Discrimination & White Privilege in History

According to the NY Times article, “The Cost of Slavery“,

“The typical white family enjoys a net worth that is more than eight times that of its black counterpart, according to the economist Edward Wolff. Even at equivalent income levels, gaps remain large. Among families earning less than $15,000 a year, the median African-American family has a net worth of zero, while the corresponding white family has $10,000 in equity. The typical white family earning $40,000 annually has a nest egg of around $80,000. Its black counterpart has about half that amount.

This equity inequity is partly the result of the head start whites enjoy in accumulating and passing on assets. Some economists estimate that up to 80 percent of lifetime wealth accumulation results from gifts from earlier generations, ranging from the down payment on a home to a bequest by a parent.”

The Atlantic: The Case for Reparations

“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” Ta-Nehisi Coates



Table of Contents

Historical Head Starts for White People
Historical Legislation that Gave White People a Head Start
Racist History of the Supreme Court
History of Voter Suppression
History of US Discriminatory Housing Policies
Urban Renewal Projects
Racial History of Banking
History of Segregation
Social Welfare
War on Drugs
Subprime Loans
The 1960s Race Riots, the Kerner Report and 50 Years After

Historical Head Starts for White People

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Slavery ended in 1865 only 152 years ago.  The first African slaves arrived in the New World in the 1620s.  For 245 years white slave owners financially benefited and accumulated wealth from free labor.  Harper’s magazine estimated that slaves in the US did a quarter billion hours of free labor and it could require $97 trillion to pay for the hours of uncompensated work done during the slavery era.   These financial reparations do not include the cultural, psychological, sociological and family trauma, the continual  economic disadvantages and the continual discrimination black people experienced from slavery that can still be felt today.

The Racialization of Slavery

Race and racism happened long before the US but the US was the first to build race and racism into identity, legal framework and institutions.

The Myth of Race


Before the 1400s the slave trade was mainly focused on East European Slavs (this is the origin of the word slaves). By the 1400s the Slavs had built better fortifications and Africa became the main area of operation for slave traders.  In the early 1440s, Portugal began the first African only slave trade that would later become the transatlantic slave trade.

Prince Henry comissioned writer Gomes Eanes de Zurara to document the first voyage to sub saharan Africa to siege slaves directly, rather than buying from Northern African slave traders.  Prince Henry wanted Gomez to glorify Portugal brining Christianity to Africa, while dehumanizing Africans to justify enslaving them.  Gomes writes the Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea, in 1453, which depicts black people as inferior beasts and slavery was an improvement over freedom in Africa. He wrote, “They live like beasts.  They had no understanding of good but only knew how to live in beastial sloth.”  Gomes combined all the different ethnic groups that Prince Henry captured and combined them into one group “black people” and described this group as inferior.

These ideas of “all black people representing one race”, “black inferiority”, “black people were beasts” spread throughout Europe as more European countries entered the slave trade.  These racist beliefs became common beliefs across European , expanded by other intellectuals, and carried across Atlantic by European immigrants to help justify slavery in the new world.

John Punch

Africans were first brought to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. However, their status as slaves or indentured servants remained unclear.  John Punch was an indentured servant who in the Colony of Virginia.  In 1640 he ran away with 2 white indenture servants. They got caught.  The white indentured servants got additional 4 years of service. John Punch got a lifetime service or “slavery”.

Some Africans were already enslaved by 1640s but this was the first explicit approval by law for African slavery.  This was also the beginning of an ongoing practice to give poor European immigrants and servants advantages over people of color,  to switch their allegiance from the people of the same class/circumstance to forming a multiple class coalition of people united around “whiteness”.   This was an elite divide and conquer strategy, to keep the poor workers from uniting, while incidentally creating a “white person” class.

Elizabeth Key

Elizabeth Key was born in 1630 in the Colony of Virginia.  Her mother was enslaved and father was a free white man and member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the first legislative body of colonial America.  She wed a white indentured servant and later became a Christian. They eventually sued for her freedom on the basis of English law which banned enslaving Christians and also considered the status (enslaved or free) of a child based on the status of the father. Colonial courts ruled in her favor and she was freed.

By 1660s Virginia changed their laws and the status of a child was based on the status of the mother and allowed for Christian slaves. This drastically increased who was considered slaves including Christian black people and the children of black women who were raped by white men. Also passed laws that white women couldn’t have relations with black or native American men.

Virginia House of Burgess

In 1680 the Virginia House of Burgess, the first legislative body of colonial America, was debating what is a “white man”. They were deciding who will be the citizen of the new world/who gets to have land and rights. In 1682 they passed a law limiting citizenship to Europeans and made all non Europeans essentially slaves. Virginia was giving land away in 50 acre allotments only to European men.

In 1691 Virigna House of Burgess passed another law that included the first documented usage of the word “white” as opposed to English, Christan, European, to describe who was considered full citizens and the law stated any “white” person who marries a person of color will be banished from this land.

Wikipedia: Bacon’s Rebellion

“Bacon’s Rebellion was an armed rebellion in 1676 by Virginia settlers led by Nathaniel Bacon against the rule of Governor William Berkeley. The colony’s dismissive policy as it related to the political challenges of its western frontier, along with other challenges including leaving Bacon out of his inner circle, refusing to allow Bacon to be a part of his fur trade with the Indians, and Doeg American Indian attacks, helped to motivate a popular uprising against Berkeley, who had failed to address the demands of the colonists regarding their safety.

A thousand Virginians of all classes and races rose up in arms against Berkeley, attacking Indians, chasing Berkeley from Jamestown, Virginia, and ultimately torching the capital. The rebellion was first suppressed by a few armed merchant ships from London whose captains sided with Berkeley and the loyalists. Government forces from England arrived soon after and spent several years defeating pockets of resistance and reforming the colonial government to be once more under direct royal control.

It was the first rebellion in the American colonies in which discontented frontiersmen took part. A somewhat similar uprising in Maryland involving John Coode and Josias Fendall took place shortly afterwards. The alliance between indentured servants and Africans (most enslaved until death or freed), united by their bond-servitude, disturbed the ruling class, who responded by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705. While the farmers did not succeed in their initial goal of driving the Indians from Virginia, the rebellion did result in Berkeley being recalled to England.”

Slave Codes

Slave Codes (1630s-1740s) were a series of codes solidifying racial slavery in the colonies by:

  • Classifying black people as property
  • legalizing segregation
  • removing rights of free black people
  • outlawed black people from employing white people
  • allowed whites to apprehend anyone suspected as a run away slave
  • allowed slavery owners to torture and kill their slaves without any consequences
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The Atlantic: The Case For Reparations

“When enslaved Africans, plundered of their bodies, plundered of their families, and plundered of their labor, were brought to the colony of Virginia in 1619, they did not initially endure the naked racism that would engulf their progeny. Some of them were freed. Some of them intermarried. Still others escaped with the white indentured servants who had suffered as they had. Some even rebelled together, allying under Nathaniel Bacon to torch Jamestown in 1676.

One hundred years later, the idea of slaves and poor whites joining forces would shock the senses, but in the early days of the English colonies, the two groups had much in common. English visitors to Virginia found that its masters “abuse their servantes with intollerable oppression and hard usage.” White servants were flogged, tricked into serving beyond their contracts, and traded in much the same manner as slaves.

This “hard usage” originated in a simple fact of the New World—land was boundless but cheap labor was limited. As life spans increased in the colony, the Virginia planters found in the enslaved Africans an even more efficient source of cheap labor. Whereas indentured servants were still legal subjects of the English crown and thus entitled to certain protections, African slaves entered the colonies as aliens. Exempted from the protections of the crown, they became early America’s indispensable working class—fit for maximum exploitation, capable of only minimal resistance.

For the next 250 years, American law worked to reduce black people to a class of untouchables and raise all white men to the level of citizens. In 1650, Virginia mandated that “all persons except Negroes” were to carry arms. In 1664, Maryland mandated that any Englishwoman who married a slave must live as a slave of her husband’s master. In 1705, the Virginia assembly passed a law allowing for the dismemberment of unruly slaves—but forbidding masters from whipping “a Christian white servant naked, without an order from a justice of the peace.” In that same law, the colony mandated that “all horses, cattle, and hogs, now belonging, or that hereafter shall belong to any slave” be seized and sold off by the local church, the profits used to support “the poor of the said parish.” At that time, there would have still been people alive who could remember blacks and whites joining to burn down Jamestown only 29 years before. But at the beginning of the 18th century, two primary classes were enshrined in America.

“The two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black,” John C. Calhoun, South Carolina’s senior senator, declared on the Senate floor in 1848. “And all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.””

The Constitution of the United States (1787)

  • Article I says slaves are three-fifths of a person which gave the South extra representation in the House and extra votes in the Electoral College
    • Thomas Jefferson would have lost the election of 1800 if not for the Three-fifths Compromise.
  • Prohibited Congress from outlawing the Atlantic slave trade for twenty years.
  • Fugitive Slave Clause required states to return runaway slaves.
  • Of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, about 25 owned slaves.
  • Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison claimed the Constitution a proslavery document when he burned the document in 1854 and called it “a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell”?

Naturalization Act of 1798

This act stated that only free whites can be naturalized as citizens (voting, land owner, due process, start a business, sit on a jury).  First time you see “white” in a legal document that states US national identity.

Enlightenment Justifications of Racism

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, was among those who married the idea of race with a biological and social hierarchy.  Jefferson, a Virginia slave owner who helped draft the Declaration of Independence and later became President, was influential in promoting the idea of race that recognized whites as superior and Africans as inferior. Jefferson wrote in 1776 in Notes on the State of Virginia,

“…They seem to require less sleep. A black, after hard labor through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning. They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome. But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present. When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites. They are more ardent after their female: but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation. Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection… Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one [black] could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous… I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.

Notes on the State of Virginia was widely considered one of the most read non-fiction book in the US in the US well into the 19th century.

Social Darwinism

According to Saho: Pseudo-scientific racism and Social Darwinism

“Darwinism and Social Darwinism have very little in common, apart from the name and a few basic concepts, which Social Darwinists misapplied. The theory that there is a hierarchy of human species into ‘races’ has affected international politics, economics and social development across the globe.

Social Darwinism is a false application of Darwin’s ideas such as adaptation and natural selection, and does not really follow from Darwinian thinking in any way. Social Darwinism is a belief, which became popular in England, Europe and America, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher in the 19th century was one of the most important Social Darwinists.

Social Darwinism does not believe in the principle of equality of all human beings. It states that:

  • Some human beings are biologically superior to others
  • The strongest or fittest should survive and flourish in society
  • The weak and unfit should be allowed to die

There was a constant struggle between humans and the strongest always would win. The strongest nation was the fittest, therefore the best, and consequently had an inherent right to rule.

Social Darwinism applied the ‘survival of the fittest’ to human ‘races’ and said that ‘might makes right’. Not only was survival of the fittest seen as something natural, but it was also morally correct. It was therefore natural, normal, and proper for the strong to thrive at the expense of the weak. White Protestant Europeans had evolved much further and faster than other “races.”

So-called ‘white civilised’ industrial nations that had technologically advanced weapons had the moral right to conquer and ‘civilize’ the ‘savage blacks’ of the world. Social Darwinism was used to rationalise imperialism, colonialism, racism and poverty.

The beliefs associated with Social Darwinism were discredited during the 20th century, as the increasing knowledge of biological, social, and cultural phenomena does not support its basic tenets.”

Scientific Racism

Scientific racism is the pseudoscientific belief that empirical evidence exists to support or justify racism (racial discrimination), racial inferiority, or racial superiority. Scientific racism employs anthropology  anthropometry, craniometry, and other disciplines or pseudo-disciplines, in proposing anthropological typologies supporting the classification of human populations into physically discrete human races, that might be asserted to be superior or inferior. Scientific racism was common during the period from 1600s to the end of World War I.

Few Examples

According to Dismantling Racism Project: A History: The Construction of Race and Racism

  • In 1838 JC Prichard, a famous anthropologist, lectured on the “Extinction of Human Races” He said it was obvious that “the savage races” could not be saved. It was the law of nature.
  • In 1864, W. Winwood Reade, an esteemed member of both London’s geographical and anthropological societies published his book called Savage Africa. He ended the book with a prediction on the future of the black race.
    • “England and France will rule Africa. Africans will dig the ditches and water the deserts. It will be hard work and the Africans will probably become extinct. “We must learn to look at the result with composure. It illustrates the beneficent law of nature, that the weak must be devoured by the strong.”
  • In 1866, Frederick Farrar lectured on the “Aptitude of Races” which he divided into 3 groups.
    • Savage (All Africans, indigenous people, people of color with the exception of the Chinese)
    • Semi-Civilized (e.g. Chinese – who were once civilized but now their society was in arrested development)
    • Civilized (European, Aryan and Semitic peoples)

MTV Decoded: The Surprisingly Racist History of “Caucasian”


According to Dismantling Racism Project: A History: The Construction of Race and Racism

In 1850, Robert Knox in The Races of Man: A Fragment took popular prejudices and formed them into “scientific conviction” that race and intelligence are linked and hereditary. Robert Knox was a famous English anatomist. Knox concluded that people of color were intellectually inferior, not because of brain size but rather because of brain texture and lack of nerve endings. Later it was found that his conclusion was based on the autopsy of only one man of color. Knox’s studies and others were taken very seriously, which can be seen as the origins of the 20th Century Eugenics movement.


