back to the time of Brown, what was variously called urban renewal or slum clearance tore down blacks’ homes in the cities. Blacks just called it “Negro clearance.” What happened to all those black businesses? When the government seizes property it has to pay just compensation. But only to the property owners. It assumes that lessees, i.e. most businesses, can get equivalent value elsewhere, that nothing is destroyed. But of course if the business is dependent on the neighborhood trade, it loses what we lawyers call good will and businesses call it loyal customers. As businesses were forced out, they had to start over, on the ground floor.

Minority-owned “mom-and-pop” businesses declined by half from 1960 to 1980.

Storied neighborhoods, live with business and social networks, are simply gone. Torn down to make way for offices and white owned stores. And then deserted even by the whites because there was no neighborhood left to support them – people had gone to the suburbs or been pushed out for “renewal.”

Now add Brown into the mix. all those blacks who had been shopping inside the black community could shop at Woolworth’s and other national businesses. So another economic prop was pulled out from under the black community.

Integration was not an unmixed blessing. Whole industries in the black economy disappeared and, with them, much of the capital that had been amassed. Working in the white economy meant starting the ladder at the bottom, playing by white rules and customs, and insisting on white good faith in hiring, training, educating and promoting blacks.

Ten years after Brown, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 including provisions relating to equal employment, housing, public accommodations and government programs. Then the battle started in earnest with some defendants fighting decade long legal battles to avoid having to do anything. That was when courts started to employ the same remedies that they had for schools, telling defendants that they had talked the talk long enough and now they were going to have to do the behavior. Those orders are the origins of affirmative action.

I don’t want to make the claim that everything was better before Brown. I have lived through that transition and I know better. But I get very depressed when people claim that the black community has not shown the pluck and ingenuity and savvy and dedication to self-help that other immigrant groups have. On the contrary, they followed precisely that pattern until the fruits were systematically pulled out from under them.
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For a brief biliography on resegregation after Brown v. Board, see Stephen E. Gottlieb, Robin L. West, Brian Bix and Timothy D. Lytton, JURISPRUDENCE, CASES AND MATERIALS: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PHILOSOPHY OF LAW AND ITS APPLICATIONS, 3rd. ed., 940n (LexisNexis, 2015):

Melvin L. Oliver & Thomas M. Shapiro, BLACKWEALTH/WHITEWEALTH: A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON RACIAL INEQUALITY 17-18, 51-52, 150, 174 (1995) (tracing the continued impact of FHA’s racial preference in enhanced white wealth today); Douglas S. Massey & Nancy A. Denton, AMERICAN APARTHEID: SEGREGATION AND THE MAKING OF THE UNDERCLASS 54-55 (1993) (summarizing FHA’s role in imposing residential segregation); Kenneth T. Jackson, CRABGRASS FRONTIER: THE SUBURBANIZATION OF THE UNITED STATES 203-15 (1985) (describing how “FHA exhorted segregation and enshrined it as public policy”); FlorenceWagman Roisman, The Lessons of American Apartheid: The Necessity and Means of Promoting Residential Racial Integration, 81 IOWA L. REV. 479, 486 (1995) (review of Douglas S. Massey & Nancy A. Denton, AMERICAN APARTHEID (“the massive new housing production fueled by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Administration (VA) financing of suburban areas was a major cause of increased segregation”) (citing Charles Abrams, FORBIDDEN NEIGHBORS: A STUDY OF PREJUDICE IN HOUSING 229-37 (1955)) (“FHA adopted a racial policy that could well have been culled from the Nuremberg Laws”). See also National Comm’n on Urban Problems, BUILDING THE AMERICAN CITY 101 (1969) (concluding that “There was evidence of a tacit agreement among all groups—lending institutions, fire insurance companies, and FHA — to block off certain areas of cities within ‘red lines,’ and not to loan or insure within them” but later studies cited above found considerable and explicit documentation).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steve Gottlieb is Professor at Albany Law School. His most recent book is Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. This commentary was broadcast December 10, 2003.

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