According to Dismantling Racism Project: A History: The Construction of Race and Racism

Eugenics is an effort to breed better human beings by encouraging the reproduction of people with “good” genes and discouraging those with “bad” genes. Eugenicists effectively lobbied for social legislation to keep racial and ethnic groups separate, to restrict immigration from Asia, Africa and southern and eastern Europe, and to sterilize people considered “genetically unfit. Elements of the American eugenics movement were models for the Nazis, whose radical adaptation of eugenics culminated in the Holocaust. The United States took Eugenics and ran with it, making it part of mainstream society. By 1928, 376 separate college courses, which enrolled 20,000 students focused on Eugenics. And an analysis of high school text books from 1914 to 1948 indicates that the majority presented Eugenics as legitimate.

According to History.com

“As social Darwinist rationalizations of inequality gained popularity in the late 1800s, British scholar Sir Francis Galton (a half-cousin of Darwin) launched a new “science” aimed at improving the human race by ridding society of its “undesirables.” He called it eugenics.

Galton proposed to better humankind by propagating the British elite. He argued that social institutions such as welfare and mental asylums allowed inferior humans to survive and reproduce at higher levels than their superior counterparts in Britain’s wealthy class.

Galton’s ideas never really took hold in his country, but they became popular in America where the concepts of eugenics quickly gained strength.

Eugenics became a popular social movement in the United States that peaked in the 1920s and 1930s. Books and films promoted eugenics, while local fairs and exhibitions held “fitter family” and “better baby” competitions around the country.

The eugenics movement in the United States focused on eliminating undesirable traits from the population. Proponents of the eugenics movement reasoned the best way to do this was by preventing “unfit” individuals from having children.

During the first part of the twentieth century, 32 U.S. states passed laws that resulted in the forced sterilization of more than 64,000 Americans including immigrants, people of color, unmarried mothers and the mentally ill.”

Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924

On March 20, 1924, the Virginia General Assembly passed two laws that had arisen out of contemporary concerns about eugenics and race: SB 219, titled “The Racial Integrity Act” and SB 281, “An ACT to provide for the sexual sterilization of inmates of State institutions in certain cases”, henceforth referred to as “The Sterilization Act”. The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was one of a series of laws designed to prevent interracial relationships.

The Racial Integrity Act required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth and divided society into only two classifications: white and colored (essentially all other, which included numerous American Indians). It defined race by the “one-drop rule“, defining as “colored” persons with any African or Native American ancestry. It also expanded the scope of Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage (anti-miscegenation law) by criminalizing all marriages between white persons and non-white persons. In 1967 the law was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in its ruling on Loving v. Virginia.

The Sterilization Act provided for compulsory sterilization of persons deemed to be “feebleminded,” including the “insane, idiotic, imbecile, or epileptic.”

These two laws were Virginia’s implementation of Harry Laughlin‘s “Model Eugenical Sterilization Law”,[3] published two years earlier in 1922. The Sterilization Act was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Buck v. Bell 274 U.S. 200 (1927). This had appealed the order for compulsory sterilization of Carrie Buck, who was an inmate in the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, and her daughter and mother.

Together these laws implemented the practice of “scientific eugenics” in Virginia.

Religious Justifications of Racism

According to HuffPost: The Biblical Roots of Racism

“When the Northern and Southern Baptists split in 1845 over the issue of slavery, Southern Baptists were using an obscure reference in Genesis to justify owning slaves — the so-called “Mark of Cain.” In Genesis 4, we read of God placing a visible “mark” of some sort on Cain for murdering his brother and lying about it when God asked what had happened. As early as the fifth century, Cain’s curse was interpreted as black skin, and millions of Christians have used it to justify slavery.

A bit later in Genesis, we read of Noah cursing his son Ham, declaring that his offspring would henceforth serve those of his brothers. The “Curse of Ham” was another Biblical justification for slavery. One particularly disturbing appeal to the Bible argued that Noah and his family on the ark were all white, so any blacks on the ark must have been among the animals.”

Romans 13 was employed by anti-abolitionists to justify and legitimise the keeping of slaves; notably around the time of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which precipitated debate as to whether the law should be obeyed or resisted.

“would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

According to The Root: A Brief History of People Using Romans 13 to Justify White Supremacy

“If you have ever wondered why slaves adopted the religious philosophy of their slave masters, Romans 13 is your answer. If you wanted to know why slaves, who often outnumbered slave masters, rebelled so rarely, the answer lies in Romans 13. To understand why the Bible was the only book many slaves were allowed to own, read that verse again.

Christianity was adopted by people, rulers and governments all around the globe because it tells its followers to comply. It boasts of a benevolent God who knows best; even when you are the subject of brutality, the Bible tells you that this is what God wants. At the root of Romans 13 is an edict to obey authority.

The 13th chapter of Romans is white supremacy, explained…

…One of the reasons the Confederate South thought it was entitled to its own country where slavery was legal was Romans 13. In the buildup to the Civil War, even non-slave-owning white Christians used the verse to justify their support of the Civil War and slavery. They believed that God ordained the institution and that Romans 13 was a warning from Jesus to the North not to violate the Constitution and the law by outlawing slave owning.

During the civil rights movement, Paul’s admonition echoed through white, Southern churches, especially those that split from their larger denominations to hold on to segregation.

In the famous 1950s Presbyterian article “How to Detect a Liberal in the Pulpit,” the eventual formation of the segregationist Presbyterian Church in America was foreshadowed when the writer explained that liberal ministers “will be frequently found leading racial demonstrations, supporting workers in a strike … supporting the right of the Communist Party to engage in its activity in this country, and in giving his approval to the decision of the Supreme Court removing the Bible and other Christian influences from the schools of the nation.”

In their opinion, sit-ins, protests and civil disobedience as a whole were explicitly against Paul’s instructions to Christians. Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders and even participants in the Children’s March were all sinners in the eyes of an angry white God, according to Romans 13.”

UnderstandingRace: The Story of Race: A History

PRX: The Invention of Race


Not All White People Were Created Equal: White Privilege in America

Racial Reasons for American Revolutionary War

Daily Kios: Was Slavery a Cause of the Revolutionary War? Yes.

“Reasons for the Revolutionary War, as typically taught in American schools:

• The American people were fiercely independent. They wanted to do things for themselves.  They didn’t want the British government, which was an ocean away, telling them how to live their lives.

• A combination of harsh taxes and the lack of an American voice in the British Parliament gave rise to the famous phrase “taxation without representation.”

• Americans started stockpiling guns and ammunition in violation of British laws. Their defense of such a stockpile led to the shots fired at Lexington and Concord and the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

On June 22, 1772, nearly a century before the slaves were freed in America, a British judge, with a single decision, brought about the conditions that would end slavery in England. His decision would have monumental consequences in the American colonies, leading up to the American Revolution, the Civil War, and beyond. Because of that ruling, history would forever be changed. This book is about that decision and the role of slavery in the founding of the United States

–  from Slave Nation: How Slavery United The Colonies And Sparked The American Revolution, by Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen  

Truth hurts. And this might be one of the more hurtful truths an American can learn: a major reason for the Revolutionary War was the protection of slavery.

That’s not something they teach in the schools. But our history lessons might look different in the future, if more people read the book Slave Nation: How Slavery United The Colonies And Sparked The American Revolution, by Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen.

The Blumrosens, former lawyers for the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, have a background in equal employment law. Over the course of their careers, they developed an interest in the historical causes of America’s racial inequities. The result is this book, which applies a lawyer’s insight into what they show to be a disturbing aspect of American history.

The main point of their book is that the American colonists-particularly Southern colonists-were afraid that the British government would abolish slavery. And that this fear was a major reason for the colonists’ desire to break away from Great Britain.

Here’s the problem with the way the Revolutionary War is taught: much of the story about the War centers on the northern colonies, particularly Massachusetts, where pivotal events such as the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre took place, and where the term “no taxation without representation” originated. And there’s no doubt that Massachusetts was a flashpoint in the coming war of independence.

But there were 13 original colonies, and the southern colonies had a unique interest of their own to worry about: protecting their “right” to keep slaves.

In June of 1772, the British courts issued judgement in what is called the Somerset Case. The case involved a runaway slave, James Somerset, who was the  “property” of Charles Stewart, a customs officer from Boston, Massachusetts. Stewart and Somerset came to England from America in 1769. During his time in England, Somerset was exposed to the free black community there, and was inspired to escape his master in late 1771.

Somerset’s escape was not successful; he was caught, and was to be sent (for sale?) to the British colony of Jamaica.  However, Somerset was defended and supported by abolitionists who went to court on his behalf, and prevented his being shipped to Jamaica. As noted in Wikipedia, “The lawyers… on behalf of Somerset… argued that while colonial laws might permit slavery, neither the common law of England nor any law made by Parliament recognized the existence of slavery, and slavery was therefore illegal.”

The Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, Lord Mansfield, said in his ruling:

..The state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political; but only positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory: it’s so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from a decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.

Although the Somerset decision was binding in England, it was not the law of the land in the American colonies… yet. However, the charters from Britain that created the various colonies contained so-called “repugnancy clauses” which said that the Americans could not make legislation that was contrary to British laws. And in 1766, Britain passed the Declaratory Act which gave the British parliament power over “all cases whatsoever” involving American laws.

This made Southerners concerned, for two reasons. First, they were worried that American slaves would hear about the Somerset decision, and try to escape to England where they would be declared free per the decision’s precedent. But even more, they were worried that slavery in America was endangered, as explained in the book:

The possibility of a British rejection of slavery anywhere in the empire appalled the (southern) plantation owners… because slavery was a necessary underpinning of their prosperity. Slavery was the foundation of the economic and social environment that their leaders represented and protected.

The riches that flowed from slave ownership were threefold: the value of the slaves themselves, both as capital and as security for loans; the value of the product they produced, including more slaves; and the value of the land they cleared and planted.

Slavery in the southern colonies made white slave owners the wealthiest group on the mainland…

The importance of slavery to the southern colonists had its roots in the pre-Revolutionary period. As a result of a rebellion by poor whites in 1676, Virginia shifted its labor force from a mix of black slaves and white indentured servants to slaves alone.

Most whites owned one or two slaves, not the much larger numbers owned by the major planters. But these few slaves were crucial to their masters in easing the daily labor necessary for an agricultural existence. For example, owning slaves enabled white children to have some schooling, or enabled ill or disabled family members to bear lighter loads.

All of these considerations combined to make southern political lawyers anxious about their property in slaves that was threatened by the Somerset decision. Taxation might have taken some of their property; Somerset threatened to take it all.

The book goes on to tell how major decisions made by the Americans-such as the agreement to break from British rule, the wording of the Declaration of Independence, and the formulation of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution-were all done in a manner that protected the right of the South to maintain slavery.

For example: in early drafts of the Declaration of Independence, the language that said “All men are born equally free and independent” was changed by Thomas Jefferson to “All men were created equal” to prevent the implication that slaves should be free.

In the end, though, the Revolutionary War did not prevent the conflict over slavery from coming to a head; it merely delayed it.

As the book notes, many in the North (and some Southerners, too) abhorred slavery, but compromises were made continually with the Southerners for the sake of unity. While much of the enmity toward slavery was based on religious and moral grounds, some of it was based on economics: many felt that slavery undercut the labor market for white men. Over time, anti-slavery sentiment grew to a boil.

Eventually, the Civil War would decide the issue of slavery in America. (And I am personally very happy that the North won… I’d rather be writing this blog than picking cotton.)

It will be interesting to see if the book and others like it eventually spur a change in the way that American history is taught. I looked at several reviews of the book, and one said it contains too much “circumstantial evidence.” That is: some of the intentions of the people (including, very prominently, Thomas Jefferson) who made the decisions mentioned in the book are inferred, as opposed to being proven by actual comments.

My own feeling is, the authors make a quite convincing case. This book is well researched, and even if the evidence is sometimes circumstantial, it is extensive and compelling.

But clearly: this is a very controversial proposition that the authors are making, and something this different from mainstream history will of course come under scrutiny. And that’s not a problem: I hope that the historian community does give the kind of consideration and investigation it deserves.  And even more, if consensus is reached that agrees with the Blumrosens, I would hope that our history books are changed accordingly, no matter what kind of light it shines on our nation’s founding fathers. Just let the truth be told.”

Zinn Education Project: Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies & Sparked the American Revolution

“This carefully documented, chilling history presents a radically different view of the profound role that slavery played in the founding of the republic, from the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution through the creation of the Constitution. The book begins with a novel explanation about the impact of the Somerset Case on the founding of the republic.

In 1772, a judge sitting in the High Court in London declared slavery “so odious” that it could not exist at common law and set the conditions which would consequently result in the freedom of the 15,000 slaves living in England. This decision eventually reached America and terrified slaveholders in the collection of British colonies, subject to British law. The predominantly southern slave-owners feared that this decision would cause the emancipation of their slaves. It did result in some slaves freeing themselves.

To ensure the preservation of slavery, the southern colonies joined the northerners in their fight for “freedom” and their rebellion against England. In 1774, at the First Continental Congress John Adams promised southern leaders to support their right to maintain slavery. As Eleanor Holmes Norton explains in her introduction, “The price of freedom from England was bondage for African slaves in America. America would be a slave nation.”

Thomas Jefferson relied on this understanding when carefully crafting the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence. In 1787, about the time Benjamin Franklin proposed the first affirmative action plan, negotiations over a new Constitution ground to a halt until the southern states agreed to allow the prohibition of slavery north of the Ohio River. The resulting Northwest Ordinance created the largest slave-free area in the world. Slave Nation is a fascinating account of the role slavery played in the foundations of the United States that traces this process of negotiation through the adoption of Northwest Ordinance in 1787, and informs our understanding of later events including the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. [Publisher’s description.]

Features an introduction by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and an in requiem poem by Barbara Chase-Riboud.”

Vox: 3 reasons the American Revolution was a mistake

“This July 4, let’s not mince words: American independence in 1776 was a monumental mistake. We should be mourning the fact that we left the United Kingdom, not cheering it.

Of course, evaluating the wisdom of the American Revolution means dealing with counterfactuals. As any historian would tell you, this is a messy business. We obviously can’t be entirely sure how America would have fared if it had stayed in the British Empire longer, perhaps gaining independence a century or so later, along with Canada.

But I’m reasonably confident a world in which the revolution never happened would be better than the one we live in now, for three main reasons: Slavery would’ve been abolished earlier, American Indians would’ve faced rampant persecution but not the outright ethnic cleansing Andrew Jackson and other American leaders perpetrated, and America would have a parliamentary system of government that makes policymaking easier and lessens the risk of democratic collapse.

Abolition would have come faster without independence

The main reason the revolution was a mistake is that the British Empire, in all likelihood, would have abolished slavery earlier than the US did, and with less bloodshed.

Abolition in most of the British Empire occurred in 1834, following the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act. That left out India, but slavery was banned there, too, in 1843. In England itself, slavery was illegal at least going back to 1772. That’s decades earlier than the United States.

This alone is enough to make the case against the revolution. Decades less slavery is a massive humanitarian gain that almost certainly dominates whatever gains came to the colonists from independence.

The main benefit of the revolution to colonists was that it gave more political power to America’s white male minority. For the vast majority of the country — its women, slaves, American Indians — the difference between disenfranchisement in an independent America and disenfranchisement in a British-controlled colonial America was negligible. If anything, the latter would’ve been preferable, since at least women and minorities wouldn’t be singled out for disenfranchisement. From the vantage point of most of the country, who cares if white men had to suffer through what everyone else did for a while longer, especially if them doing so meant slaves gained decades of free life?

It’s true that had the US stayed, Britain would have had much more to gain from the continuance of slavery than it did without America. It controlled a number of dependencies with slave economies — notably Jamaica and other islands in the West Indies — but nothing on the scale of the American South. Adding that into the mix would’ve made abolition significantly more costly.

But the South’s political influence within the British Empire would have been vastly smaller than its influence in the early American republic. For one thing, the South, like all other British dependencies, lacked representation in Parliament. The Southern states were colonies, and their interests were discounted by the British government accordingly. But the South was also simply smaller as a chunk of the British Empire’s economy at the time than it was as a portion of America’s. The British crown had less to lose from the abolition of slavery than white elites in an independent America did.

The revolutionaries understood this. Indeed, a desire to preserve slavery helped fuel Southern support for the war. In 1775, after the war had begun in Massachusetts, the Earl of Dunmore, then governor of Virginia, offered the slaves of rebels freedom if they came and fought for the British cause. Eric Herschthal, a PhD student in history at Columbia, notes that the proclamation united white Virginians behind the rebel effort. He quotes Philip Fithian, who was traveling through Virginia when the proclamation was made, saying, “The Inhabitants of this Colony are deeply alarmed at this infernal Scheme. It seems to quicken all in Revolution to overpower him at any Risk.” Anger at Dunmore’s emancipation ran so deep that Thomas Jefferson included it as a grievance in a draft of the Declaration of Independence. That’s right: the declaration could’ve included “they’re conscripting our slaves” as a reason for independence.

For white slaveholders in the South, Simon Schama writes in Rough Crossings, his history of black loyalism during the Revolution, the war was “a revolution, first and foremost, mobilized to protect slavery.”

Slaves also understood that their odds of liberation were better under British rule than independence. Over the course of the war, about 100,000 African slaves escaped, died, or were killed, and tens of thousands enlisted in the British army, far more than joined the rebels. “Black Americans’ quest for liberty was mostly tied to fighting for the British — the side in the War for Independence that offered them freedom,” historian Gary Nash writes in The Forgotten Fifth, his history of African Americans in the revolution. At the end of the war, thousands who helped the British were evacuated to freedom in Nova Scotia, Jamaica, and England.

This is not to say the British were motivated by a desire to help slaves; of course they weren’t. But American slaves chose a side in the revolution, the side of the crown. They were no fools. They knew that independence meant more power for the plantation class that had enslaved them and that a British victory offered far greater prospects for freedom.

Independence was bad for Native Americans

Starting with the Proclamation of 1763, the British colonial government placed firm limits on westward settlement in the United States. It wasn’t motivated by an altruistic desire to keep American Indians from being subjugated or anything; it just wanted to avoid border conflicts.

But all the same, the policy enraged American settlers, who were appalled that the British would seem to side with Indians over white men. “The British government remained willing to conceive of Native Americans as subjects of the crown, similar to colonists,” Ethan Schmidt writes in Native Americans in the American Revolution. “American colonists … refused to see Indians as fellow subjects. Instead, they viewed them as obstacles in the way of their dreams of land ownership and trading wealth.” This view is reflected in the Declaration of Independence, which attacks King George III for backing “merciless Indian Savages.”

American independence made the proclamation void here. It’s not void in Canada — indeed, there the 1763 proclamation is viewed as a fundamental document providing rights to self-government to First Nations tribes. It’s mentioned explicitly in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada’s Bill of Rights), which protects “any rights or freedoms that have been recognized by the Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763” for all aboriginal people. Historian Colin Calloway writes in The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America that the proclamation “still forms the basis for dealings between Canada’s government and Canada’s First Nations.”

And, unsurprisingly, Canada didn’t see Indian wars and removals as large and sweeping as occurred in the US. They still committed horrible, indefensible crimes. Canada, under British rule and after, brutally mistreated aboriginal people, not least through government-inflicted famines and the state’s horrific seizure of children from their families so they could attend residential schools. But the country didn’t experience a westward expansion as violent and deadly as that pursued by the US government and settlers. Absent the revolution, Britain probably would’ve moved into Indian lands. But fewer people would have died.

Robert Lindneux

None of this is to minimize the extent of British and Canadian crimes against Natives. “It’s a hard case to make because even though I do think Canada’s treatment of Natives was better than the United States, it was still terrible,” the Canadian essayist Jeet Heer tells me in an email (Heer has also written a great case against American independence). “On the plus side for Canada: there were no outright genocides like the Trail of Tears (aside from the Beothuks of Newfoundland). The population statistics are telling: 1.4 million people of aboriginal descent in Canada as against 5.2 million in the USA. Given the fact that America is far more hospitable as an environment and has 10 times the non-aboriginal population, that’s telling.”

Independence also enabled acquisition of territory in the West through the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican-American War. That ensured that America’s particularly rapacious brand of colonialism ensnared yet more native peoples. And while Mexico and France were no angels, what America brought was worse. Before the war, the Apache and Comanche were in frequent violent conflict with the Mexican government. But they were Mexican citizens. The US refused to make them American citizens for a century. And then, of course, it violently forced them into reservations, killing many in the process.

American Indians would have still, in all likelihood, faced violence and oppression absent American independence, just as First Nations people in Canada did. But American-scale ethnic cleansing wouldn’t have occurred. And like America’s slaves, American Indians knew this. Most tribes sided with the British or stayed neutral; only a small minority backed the rebels. Generally speaking, when a cause is opposed by the two most vulnerable groups in a society, it’s probably a bad idea. So it is with the cause of American independence.

America would have a better system of government if we’d stuck with Britain

Honestly, I think earlier abolition alone is enough to make the case against the revolution, and it combined with less-horrible treatment of American Indians is more than enough. But it’s worth taking a second to praise a less important but still significant consequence of the US sticking with Britain: we would’ve, in all likelihood, become a parliamentary democracy rather than a presidential one.

And parliamentary democracies are a lot, lot better than presidential ones. They’re significantly less likely to collapse into dictatorship because they don’t lead to irresolvable conflicts between, say, the president and the legislature. They lead to much less gridlock.

In the US, activists wanting to put a price on carbon emissions spent years trying to put together a coalition to make it happen, mobilizing sympathetic businesses and philanthropists and attempting to make bipartisan coalition — and they still failed to pass cap and trade, after millions of dollars and man hours. In the UK, the Conservative government decided it wanted a carbon tax. So there was a carbon tax. Just like that. Passing big, necessary legislation — in this case, legislation that’s literally necessary to save the planet — is a whole lot easier with parliaments than with presidential systems.

This is no trivial matter. Efficient passage of legislation has huge humanitarian consequences. It makes measures of planetary importance, like carbon taxes, easier to get through; they still face political pushback, of course — Australia’s tax got repealed, after all — but they can be enacted in the first place, which is far harder in the US system. And the efficiency of parliamentary systems enables larger social welfare programs that reduce inequality and improve life for poor citizens. Government spending in parliamentary countries is about 5 percent of GDP higher, after controlling for other factors, than in presidential countries. If you believe in redistribution, that’s very good news indeed.

The Westminister system of parliamentary democracy also benefits from weaker upper houses. The US is saddled with a Senate that gives Wyoming the same power as California, which has more than 66 times as many people. Worse, the Senate is equal in power to the lower, more representative house. Most countries following the British system have upper houses — only New Zealand was wise enough to abolish it — but they’re far, far weaker than their lower houses. The Canadian Senate and the House of Lords affect legislation only in rare cases. At most, they can hold things up a bit or force minor tweaks. They aren’t capable of obstruction anywhere near the level of the US Senate.

Canadian Gov. General Visits Quake-Torn Haiti

Former Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean.

Sophia Paris/MINUSTAH via Getty Images

Finally, we’d still likely be a monarchy, under the rule of Elizabeth II, and constitutional monarchy is the best system of government known to man. Generally speaking, in a parliamentary system, you need a head of state who is not the prime minister to serve as a disinterested arbiter when there are disputes about how to form a government — say, if the largest party should be allowed to form a minority government or if smaller parties should be allowed to form a coalition, to name a recent example from Canada. That head of state is usually a figurehead president elected by the parliament (Germany, Italy) or the people (Ireland, Finland), or a monarch. And monarchs are better.

Monarchs are more effective than presidents precisely because they lack any semblance of legitimacy. It would be offensive for Queen Elizabeth or her representatives in Canada, New Zealand, etc. to meddle in domestic politics. Indeed, when the governor-general of Australia did so in 1975 it set off a constitutional crisis that made it clear such behavior would not be tolerated. But figurehead presidents have some degree of democratic legitimacy and are typically former politicians. That enables a greater rate of shenanigans — like when Italian President Giorgio Napolitano schemed, successfully, to remove Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister due at least in part to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s entreaties to do so.

Napolitano is the rule, rather than the exception. Oxford political scientists Petra Schleiter and Edward Morgan-Jones have found that presidents, whether elected indirectly by parliament or directly by the people, are likelier to allow governments to change without new elections than monarchs are. In other words, they’re likelier to change the government without any democratic input at all. Monarchy is, perhaps paradoxically, the more democratic option.

Domestic Slave Trade

AAME: The Domestic Slave Trade

“The domestic slave trade within the United States did not begin, as is often assumed, with the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807. It originated half a century earlier in the 1760s, and overlapped with the trade from Africa. It was extensive even between 1787 and 1807, a period in which more Africans were forced to these shores than in any two decades in North American history. The domestic trade continued into the 1860s and displaced some 1.2 million men, women, and children, the vast majority of whom were born in America.

At the cost of immense human suffering, this forced migration unlocked a great reservoir of labor and made possible the rapid expansion of the “Peculiar Institution.” The domestic slave trade brought misery, separating families and increasing the climate of insecurity in the community.

It also distributed the African-American population throughout the South in a migration that greatly surpassed in volume the transatlantic slave trade to North America.”

The Atlantic: The Case For Reparations

In 1860, the majority of people living in South Carolina and Mississippi, almost half of those living in Georgia, and about one-third of all Southerners were on the wrong side of Calhoun’s line (black). The state with the largest number of enslaved Americans was Virginia, where in certain counties some 70 percent of all people labored in chains. Nearly one-fourth of all white Southerners owned slaves, and upon their backs the economic basis of America—and much of the Atlantic world—was erected. In the seven cotton states, one-third of all white income was derived from slavery. By 1840, cotton produced by slave labor constituted 59 percent of the country’s exports. The web of this slave society extended north to the looms of New England, and across the Atlantic to Great Britain, where it powered a great economic transformation and altered the trajectory of world history. “Whoever says Industrial Revolution,” wrote the historian Eric J. Hobsbawm, “says cotton.”

The wealth accorded America by slavery was not just in what the slaves pulled from the land but in the slaves themselves. “In 1860, slaves as an asset were worth more than all of America’s manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together,” the Yale historian David W. Blight has noted. “Slaves were the single largest, by far, financial asset of property in the entire American economy.” The sale of these slaves—“in whose bodies that money congealed,” writes Walter Johnson, a Harvard historian—generated even more ancillary wealth. Loans were taken out for purchase, to be repaid with interest. Insurance policies were drafted against the untimely death of a slave and the loss of potential profits. Slave sales were taxed and notarized. The vending of the black body and the sundering of the black family became an economy unto themselves, estimated to have brought in tens of millions of dollars to antebellum America. In 1860 there were more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi Valley than anywhere else in the country.

Beneath the cold numbers lay lives divided. “I had a constant dread that Mrs. Moore, her mistress, would be in want of money and sell my dear wife,” a freedman wrote, reflecting on his time in slavery. “We constantly dreaded a final separation. Our affection for each was very strong, and this made us always apprehensive of a cruel parting.” Forced partings were common in the antebellum South. A slave in some parts of the region stood a 30 percent chance of being sold in his or her lifetime. Twenty-five percent of interstate trades destroyed a first marriage and half of them destroyed a nuclear family.

When the wife and children of Henry Brown, a slave in Richmond, Virginia, were to be sold away, Brown searched for a white master who might buy his wife and children to keep the family together. He failed. The next day, I stationed myself by the side of the road, along which the slaves, amounting to three hundred and fifty, were to pass. The purchaser of my wife was a Methodist minister, who was about starting for North Carolina. Pretty soon five waggon-loads of little children passed, and looking at the foremost one, what should I see but a little child, pointing its tiny hand towards me, exclaiming, “There’s my father; I knew he would come and bid me good-bye.” It was my eldest child! Soon the gang approached in which my wife was chained. I looked, and beheld her familiar face; but O, reader, that glance of agony! may God spare me ever again enduring the excruciating horror of that moment! She passed, and came near to where I stood. I seized hold of her hand, intending to bid her farewell; but words failed me; the gift of utterance had fled, and I remained speechless. I followed her for some distance, with her hand grasped in mine, as if to save her from her fate, but I could not speak, and I was obliged to turn away in silence.

In a time when telecommunications were primitive and blacks lacked freedom of movement, the parting of black families was a kind of murder. Here we find the roots of American wealth and democracy—in the for-profit destruction of the most important asset available to any people, the family. The destruction was not incidental to America’s rise; it facilitated that rise. By erecting a slave society, America created the economic foundation for its great experiment in democracy. The labor strife that seeded Bacon’s rebellion was suppressed. America’s indispensable working class existed as property beyond the realm of politics, leaving white Americans free to trumpet their love of freedom and democratic values. Assessing antebellum democracy in Virginia, a visitor from England observed that the state’s natives “can profess an unbounded love of liberty and of democracy in consequence of the mass of the people, who in other countries might become mobs, being there nearly altogether composed of their own Negro slaves.”

Failure of Reconstruction

After the Civil War there was a decade long Reconstruction Era where recently freed black people were briefly given freedoms such as voting rights and land in an attempt to create a new country based on equality.   This period ended with:

  • The land being given back to slave owners
  • Emergence of black codes that restricted black people’s rights to vote, work, and basic freedoms
  • Rise of white terrorism

EJI: Lynching in America

“When eleven Southern states seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America, sparking the Civil War in 1861, they made no secret of their ultimate aim: to preserve the institution of slavery. As Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens explained, the ideological “cornerstone” of the new nation they sought to form was that “the negro is not equal to the white man” and “slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and moral condition.”

Slavery had been an increasingly divisive political issue for generations, and though United States President Abraham Lincoln personally opposed slavery, he had rejected abolitionists’ calls for immediate emancipation. Instead, Lincoln favored a gradual process of compensated emancipation and voluntary colonization, which would encourage freed black people to emigrate to Africa. Once the nation was in the throes of civil war, Lincoln feared any federal move toward emancipation would alienate border states that permitted slavery but had not seceded. Lincoln’s cabinet and other federal officials largely agreed, and shortly after the war’s start, the House of Representatives passed a resolution emphasizing that the purpose of the war was to preserve the Union, not to eliminate slavery.

As the Civil War dragged on, however, increasing numbers of enslaved African Americans fled slavery to relocate behind Union lines, and the cause of emancipation became more militarily and politically expedient. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared enslaved people residing in the rebelling Confederate states to be “then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to the roughly 425,000 enslaved people living in Tennessee, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland—states that had not seceded or were occupied by Union forces.

In most Confederate states where the proclamation did apply, resistance to emancipation was inevitable and there was almost no federal effort to enforce the grant of freedom. Southern planters attempted to hide news about Lincoln’s proclamation from enslaved people, and in many areas where federal troops were not present, slavery remained the status quo well after 1863. Even as the Confederacy faced increasingly certain defeat in the war, Southern whites insisted that Lincoln’s wartime executive order was illegal and that slavery could be formally banned only by a legislature or court. Many used deception and violence to keep enslaved people from leaving plantations.

Formal nationwide codification of emancipation came in December 1865 with ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibited slavery throughout the United States, except as punsihment for a crime. Several states continued to symbolically resist into the twentieth century: Delaware did not ratify the Thirteenth Amendment until 1901; Kentucky ratified in 1976; and Mississippi ratified in 1995.

The legal instruments that led to the formal end of racialized chattel slavery in America did nothing to address the myth of racial hierarchy that sustained slavery, nor did they establish a national commitment to the alternative ideology of racial equality. Black people might be free from involuntary labor under the law, but that did not mean Southern whites recognized them as fully human. White Southern identity was grounded in a belief that whites are inherently superior to African Americans; following the war, whites reacted violently to the notion that they would now have to treat their former human property as equals and pay for their labor. In numerous recorded incidents, plantation owners attacked black people simply for claiming their freedom.

At the Civil War’s end, black autonomy expanded but white supremacy remained deeply rooted. The failure to unearth those roots would leave black Americans exposed to terrorism and racial subordination for more than a century.

The federal government’s lackluster commitment to black civil rights and security following the Civil War was a disappointing failure that undermined the promise of freedom. Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau in March 1865 with a mandate to provide formerly enslaved people with basic necessities and to oversee their condition and treatment in the former Confederate states. But Congress appropriated no budget for the bureau, leaving it to be staffed and funded by President Andrew Johnson’s War Department.

President Johnson, a Unionist former slaveholder from Tennessee, served as vice president during the Civil War and assumed the presidency after Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865. Though he initially promised to punish Southern “traitors,” Johnson issued 7000 pardons to secessionists by 1866. He also rescinded orders granting black farmers tracts of land confiscated from Confederates. This greatly impeded formerly enslaved people’s ability to build their own farms because whites routinely refused to provide them credit, effectively barring black people from purchasing land without government assistance.

Instead of facilitating black land ownership, Johnson advocated a new practice that soon replaced slavery as a primary source of Southern agricultural labor: sharecropping. Under this system, black laborers worked white-owned land in exchange for a share of the crop at harvest minus costs for food and lodging, often in the same slave quarters they had previously inhabited. Because Johnson’s administration required that landowners pay off their debts to banks first, sharecroppers frequently received no pay and had no recourse.

President Johnson also opposed black voting rights. During Reconstruction, whites of diverse political affiliations declared voting a “privilege” rather than a universal right, and even some whites who had opposed slavery were wary of measures that would lead to black voting in the North. Johnson believed black people were inherently servile and unintelligent; he feared they would vote as instructed by their former masters, reestablishing the power of the planter class and relegating poor white farmers to virtual slavery. Johnson made little effort to disguise his racist views. In his 1867 annual message to Congress, President Johnson declared that black Americans had “less capacity for government than any other race of people,” that they would “relapse into barbarism” if left to their own devices, and that giving them the vote would result in “a tyranny such as this continent has never yet witnessed.” Not surprisingly, under President Johnson, federal Reconstruction efforts to support and enforce black Americans’ citizenship rights and social and economic freedom went largely unsupported and unrealized.

Meanwhile, the Johnson administration allowed Southern whites to reestablish white supremacy and dominate black people with impunity. Two incidents in 1866 foretold terrifying days to come for African Americans. On May 1, 1866, in Memphis, Tennessee, white police officers began firing into a crowd of African American men, women, and children that had gathered on South Street, and afterward white mobs rampaged through black neighborhoods with the intent to “kill every Negro and drive the last one from the city.” Over three days of violence, forty-six African Americans were killed (two whites were killed by friendly fire); ninety-one houses, four churches, and twelve schools were burned to the ground; at least five women were raped; and many black people fled the city permanently.

Less than three months later, in New Orleans, a group of African Americans—many of whom had been free before the Civil War—attempted to convene a state constitutional convention to extend voting rights to black men and repeal racially discriminatory laws known as Black Codes. When the delegates convened at the Mechanics’ Institute on July 30, 1866, groups of black supporters and white opponents clashed in the streets. The white mob began firing on black marchers, indiscriminately killing convention supporters and unaffiliated black bystanders. Rather than maintain order, white police officers attacked black residents with guns, axes, and clubs, arresting many and killing several. By the time federal troops arrived to suppress the white insurgency, as many as forty-eight black people were dead and two hundred had been wounded.


The Memphis and New Orleans attacks, which occurred just before the midterm elections of 1866, sparked national outrage outside the South and mobilized voters to support the Republican Party’s progressive platform advocating expansive rights and protections for African Americans. Republicans won a landslide victory in the 1866 congressional races, gaining a veto-proof majority and control of the legislative agenda. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania then led the progressive caucus in devising an ambitious civil rights program broader than anything Congress would attempt for another century.

First, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which declared black Americans full citizens entitled to equal civil rights. President Johnson vetoed the bill, but Congress—for the first time in United States history—overrode the veto. Next, the progressive Republican supermajority quickly passed the Fourteenth Amendment. Intended to eliminate any doubt about the constitutionality of civil rights, the proposed amendment established that all persons born in the country, regardless of race, were full citizens of the United States and the states in which they resided, entitled to the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship, due process, and the equal protection of the law. If ratified, the amendment would supersede the United States Supreme Court’s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v Sanford, which held that African Americans were not citizens and had no standing to sue in federal court.

Twenty-eight of the thirty-seven states had to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment in order for it to be added to the Constitution, but when Southern legislatures first considered the amendment, ten of the eleven former Confederate states rejected it overwhelmingly—Louisiana unanimously. In response, again over President Johnson’s veto, Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, which imposed military rule on the South and required that any states seeking readmission to the Union had to first ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. In July 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was officially adopted.

The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 also granted voting rights to African American men while disenfranchising former Confederates, dramatically altering the political landscape of the South and ushering in a period of progress. In elections for new state governments, black voter turnout neared 90 percent in many jurisdictions, and black voters—who comprised a majority in many districts and a statewide majority in Louisiana—elected both white and black leaders to represent them. More than six hundred African Americans, most of them formerly enslaved, were elected as state legislators during this period. Another eighteen African Americans rose to serve in state executive positions, including lieutenant governor, secretary of state, superintendent of education, and treasurer. In Louisiana in 1872, P.B.S. Pinchback became the first black governor in America (and would be the last until 1990). The Reconstruction states sent sixteen black representatives to the United States Congress, and Mississippi voters elected the nation’s first black senators: Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce.

The newly elected and racially integrated Reconstruction governments took bold action at the state level, repealing discriminatory laws, rewriting apprenticeship and vagrancy statutes, outlawing corporal punishment, and sharply reducing the number of capital offenses. African Americans also won election to law enforcement positions like sheriff and chief of police, and were empowered to serve on juries.

Despite their advances, the racially diverse Reconstruction governments faced significant challenges. For one, the issue of social equality continued to divide the Republican Party. Black members and progressive whites advocated the full eradication of white supremacy, while more conservative whites still supported some forms of racial hierarchy and separation. Because nearly all black voters supported the Republican ticket in every election, the party began to take freedmen’s votes for granted and shifted its attention toward courting more “moderate” white swing voters. In addition, the Reconstruction governments faced a “crisis of legitimacy” as their efforts to attract capital to war-torn Southern state economies raised accusations of corruption and graft.

In the midst of this growing instability, officials struggled to control increasingly violent and lawless groups of white supremacists in their states. Beginning as disparate “social clubs” of former Confederate soldiers, these groups morphed into large paramilitary organizations that drew thousands of members from all sectors of white society.31 Collectively, and with the tacit endorsement of the broader white community, their members launched a bloody reign of terror that would overthrow Reconstruction and sustain generations of white rule.”

Wikipedia: Reconstruction

“Elected in 1868, Republican President Ulysses S. Grant supported Congressional Reconstruction and enforced the protection of African Americans in the South through the use of the Enforcement Acts passed by Congress. Grant used the Enforcement Acts to effectively combat the Ku Klux Klan, which was essentially wiped out, although a new incarnation of the Klan eventually would again come to national prominence in the 1920s. Nevertheless, President Grant was unable to resolve the escalating tensions inside the Republican Party between the northerners on the one hand, and those Republicans originally hailing from the South on the other (this latter group would be labelled “Scalawags” by those opposing Reconstruction). Meanwhile, “Redeemers“, self-styled Conservatives (in close cooperation with a faction of the Democratic Party) strongly opposed reconstruction.[4] They alleged widespread corruption by the “Carpetbaggers”, excessive state spending and ruinous taxes. Meanwhile, public support for Reconstruction policies, requiring continued supervision of the South, faded in the North after the Democrats, who strongly opposed Reconstruction, regained control of the House of Representatives in 1874. In 1877, as part of a Congressional bargain to elect Republican Rutherford B. Hayes as president following the close 1876 presidential election, U.S. Army troops no longer supported Republican state governments. Reconstruction was a significant chapter in the history of American civil rights. Historian Eric Foner argues:

What remains certain is that Reconstruction failed, and that for blacks its failure was a disaster whose magnitude cannot be obscured by the genuine accomplishments that did endure

40 Acres and a Mule

Black Past: Forty Acres and a Mule

“The phrase “forty acres and a mule” evokes the Federal government’s failure to redistribute land after the Civil War and the economic hardship that African Americans suffered as a result.  As Northern armies moved through the South at the end of the war, blacks began cultivating land abandoned by whites.  Rumors developed that land would be seized from Confederates, and given or sold to freedmen.  These rumors rested on solid foundations: abolitionists had discussed land redistribution at the beginning of the war, and in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln ordered 20,000 acres of land confiscated in South Carolina sold to freedmen in twenty-acre plots.  Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase expanded the offering to forty acres per family.

In January 1865 General William T. Sherman met with twenty African American leaders who told him that land ownership was the best way for blacks to secure and enjoy their newfound freedom.  On 16 January that year, Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15.  The order reserved coastal land in Georgia and South Carolina for black settlement.  Each family would receive forty acres.  Later Sherman agreed to loan the settlers army mules.  Six months after Sherman issued the order, 40,000 former slaves lived on 400,000 acres of this coastal land.  In March Congress seemed to indicate plans for widespread land reform when it authorized the Freedmen’s Bureau to divide confiscated land into small plots for sale to blacks and loyal Southern whites.

Less than a year after Sherman’s order, President Andrew Johnson intervened, and ordered that the vast majority of confiscated land be returned to its former owners.  This included most of land that the freedmen had settled.  The Federal government dispossessed tens of thousands of black landholders.  In Georgia and South Carolina, some blacks fought back, driving away former owners with guns.  Federal troops sometimes evicted blacks by force.  In the end only some 2,000 blacks retained land they had won and worked after the war.”

YES!: 40 Acres and a Mule Would Be at Least $6.4 Trillion Today

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Black Codes

  • Southern laws, called Black Codes were passed to restrict freed black people’s freedom and to force them to work in a labor economy based on low wages or debt.  One infamous black code was the vagrancy law, which allowed local authorities to arrest freed people for minor infractions and commit them to involuntary labor, initiating the start of the convict lease system, also described as “slavery by another name”

PBS: Slavery by Another Name (Documentary about Black Codes)

WP: Starbucks, LA Fitness and the long, racist history of America’s loitering laws

“These laws criminalized being idle, poor, immoral and dissolute, wandering about with no apparent purpose, being a habitual loafer or disorderly person and more. Where most American laws required people to do something criminal before they could be arrested, vagrancy laws made it criminal simply to be a certain type of person.

The breadth and vagueness of these laws allowed law enforcement officers to arrest anyone for any reason, especially if they seemed out of place in some way — like racial minorities, Communists and Vietnam War protesters, prostitutes, single women, sexual minorities and hippies. The police used these laws to keep a vast array of people in certain places and out of others, to deny their freedom, and to exclude them from political power, social life and cultural acceptance. A person could be arrested for sporting a beard, making a speech, working too little or simply being a black man in the wrong place. Vagrancy laws essentially provided a roving license to arrest, and that license was often used in discriminatory fashion.

Then came the Supreme Court’s pivotal 1972 case Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, which showcased the racial discrimination that vagrancy laws licensed. It involved the arrest of two African American men and two white women for no reason other than that they were out together for a night on the town in Jacksonville, Fla. That the Florida vagrancy law could be used to arrest such people meant, as the court determined, that the law was impermissibly vague and that it failed to cabin police discretion.

After Papachristou, with vagrancy laws no longer available, law enforcement has turned to other laws, like disorderly conduct and trespassing, to similar ends. Police discretion that was lodged so firmly in vagrancy and loitering laws has continued in myriad policing practices, including most prominently stop and frisk. So long as discrimination exists in our society, it will find outlets in policing as elsewhere…

…Courts and legislatures, however, have been slow to address the full panoply of discriminatory policing practices. Vagrancy laws are gone, but treating African Americans like vagrants continues. A Washington Post report noted that blacks are stopped disproportionately in the Philadelphia neighborhood in which the Starbucks incident occurred: While they make up 3 percent of the area’s residents, they account for 67 percent of pedestrian police stops — delivering an implicit message that they are unwanted and unwelcome in the mostly white neighborhood.

It turns out that vagrancy laws are not the only thing that can keep people in the places others prescribe for them.

The dismantling of the vagrancy law system was necessary for ending Jim Crow and for advancing all the social movements for equality of the time. To be protected from arbitrary arrest was and is a precondition for full citizenship. In the 1960s, that meant the elimination of the most egregious, status-based laws. But that was always only a first step. The elimination of discriminatory police discretion, and the deeply entrenched racism that underlies it, was always going to be a lengthy and difficult process. That process began long before the incident at the Philadelphia Starbucks, but the goal of equal citizenship has yet to be achieved.”

The Root: Racist History of Loitering


  • With the help of Black Codes the sharecropping system emerged where black people had to rent small plots of land, or shares, to work and in return they would give a portion (usually more than half) of their crop to the landowner at the end of the year.  This system often resulted in sharecroppers owing more to the landowner for the use of tools and other supplies than they were able to repay, forcing many black sharecroppers into debt and/or were forced by poverty or the threat of violence to sign unfair and exploitative sharecropping or labor contracts that left them little hope of improving their situation.

The Atlantic: The Case For Reparations

Clyde Ross was born in 1923, the seventh of 13 children, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, the home of the blues. Ross’s parents owned and farmed a 40-acre tract of land, flush with cows, hogs, and mules. Ross’s mother would drive to Clarksdale to do her shopping in a horse and buggy, in which she invested all the pride one might place in a Cadillac. The family owned another horse, with a red coat, which they gave to Clyde. The Ross family wanted for little, save that which all black families in the Deep South then desperately desired—the protection of the law.

In the 1920s, Jim Crow Mississippi was, in all facets of society, a kleptocracy. The majority of the people in the state were perpetually robbed of the vote—a hijacking engineered through the trickery of the poll tax and the muscle of the lynch mob. Between 1882 and 1968, more black people were lynched in Mississippi than in any other state. “You and I know what’s the best way to keep the nigger from voting,” blustered Theodore Bilbo, a Mississippi senator and a proud Klansman. “You do it the night before the election.”

The state’s regime partnered robbery of the franchise with robbery of the purse. Many of Mississippi’s black farmers lived in debt peonage, under the sway of cotton kings who were at once their landlords, their employers, and their primary merchants. Tools and necessities were advanced against the return on the crop, which was determined by the employer. When farmers were deemed to be in debt—and they often were—the negative balance was then carried over to the next season. A man or woman who protested this arrangement did so at the risk of grave injury or death. Refusing to work meant arrest under vagrancy laws and forced labor under the state’s penal system.

Well into the 20th century, black people spoke of their flight from Mississippi in much the same manner as their runagate ancestors had. In her 2010 book, The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson tells the story of Eddie Earvin, a spinach picker who fled Mississippi in 1963, after being made to work at gunpoint. “You didn’t talk about it or tell nobody,” Earvin said. “You had to sneak away.”

When Clyde Ross was still a child, Mississippi authorities claimed his father owed $3,000 in back taxes. The elder Ross could not read. He did not have a lawyer. He did not know anyone at the local courthouse. He could not expect the police to be impartial. Effectively, the Ross family had no way to contest the claim and no protection under the law. The authorities seized the land. They seized the buggy. They took the cows, hogs, and mules. And so for the upkeep of separate but equal, the entire Ross family was reduced to sharecropping.

This was hardly unusual. In 2001, the Associated Press published a three-part investigation into the theft of black-owned land stretching back to the antebellum period. The series documented some 406 victims and 24,000 acres of land valued at tens of millions of dollars. The land was taken through means ranging from legal chicanery to terrorism. “Some of the land taken from black families has become a country club in Virginia,” the AP reported, as well as “oil fields in Mississippi” and “a baseball spring training facility in Florida.”

Clyde Ross was a smart child. His teacher thought he should attend a more challenging school. There was very little support for educating black people in Mississippi. But Julius Rosenwald, a part owner of Sears, Roebuck, had begun an ambitious effort to build schools for black children throughout the South. Ross’s teacher believed he should attend the local Rosenwald school. It was too far for Ross to walk and get back in time to work in the fields. Local white children had a school bus. Clyde Ross did not, and thus lost the chance to better his education.

Then, when Ross was 10 years old, a group of white men demanded his only childhood possession—the horse with the red coat. “You can’t have this horse. We want it,” one of the white men said. They gave Ross’s father $17.

“I did everything for that horse,” Ross told me. “Everything. And they took him. Put him on the racetrack. I never did know what happened to him after that, but I know they didn’t bring him back. So that’s just one of my losses.”

The losses mounted. As sharecroppers, the Ross family saw their wages treated as the landlord’s slush fund. Landowners were supposed to split the profits from the cotton fields with sharecroppers. But bales would often disappear during the count, or the split might be altered on a whim. If cotton was selling for 50 cents a pound, the Ross family might get 15 cents, or only five. One year Ross’s mother promised to buy him a $7 suit for a summer program at their church. She ordered the suit by mail. But that year Ross’s family was paid only five cents a pound for cotton. The mailman arrived with the suit. The Rosses could not pay. The suit was sent back. Clyde Ross did not go to the church program.

Vice: Thousands of black laborers across the South were forced to work against their will as late as the 1960s


“White landowners in the South evicted thousands of African American sharecroppers who engaged in activism during the Civil Rights Movement. Most sharecroppers lived and farmed on white-owned land. Dependent on high-interest loans to buy seed and equipment at the season’s start, they lived in a cycle of debt that eliminated their profit and prevented them from saving to buy land of their own. 94

Sharecropping dates back to the late 1860s, when newly-emancipated black people were coerced through violence, deception, and desperation to farm under terms that resembled enslavement.

Generations later, sharecropping largely defined agricultural labor in the Deep South, where many black people remained trapped in poverty. 95 An evicted sharecropper typically had nowhere to go, and white landowners knew their black tenants were especially vulnerable to economic retaliation for supporting civil rights. 96

“I been living on this farm [in Lowndes County, Alabama] since January 2, 1931,” Mrs. Armanda Glover said in 1966. “And then two days before Christmas the landlord . . . said we [my husband and five children] had to move.” 97 That same year, in nearby Dallas County, 57-year-old Arthur Brown received notice that he and his nine children were being evicted from the Minter plantation, where he had lived since he was two years old. 98

In 1960, 1400 African Americans registered to vote in Fayette County, Tennessee, and about 700 were evicted. 99 Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, scores of families were evicted from plantations throughout Mississippi. 100 White landowners in Greene County, Alabama, evicted at least 75 black families in 1960, 101 and more than 40 black families were evicted in Lowndes County, Alabama, in December 1965 alone. 102

Evictions were part of a systematic plan to thwart civil rights activism and prevent black people from voting. Black men and women who registered to vote were required to provide the names of their employers, who could then be notified. 103 Newspapers printed the names of black people who attempted to register, 104 and White Citizens’ Councils distributed voter lists to white merchants, who denied basic necessities and employment to African Americans who registered — or tried to register — to vote. 105

On August 31, 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer and other black residents of the Mississippi Delta traveled to Indianola to register to vote. Soon after, she and her husband were evicted from the Marlowe plantation where they had been sharecroppers for 18 years. Homeless and denied work, the Hamers moved into temporary housing in nearby Ruleville, where white shooters targeted their home less than two weeks later. Undeterred, Mrs. Hamer returned to register to vote that December, and told the circuit clerk: “You can’t have me fired anymore ‘cause I’m already fired, [and] I won’t have to move now, because I’m not living in a white man’s house.” 106 In 1963, Mrs. Hamer was brutally beaten by police for her continued activism, but went on to lead a movement demanding political representation for black people in the South. 107

Many evicted families were forced to live in tent cities that sprang up throughout the South. 108 In communities that most closely resembled refugee camps, entire families sheltered in fabric tents that froze in the winter, 109 with no running water 110 and one outhouse for dozens of people. 111

Mary Williams, a black woman evicted from her home in Tennessee, remembered that “the ground was frozen real hard, and you could not get rest. We got cardboard boxes, split those boxes open, spread them on the grass. . . . But after we closed up for the night . . . the ground began to thaw and that made water come through the cardboard.” 112

White segregationist “night riders” terrorized the camps, firing guns into the tent cities in the middle of the night. “Tent City was like a shooting gallery,” recalled SNCC field secretary C.J. Jones. “They used to come by there three or four times a week and shoot into Tent City, and you have to remember there were women and children [there].” 113 Law enforcement did nothing to protect black people from this terrorism. 114

During this era, many African Americans were made to choose between exercising their rights and protecting their families from homelessness and violence. The threat of eviction and other forms of economic retaliation forced countless black men and women to stay on the sidelines in the struggle for equality. “It’s a very frightening thing to have to accept the cold reality,” observed SNCC field secretary George Green, “that in order to exercise their rights, to get what they could get in this great Democracy in America, here in 1966, people were living in tents.” “115

Convict Leasing

Wikipedia: “Penal labor in the United States

The “convict lease” system became popular throughout the American South following the American Civil War and into the 20th century. Since the impoverished state governments could not afford penitentiaries, they leased out prisoners to work at private firms. According to Douglas A. Blackmon, because of the revenue received by local governments, they had incentives to arrest blacks; tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested and leased to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries, and farm plantations. In Florida, convicts were often sent to work in lumber camps and turpentine factories.  The state governments maximized profits by putting the responsibility on the lessee to provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for the prisoners, with little oversight. This resulted in extremely poor conditions, numerous deaths, and perhaps the most inhumane system of labor in the United States.  Reformers abolished convict leasing in the 20th-century Progressive Era, stopping the system in Florida in 1919. The last state to abolish the practice was Alabama in 1927.

Convict leasing was one of the major contributors to the disenfranchisement of blacks across the South through the 20th century and worked to exclude African-Americans from the political system alongside a rising wave of lynching of blacks by white mobs. American criminologist Thorsten Sellin asserts that the sole aim of convict leasing “was financial profit to the lessees who exploited the labor of the prisoners to the fullest, and to the government which sold the convicts to the lessees.”  Although the leasing system came to a close, convict labor never ceased and continues today in various forms.

PBS: Slavery by Another Name (Convict Leasing)

“The Convict Lease System and Lynch Law are twin infamies which flourish hand in hand in many of the United States.  They are the two great outgrowths and results of the class legislation under which our people suffer today”
Frederick Douglas

EQI: Convict Leasing

Convict leasing, the practice of selling the labor of state and local prisoners to private interests for state profit, utilized the criminal justice system to effectuate the economic exploitation and political disempowerment of black people. State legislatures passed discriminatory criminal laws or “black codes,” which created new criminal offenses such as “vagrancy” and “loitering.” This led to the mass arrest and incarceration of black people. Relying on language in the Thirteenth Amendment that prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude “except as punishment for crime,” lawmakers empowered white-controlled governments to extract black labor in private lease contracts or on state-owned farms.95 “While a Black prisoner was a rarity during the slavery era (when slave masters were individually empowered to administer ‘discipline’ to their human property) the solution to the free black population had become criminalization. In turn, the most common fate facing black convicts was to be sold into forced labor for the profit of the state.”96

Beginning as early as 1866 in states like Texas, Mississippi, and Georgia, convict leasing spread throughout the Southern states and continued through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.97 In contrast to white prisoners who were routinely sentenced to the penitentiary, leased black convicts faced deplorable, unsafe working conditions and brutal violence when they attempted to resist or escape bondage.98

(John L. Spivak)

An 1887 report by the Hinds County, Mississippi grand jury recorded that, six months after 204 convicts were leased to a man named McDonald, twenty were dead, nineteen had escaped, and twenty-three had been returned to the penitentiary disabled, ill, and near death.99 The penitentiary hospital was filled with sick and dying black men whose bodies bore “marks of the most inhuman and brutal treatment . . . so poor and emaciated that their bones almost come through the skin.”100 Under this grotesquely cruel system that lasted decades, countless black men, women, and children lost their freedom—and often their lives. “Before convict leasing officially ended,” writes historian David Oshinsky, “a generation of black prisoners would suffer and die under conditions far worse than anything they had ever experienced as slaves.”101 Convict leasing demonstrated the way in which the criminal justice system would become the central institution for sustaining racial domination and hierarchy in America. It legitimized excessive punishment and abuse of African Americans and terrorized people of color.”

White Terrorism and Lynching

  • White terrorism, including the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), exploded during Reconstruction period killing thousands of black people and lasting well past the the Jim Crow Period.  Between 1882-1968, 3,446 black people were recorded as being lynched.  In reality many more black people were lynched but not recorded.  After the Civil War up till the 1930s there was a large spike in lynchings, which slowed down but continued up to the 1960s.  Most lynchings occurred in the South but also happened in the North during the Great Migration of blacks into Northern areas.  There were often many reasons stated for lynchings such as to protect white women or blaming freed black people for poor economic situations.  Lynchings often peaked in many areas when it was time for landowners to settle accounts with sharecroppers.  But ultimately most lynchings occured to maintain white supremacy and power over black people.  Often times lynchings would be photographed and made into postcards as souvenirs. Lynchings were also common in the Old West, where Native Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans were the primary victims

EJI: Lynching in American

“During the period between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. These lynchings were terrorism. “Terror lynchings” peaked between 1880 and 1940 and claimed the lives of African American men, women, and children who were forced to endure the fear, humiliation, and barbarity of this widespread phenomenon unaided.

Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Lynching created a fearful environment where racial subordination and segregation was maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America. The administration of criminal justice in particular is tangled with the history of lynching in profound and important ways that continue to contaminate the integrity and fairness of the justice system.

The history of terror lynching complicates contemporary issues of race, punishment, crime, and justice. Mass incarceration, excessive penal punishment, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color reveal problems in American society that were framed in the terror era. The narrative of racial difference that lynching dramatized continues to haunt us.

In America, there is a legacy of racial inequality shaped by the enslavement of millions of black people. The era of slavery was followed by decades of terrorism and racial subordination most dramatically evidenced by lynching. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s challenged the legality of many of the most racist practices and structures that sustained racial subordination but the movement was not followed by a continued commitment to Consequently, this legacy of racial inequality has persisted, leaving us vulnerable to a range of problems that continue to reveal racial disparities and injustice…

…We distinguish racial terror lynchings—the subject of this report—from hangings and mob violence that followed some criminal trial process or that were committed against non-minorities without the threat of terror. Those lynchings were a crude form of punishment that did not have the features of terror lynchings directed at racial minorities who were being threatened and menaced in multiple ways.

We also distinguish terror lynchings from racial violence and hate crimes that were prosecuted as criminal acts. Although criminal prosecution for hate crimes was rare during the period we examine, such prosecutions ameliorated those acts of violence and racial animus. The lynchings we document were acts of terrorism because these murders were carried out with impunity, sometimes in broad daylight, often “on the courthouse lawn.”i These lynchings were not “frontier justice,” because they generally took place in communities where there was a functioning criminal justice system that was deemed too good for African Americans. Terror lynchings were horrific acts of violence whose perpetrators were never held accountable. Indeed, some public spectacle lynchings were attended by the entire white community and conducted as celebratory acts of racial control and domination…

…EJI has documented 4084 racial terror lynchings in twelve Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950, which is at least 800 more lynchings in these states than previously reported. EJI has also documented more than 300 racial terror lynchings in other states during this time period…

…Some states and counties were particularly terrifying places for African Americans and had dramatically higher rates of lynching than other states and counties we reviewed. Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, and Louisiana had the highest statewide rates of lynching in the United States. Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana had the highest number of lynchings…

Racial terror lynching was a tool used to enforce laws and racial segregation—a tactic for maintaining racial control by victimizing the entire African American community, not merely punishment of an alleged perpetrator for a crime. Our research confirms that many victims of terror lynchings were murdered without being accused of any crime; they were killed for minor social transgressions or for demanding basic rights and fair treatment…

…Our conversations with survivors of lynchings show that terror lynching played a key role in the forced migration of millions of black Americans out of the South. Thousands of people fled to the North and West out of fear of being lynched. Parents and spouses sent away loved ones who suddenly found themselves at risk of being lynched for a minor social transgression; they characterized these frantic, desperate escapes as surviving near-lynchings.

In all of the subject states, we observed that there is an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss, or address lynching. Many of the communities where lynchings took place have gone to great lengths to erect markers and monuments that memorialize the Civil War, the Confederacy, and historical events during which local power was violently reclaimed by white Southerners. These communities celebrate and honor the architects of racial subordination and political leaders known for their belief in white supremacy. There are very few monuments or memorials that address the history and legacy of lynching in particular or the struggle for racial equality more generally. Most communities do not actively or visibly recognize how their race relations were shaped by terror lynching.

We found that most terror lynchings can best be understood as having the features of one or more of the following: (1) lynchings that resulted from a wildly distorted fear of interracial sex; (2) lynchings in response to casual social transgressions; (3) lynchings based on allegations of serious violent crime; (4) public spectacle lynchings; (5) lynchings that escalated into large-scale violence targeting the entire African American community; and (6) lynchings of sharecroppers, ministers, and community leaders who resisted mistreatment, which were most common between 1915 and 1940.

The decline of lynching in the studied states relied heavily on the increased use of capital punishment imposed by court order following an often accelerated trial. That the death penalty’s roots are sunk deep in the legacy of lynching is evidenced by the fact that public executions to mollify the mob continued after the practice was legally banned…

White Southern identity was grounded in a belief that whites are inherently superior to African Americans; following the war, whites reacted violently to the notion that they would now have to treat their former human property as equals and pay for their labor. In numerous recorded incidents, plantation owners attacked black people simply for claiming their freedom.

At the Civil War’s end, black autonomy expanded but white supremacy remained deeply rooted. The failure to unearth those roots would leave black Americans exposed to terrorism and racial subordination for more than a century…

Read More at Lynching in America

The Atlantic: The Case For Reparations

“In the aftermath of the Civil War, Radical Republicans attempted to reconstruct the country upon something resembling universal equality—but they were beaten back by a campaign of “Redemption,” led by White Liners, Red Shirts, and Klansmen bent on upholding a society “formed for the white, not for the black man.” A wave of terrorism roiled the South. In his massive history Reconstruction, Eric Foner recounts incidents of black people being attacked for not removing their hats; for refusing to hand over a whiskey flask; for disobeying church procedures; for “using insolent language”; for disputing labor contracts; for refusing to be “tied like a slave.” Sometimes the attacks were intended simply to “thin out the niggers a little.”

Terrorism carried the day. Federal troops withdrew from the South in 1877. The dream of Reconstruction died. For the next century, political violence was visited upon blacks wantonly, with special treatment meted out toward black people of ambition. Black schools and churches were burned to the ground. Black voters and the political candidates who attempted to rally them were intimidated, and some were murdered. At the end of World War I, black veterans returning to their homes were assaulted for daring to wear the American uniform. The demobilization of soldiers after the war, which put white and black veterans into competition for scarce jobs, produced the Red Summer of 1919: a succession of racist pogroms against dozens of cities ranging from Longview, Texas, to Chicago to Washington, D.C. Organized white violence against blacks continued into the 1920s—in 1921 a white mob leveled Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street,” and in 1923 another one razed the black town of Rosewood, Florida—and virtually no one was punished.”

LA Times: How lynching was used by whites to destroy competition from black business owners

“Ida B. Wells not only documented the extent of lynching but even more importantly debunked the “rape myth.” This was the prevailing view at the turn of the 20th century that lynching of black men was somehow justified because they raped white women.

Using statistics from white newspapers, Wells revealed that lynchings in the South had many causes, including the rising economic competition of African Americans with whites. Maintaining white supremacy, not the rape of white women, was the overall motivating factor, Wells concluded.

Wells later became an urban reformer and passionate suffragist, but her groundbreaking work was soon largely forgotten after she died in 1931. I hope she is not forgotten today.”

BlackPast: Ida B Wells

“Activist and writer Ida B. Wells-Barnett first became prominent in the 1890s because she brought international attention to the lynching of African Americans in the South. Wells was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862. At the age of 16, she became primary caregiver to her six brothers and sisters, when both of her parents succumbed to yellow fever.  After completing her studies Rust College near Holly Springs where her father had sat on the board of trustees before his death, Wells divided her time between caring for her siblings and teaching school. She moved to Memphis, Tennessee in the 1880s.

Wells first began protesting the treatment of black southerners when, on a train ride between Memphis and her job at a rural school, the conductor told her that she must move to the train’s smoking car. Wells refused, arguing that she had purchased a first-class ticket. The conductor and other passengers then tried to physically remove her from the train. Wells returned to Memphis, hired a lawyer, and sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. The court decided in her favor, awarding Wells $500. The railroad company appealed, and in 1887, the Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed the previous decision and ordered Wells to pay court fees. Using the pseudonym “Iola,” Wells began to write editorials in black newspapers that challenged Jim Crow laws in the South. She bought a share of a Memphis newspaper, the Free Speech and Headlight, and used it to further the cause of African American civil rights.

After the lynching of three of her friends in 1892, Wells became one of the nation’s most vocal anti-lynching activists. Calvin McDowell, Thomas Moss, and Henry Stewart owned the People’s Grocery in Memphis, but their economic success angered the white owners of a store across the street. On March 9, a group of white men gathered to confront McDowell, Moss, and Stewart. During the ensuing scuffle, several of the white men received injuries, and authorities arrested the three black business owners. A white mob subsequently broke into the jail, captured McDowell, Moss, and Stewart, and lynched them.

Incensed by the murder of her friends, Wells launched an extensive investigation of lynching. In 1892, she published a pamphlet, “Southern Horrors,” which detailed her findings. Through her lectures and books such as A Red Record (1895), Wells countered the “rape myth” used by lynch mobs to justify the murder of African Americans. Through her research she found that lynch victims had challenged white authority or had successfully competed with whites in business or politics. As a result of her outspokenness, a mob destroyed the offices of the Free Speech and threatened to kill Wells.  She fled Memphis determined to continue her campaign to raise awareness of southern lynching. Wells took her movement to England, and established the British Anti-Lynching Society in 1894.  She returned to the U.S., settled in Chicago, Illinois where she married attorney and newspaper editor Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895.

Wells-Barnett also worked to advance other political causes. She protested the exclusion of African Americans from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and three years later she helped launch the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).  In 1909 Wells was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She also actively campaigned for women’s suffrage.”

Time: ‘Writing History With Lightning’: The Birth of a Nation at 100

“The Birth of a Nation, by all accounts the first American blockbuster, the first historical epic, the first Hollywood film to resemble what movies are like today, premiered in Los Angeles exactly 100 years ago on Sunday. But the centennial won’t be celebratory. It will likely be awkward, sobering even — because in director D.W. Griffith’s 12-reel Civil War saga, the Ku Klux Klan members are the glorious heroes.

Since its premiere on Feb. 8, 1915, the film has been at once wildly popular and widely condemned. It inspired the revival of the KKK but also galvanized what was then a nascent NAACP into action. It helped define what cinema means for American audiences. It was the first film ever shown inside the White House.

After 100 years, it has left a complicated, powerful legacy, but a legacy of what, exactly?

“Excuses are sometimes made by scholars of film for the content, but I don’t think that for the last ten to 15 years there has been any doubt that this is an unequivocally, viciously racist film,” says Paul McEwan, Associate Professor of Media and Communications at Muhlenberg College. McEwan has been studying and writing about the history of Birth of a Nation for 12 years. “I mean, this film makes Gone With the Wind look very progressive.”

Griffith claimed to be filming history, but Birth of a Nation, based on the novel The Clansman by Thomas Dixon, features a stunning revision of Reconstruction. White actors in blackface portray members of a barbaric, sex-crazed militia of freedmen that terrorizes and disenfranchises cowering whites. Black men overtake South Carolina’s judicial system and legislature, swigging whiskey and eating fried chicken on the floor of the State House. After the blackface character Gus attempts to rape a white woman, the protagonists don their hoods and apprehend him, lynching him after their version of a fair trial. The film is ostensibly about white national reconciliation at the expense of emancipated black Americans. A title card punctuates the action toward the end of the silent film to declare, “The former enemies of North and South are united again in defense of their Aryan birthright.”

Despite its objectionable content, the film remains an essential part of the discussion about American cinema because of Griffith’s pioneering technical innovations. Things that today are completely taken for granted — like close-ups, fade-outs and even varying camera angles — originated with Birth of a Nation‘s director and crew.

Because of its landmark cinematic achievements, dialogue surrounding the film has been fraught with debate pitting its artistic value against its dangerous racial politics. Famously, filmmaker Spike Lee has described seeing the film in a class as a first-year student. While professors were eager to applaud all the innovations of the film, lauding Griffith as “the father of cinema,” they ignored its implications as a racist epic. Lee responded with one of his first-year projects, called The Answer, about a black screenwriter drafted to write a Birth of a Nation remake.

In the 1970s, a journalist in Connecticut named Dick Lehr infiltrated a recruitment meeting of the KKK. There, Grand Wizard David Duke treated attendees to a screening of the film. Lehr, who had studied the film in college, said exposure to the film “in the real world” made him start considering the consequences of its content. Last November he published Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America’s Civil War. The book chronicles the backlash against the film in African American communities, particularly protests in Boston that were led by Monroe Trotter.

“In 1915, black leaders were appalled and outraged,” Lehr tells TIME. The film helped galvanize protests by thousands of African Americans, which Lehr characterizes as powerful foreshadowing of the Civil Rights movement.

President Woodrow Wilson cast Trotter and his protestors out of the White House after Trotter, a Harvard-educated newspaper editor, confronted him. “Wilson is a very well documented racist,” Lehr says. “He was very paternalistic, and Trotter became persona non grata because Wilson just thought ‘how dare you speak to me this way.’”

A few months later, Wilson hosted Griffith and novelist Dixon, a college friend of Wilson’s, for a screening of Birth of a Nation, the second film ever shown on the grounds of the White House and the first ever inside. Wilson lauded the film, famously commenting that it was “like writing history with lightning.” Excerpts from Wilson’s History of the American People appeared in the film to justify the portrayal of the Reconstruction-era South. The film quotes, “The policy of the congressional leaders wrought…a veritable overthrow of civilization in the South…in their determination to ‘put the white South under the heel of the black South.’”

It’s obvious, then, that the film has managed to sustain dual meanings for a whole century: its cinematic advances are still relevant, but its racism is still shocking. But, says Muhlenberg’s McEwan, there’s another piece of that legacy — and it’s one that’s a lot harder to see.

“For a long time the question was just, is it racist or is it art? Well, it’s both, and that’s more complicated,” McEwan says. “For American audiences, I think the legacy of the film is a cautionary tale. Especially on the centennial, you have to look 100 years into our future, and think about what we do, what our Birth of a Nation is going to be once that eye of judgement is turned on us.”

But perhaps there’s reason to hope that our own version, the movie we’ll be shocked at in 2115, won’t be quite so shameful. After all, in thinking about the centennial, Lehr says he noticed some hopeful irony: The first movie to screen in the White House was Birth of a Nation, but one of the most recent was Selma.

EJI: Segregation in America

[T]he machinery of government gave mobs immunity. . . . Even when [law enforcement officers] did not actually ride with the Ku Klux Klan or march with the lynch mob themselves, they would not arrest racist killers. A white man charged with killing a black man could count on his grand jury refusing to indict him, the local district attorney refusing to prosecute him, or the jury refusing to convict him. The machinery of justice . . . endorsed mob violence”

Black journalist T. Thomas Fortune made these observations in the 1880s during the fight against lynching, but they aptly describe the situation confronting black civil rights activists generations later.

“For the next 15 years,” a white man named Byron De La Beckwith wrote in a letter to the National Rifle Association in January 1963, “we in Mississippi are going to have to do a lot of shooting to protect our people from bad niggers.” A fertilizer salesman, veteran, and White Citizens’ Council member, De La Beckwith was a staunch segregationist who once declared, “I believe in segregation like I believe in God.” When he was arrested and charged with assassinating Mississippi NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers on a June evening in 1963, the state-funded Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission assisted De La Beckwith’s defense. Governor Ross Barnett interrupted his trial during the testimony of Mrs. Myrlie Evers to shake the defendant’s hand, and two different all-white juries declined to convict. Remarking on the outcome of one of De La Beckwith’s two 1964 trials, Governor Barnett quipped, “You can’t be surprised what a jury does or who a woman will marry.”

Dozens of people died in anti-civil rights violence between 1954 and 1968, and countless more were injured and traumatized while fighting for equal rights. A study of violent civil rights-related incidents in the South documented more than 100 attacks between January 1, 1955, and May 1, 1958. “Although [demonstrators] won several victories,” one scholar observed, “the U.S., particularly the South, became a war zone.”

Between 1955 and 1963, black civil rights activists were the targets of no fewer than 21 bombings in Birmingham, Alabama (earning it the moniker “Bombingham”).

Suppressing black voters ensured the 1942 election of James O. Eastland as United States senator from Mississippi. Eastland would build a six-term career leading a national movement opposed to civil rights.

Multiple attacks targeted movement leader Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and an explosion at 16th Street Baptist Church killed four young black girls in the church basement and two young black boys in the violent aftermath.

Law enforcement and white elected officials tolerated and sometimes encouraged racial violence and terrorist acts. Many law enforcement officials were members of White Citizens’ Councils or the Ku Klux Klan. 227 All-white juries consistently acquitted those charged with violence against black people, effectively immunizing perpetrators of racist violence from punishment

In August 1955, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted of abducting and brutally killing Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old visiting from Chicago, despite the testimony of multiple witnesses proving that the men targeted Emmett for allegedly insulting Bryant’s wife.228 Months later, both men confessed to Emmett’s murder in Look Magazine.

Dozens of people witnessed the shooting of Lamar Smith, a 63-year-old black farmer and voting rights activist killed on the lawn of the Lincoln County Courthouse in Brookhaven, Mississippi, in August 1955. The sheriff allowed one of the men involved in the murder to leave the scene covered in blood, and three men arrested for the killing were released without charges when the grand jury refused to indict.

In December 1955, 18 months after Brown, activists in Montgomery, Alabama, launched a year-long boycott to protest mistreatment on the city’s segregated buses following the arrest of a black rider named Rosa Parks. In 1956 and 1957, four black churches and the homes of boycott leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Reverend Robert Graetz, and E.D. Nixon were bombed. Two white men affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan were indicted after confessing to the blasts, but in May 1957, an all-white jury acquitted them of all charges as spectators cheered.


In Abbeville, Alabama, on a September night in 1944, a gang of white men kidnapped and took turns raping Recy Taylor, a young, black, married mother, at gunpoint. After the attack, the men blindfolded Mrs. Taylor, drove her back to the road, and left her to walk home.234

For generations of black women, racial terror included the constant threat of sexual assault and a complete lack of legal protection. “[T]hroughout the Jim Crow era,” wrote historian Danielle L. McGuire, “white men lured black women and girls away from home with promises of steady work and better wages; attacked them on the job; abducted them at gunpoint while traveling to or from home, work, or church; raped them as a form of retribution or to enforce rules of racial and economic hierarchy; sexually humiliated and assaulted them on streetcars and buses, in taxicabs and trains, and in other public spaces.”235

Black women’s resistance to this racialized sexual exploitation helped birth the activism and organized community action that grew into the Civil Rights Movement — even as they bore some of the era’s deepest scars. Between 1940 and 1975, civil rights campaigns in major cities throughout the South were sparked by sexual attacks against black women.236 When a local grand jury refused to indict Recy Taylor’s attackers, despite a confession, the Montgomery NAACP launched an investigation and campaign for justice spearheaded by future bus boycott leader Rosa Parks. None of Mrs. Taylor’s attackers was held accountable.237

The same communities that lynched and legally executed black men for mere allegations of sexual misconduct against white women tolerated and excused white men’s sexual attacks against black women and girls. In May 1956, after four white men kidnapped and raped 16-year-old Annette Butler in Tylertown, Mississippi, only one faced any punishment. At sentencing, Judge Thomas Pickens Brady — a vocal segregationist — scolded the defendant not for committing rape, but for bringing upon himself the shame of interracial sexual relations: “No action could be more in contrast with the beliefs of the segregationist.” 238

After South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond died in 2003 at age 101, the public learned that, at 22, he had fathered the child of an underage black girl.239 To some, it was a shocking revelation that seemed to conflict with Thurmond’s 70-year political career spent fervently defending racial separation, inequality, and the superiority of the white race. For others, it was tragically predictable.

“[I]n a climate characterized by fear and abject racial intimidation, the question of whether Carrie Butler, an impoverished maid in the Thurmond family household, freely consented is virtually meaningless,” legal scholar Kimberle Williams Crenshaw wrote in 2004. “The more telling question is whether there was any way she could freely say no…. The protection law promised was empty; after all, statutory rape laws were not written to protect girls like Butler.”240

The story of opposition to the cause of civil rights cannot be separated from the plight of generations of black women whose sexual victimization went unpunished, because those who condoned that abuse were the same men who defended segregation and fought against racial equality.

In 1965, the Honolulu Advertiser profiled Jim Clark, the notorious sheriff of Dallas County, Alabama. Clark told the reporter, “We got a sayin’ down here that every nigger baby girl born is a 12 year old—.” The newspaper cut off the quote, but explained that Clark used an unprintable word. His meaning was that every Negro girl who has reached puberty is fair game for a white man.“”

LA Times:New lynching memorial in Alabama offers chance to remember and heal

“Elmore Bolling defied the odds against black men and built several successful businesses during the harsh era of Jim Crow segregation in the South. He had more money than a lot of whites, which his descendants believe was all it took to get him lynched in 1947.

He was shot to death by a white neighbor, according to news accounts at the time, and the shooter was never prosecuted.

But Bolling’s name is now listed among thousands on a new memorial for victims of hate-inspired lynchings that terrorized generations of U.S. blacks. Daughter Josephine Bolling McCall is anxious to see the monument, located about 20 miles from where her father was killed in rural Lowndes County.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, opening Thursday, is a project of the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy group in Montgomery. The organization says the combined museum and memorial will be the nation’s first site to document racial inequality in America from slavery through Jim Crow to the issues of today.

“In the American South, we don’t talk about slavery. We don’t have monuments and memorials that confront the legacy of lynching. We haven’t really confronted the difficulties of segregation. And because of that, I think we are still burdened by that history,” said the group’s executive director, Bryan Stevenson.

The site includes a memorial to the victims of 4,400 “terror lynchings” of black people in 800 U.S. counties from 1877 through 1950. All but about 300 were in the South, and prosecutions were rare. Stevenson said the lynching era was being emphasized because he believes it’s an aspect of the nation’s racial history that’s discussed the least.

“Most people in this country can’t name a single African American who was lynched between 1877 and 1950 even though thousands of African Americans were subjected to this violence,” Stevenson said.

The organization said a common theme ran through the slayings, which it differentiates from extrajudicial killings in places that simply lacked courts: a desire to impose fear on minorities and maintain strict white control. Some lynchings drew huge crowds and were even photographed, yet authorities routinely ruled they were committed by “persons unknown.”

McCall, 75, said her father’s killing still hangs over her family. The memorial could help heal individual families and the nation by acknowledging the painful legacy of racial murders, she said.

“It’s important that the people to whom the injustices have been given are actually being recognized and at least some measure — some measure — of relief is sought through discussion,” McCall said.

Combined, the memorial and an accompanying museum a few miles away at the Equal Justice Initiative headquarters tell a story spanning slavery, racial segregation, violence and today’s era of swollen prison populations.

E.M. Beck, who studied lynching for 30 years and has written books on the subject, said the memorial might actually understate the scope of lynching even though it lists thousands of victims.

“I think it’s an underestimate because the number and amount of violence in early Reconstruction in the 1870s will probably never be known. There was just an incredible amount of violence taking place during that period of time,” said Beck, sociology professor emeritus at the University of Georgia.

The memorial’s design evokes the image of a racist hanging, featuring scores of dark metal columns suspended in the air from above. The rectangular structures, some of which lie flat on the ground and resemble graves, include the names of counties where lynchings occurred, plus dates and the names of the victims. The goal is for individual counties to claim the columns on the ground and erect their own memorials.

Not all lynchings were by hanging. The Equal Justice Initiative says it scoured old newspapers, archives and court documents to find the stories of victims who were gunned down, drowned, beaten and burned alive. The monument is a memorial to all of them, with room for names to be added as additional victims are identified.

The monument’s opening on Thursday will be marked by a two-day summit focusing on racial and social justice, to be followed by a concert Friday featuring top acts including Common, Usher, the Dave Matthews Band and the Roots.

McCall plans to view the memorial with her five living siblings. She says they suffered more than she did, since she was only 5 when their father was slain.

A newspaper account from the time said the 39-year-old Bolling, who owned a store and trucking company and farmed, was shot seven times on a road near his store by a white man, Clarke Luckie, who said Bolling had insulted his wife during a phone call.

McCall, who researched the slaying extensively for a book about her father, said it’s more likely that Luckie, a stockyard employee, resented her father, who had thousands of dollars in the bank and three tractor-trailer rigs and employed about 40 people.

“He was jealous and he filled him with bullets,” she said.

Luckie was arrested, but a grand jury issued no indictment and no one was ever prosecuted. McCall believes the white people who controlled the county at the time purposely covered for the killer, who died decades ago.”

The Guardian: Pain and terror: America remembers its past

We had to flee in the night. We are the American refugees from the terror in the South, all because we wanted to vote.

—Gus Courts, Testimony before Senate committee, February 28, 1957.

CityLab:  The ‘Great Migration’ Was About Racial Terror, Not Jobs

The North and the Congress basically gave up on equality for African Americans, and that set us on a course that we have not yet recovered from.

“The story of the “Great Migration” of African Americans throughout the 20th century is often framed as one of blacks heading North from the South seeking jobs and better wages. In Michael Goldfield’s book 1997 The Color of Politics: Race and the Mainsprings of American Politics, he writes:

There is, to be sure, some dispute over the degree to which conditions in the South pushed African Americans away from the South—these conditions being the decline of the cotton economy, mechanization, boll weevils, the AAA policies of the 1930s, and the general suppression of African-American rights—and the degree to which it was mostly a product of the pull caused by the calculated potential gains from the higher-paying northern labor market.

For Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the legal nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Alabama, there is no dispute. As he told told The Marshall Project Wednesday, African-American migration was and is premised more accurately on racial terror:

There are very few people who have an awareness of how widespread this terrorism and violence was, and the way it now shapes the geography of the United States. We’ve got majority black cities in Detroit, Chicago, large black populations in Oakland and Cleveland and Los Angeles and Boston, and other cities in the Northeast. And the African Americans in these communities did not come as immigrants looking for economic opportunities, they came as refugees, exiles from lands in the South where they were being terrorized. And those communities have particular needs we’ve never addressed, we’ve never talked about. We’ve got generational poverty in these cities and marginalization within black communities, and you cannot understand these present-day challenges without understanding the Great Migration, and the terror and violence that sent the African Americans to these cities where they’ve never really been afforded the care and assistance they needed to recover from the terror and trauma that were there.

This framing can’t be emphasized enough. His organization has been leading an effort to map where the close to 4,000 lynchings of African Americans happened in America between 1880 and 1940.
Racial disparities seen today, including housing segregation and the ways we continue to fail black youth, can be explained in no small part by how cities received African Americans during those “Great Migration” periods. Stevenson ties the “generational poverty” suffered today by African Americans to cities not providing “the care and assistance needed to recover” for black migrants escaping the plagues of lynchings, burned black churches, burned black towns, rapes of black women, and other racialized atrocities throughout the 20th century.

A similar situation is playing out in Europe right now, where, as David Frum writes in The Atlantic this month, African and Middle-Eastern immigrants have been flooding European cities at reportedly untenable rates. Many of those immigrants are seeking asylum from countries torn apart by war, genocide, and poverty— countries including Syria and Somalia. Some are simply seeking better economic fortunes. There’s little difference, though, in the eyes of native European residents, 57 percent of whom, reports Frum, hold negative attitudes toward people emigrating from outside the European Union.

Some nations have lately been better about taking in refugees. Frum points to camps in Jordan and Turkey that have running water, sewage disposal, schools, and electricity. However, writes Frum:

Much harder is creating economic opportunity within these overnight cities, and preventing extremism from taking hold. Harder still: prompt resolution of the wars that displace people in the first place.

There’s obviously a difference between the kind of migration seen across seas today and that of African Americans in the past century. But an injustice is illuminated in the comparison: Unlike in the European Union, African Americans were refugees in their own country; white Americans in the North and the South chose to disown their own people.
Black families who stayed behind in the South during that time period could have been identified as internally displaced peoples. The prompt resolution of the Civil War that Union government officials hoped would happen during Reconstruction collapsed under the terrorism enacted by white Southern police, government officials, vigilante mobs, and the Ku Klux Klan—all often one and the same.Northern cities were of little sanctuary because they often perpetuated the systems and attitudes that kept African Americans classified as inferior citizens. As examined in a recent CityLab piece on the term “black-on-black crime,” Northern whites believed that African-Americans migrants were criminal by nature, which was a justification for why these cities did not offer the assistance the new migrants need.

As Stevenson told The Marshall Project:

We created a narrative of racial difference in this country to sustain slavery, and even people who didn’t own slaves bought into that narrative, including people in the North. It was New York’s governor—in the 1860s—that was talking about the inferiority of the black person even as he was opposed to slavery.

You don’t have to have owned a slave to be complicit in the institution of slavery, to have benefitted and have cheaper food to buy, cheaper materials, cheaper services, because the providers of the foods and services were using free slave labor. We were all complicit in the institution of slavery, and the same is true in the era of racial terror and lynching. The North and the Congress basically gave up on equality for African Americans, and that set us on a course that we have not yet recovered from.

Why African-Americans left the South in droves – and what’s bringing them back.

The Undefeated: ‘The Rape of Recy Taylor’ explores the little-known terror campaign against black women

Just as black men were lynched, black women faced systemic sexual violence under Jim Crow

“For Southern black women, the era of separate but equal was also a decades-long reign of white sexual terror. If Southern trees bore strange fruit, the homes and streets they shaded contained secrets that until recently have largely been swept over and ignored.

The Rape of Recy Taylor, a documentary that opens in New York theaters Friday, concentrates some much-needed sunlight on this period of American history and the women who lived through it. Directed by Nancy Buirski, the woman behind both the narrative film Loving and the documentary The Loving Story, The Rape of Recy Taylor brings attention to a little-discussed but common reality for black women in the Jim Crow South: racially motivated rape by white men.

Taylor lived in the small town of Abbeville, Alabama. In 1944, when she was 24, Taylor was walking home from church when she was kidnapped, blindfolded and raped at gunpoint by six white men. Forced to beg for her life, Taylor promised to stay silent so she could go home to her husband and 9-month-old daughter.

But Taylor wasn’t silent. Left on the side of a dark country road, Taylor walked home and told her family about what happened. Rosa Parks, who began her career in civil rights as an anti-rape activist, came to Abbeville to agitate for the prosecution of Taylor’s attackers. For their troubles, Taylor’s home was firebombed, forcing her and her family to move in with relatives. When the family turned to the police, they found no refuge. Rather than pursuing justice, Abbeville’s sheriff circled the home of Taylor’s relatives, eventually stopping to drag Parks out and threaten her with jail if she did not leave town.

It’s a horrifying account, made worse by two startling facts:

1) Taylor’s rape was not an exceptional occurrence. It was part of a continuous campaign of terror that was just as much a threat to women as lynching was to black men.

2) The history of black women as victims of white terror has largely been ignored, silenced and minimized, even as their quest for safety fueled their pursuit of civil rights as far back as the 1890s.

What happened to Taylor and countless other black women and the obscurity of their story within the broader narrative of American history is emblematic of the way black women’s trauma is repeatedly given short shrift even today. The absence of black women from the spotlight of #MeToo has historical roots that predate Taylor’s rape. Taylor’s story isn’t just about her. It’s about thousands of women just like her whose stories we may never know, who were victimized and brutalized without recognition or recompense for their injuries.

A campaign of terror

Buirski’s documentary focuses on Taylor’s life and the devastation that followed her attack: Her marriage fell apart, she was unable to have more children and her only child died in her early 20s in a car crash. The book that inspired the film is far more expansive and devastating. Historian Danielle McGuire spent a decade researching At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. She writes of more than 40 separate cases but insists there are far more stories that went untold, calling her work “the tiniest tip of the iceberg.”

“Between 1940 and 1965,” McGuire wrote, “only 10 white men were convicted of raping black women or girls in Mississippi despite the fact that it happened regularly.” It was rare for white men to be arrested for attacking black women, and even less likely for all-white grand juries to indict them. Convictions were even rarer.

“These are not just bad apples,” McGuire told me during a recent interview. “This is part of a systemic approach to dehumanizing black women and girls.”

In one chapter, McGuire detailed an attack against Melba Pattillo, a 12-year-old Arkansas girl. A white man chased her into the woods, tried to pull off her underwear and rape her, and yelled, “I’ll show you n—-s the Supreme Court can’t run my life.” The attack happened on May 17, 1954, the afternoon the Supreme Court announced its decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

In the same chapter, McGuire recounted the story of Annette Butler. On Mother’s Day 1956, four men in Tylertown, Mississippi — Ernest Dillon, Ollie Dillon (his brother) and their friends Olen Duncan and Durora Duncan (who were cousins) — went searching for a black woman to rape. Armed with a shotgun, they entered the house of Stennis Butler, a black sharecropper, and took his 16-year-old daughter, Annette, holding off her mother at gunpoint. The men drove her away deep into a swamp, raped her, then left her to find her own way home. They were charged with “forcible ravishment and kidnap.” Ernest Dillon pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The other three men served no jail time for rape. One pleaded guilty to kidnapping, another was acquitted despite a confession and the third had his charges dismissed after his trial produced a hung jury.

At best, white law enforcement officials were lackadaisical about investigating sexual assaults on black women. At worst, they were perpetrating such assaults, not only on public streets but also in jails.

“These are not just bad apples. This is part of a systemic approach to dehumanizing black women and girls.”

In March 1949, Gertrude Perkins, 25, was assaulted by two Montgomery, Alabama, police officers. She was walking home in the dark when they stopped her, accused her of public drunkenness and forced her into their car. They drove, McGuire wrote, to the edge of a railroad embankment and raped her at gunpoint.

Even if men were convicted of rape, the political system found ways to excuse them. According to Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow, Cole Blease, the governor of South Carolina from 1910-14, made prolific use of his pardoning powers, issuing 1,700 during his tenure. Blease pardoned both black and white men who had been convicted of attacking black women and girls. In an official pardoning statement, Blease stated, “I am of the opinion, as I have always been, and have very serious doubt as to whether the crime of rape can be committed upon a negro.”

McGuire details how rape was used with lynching to terrorize and subjugate black people in the years leading up to and during the civil rights movement. Other historians, such as Darlene Clark Hine, have stated that the onslaught of interracial sexual violence visited upon Southern black women during Jim Crow was just as much a motivator for the Great Migration as lynching was.

“If you have a slave culture for hundreds of years, what happens when slavery ends?” McGuire said. “Does the culture change? That was part of my question doing this research, and the answer was of course it didn’t. White men were raised to believe that they could do whatever they wanted to do to black women and there would be no punishment, and when they did whatever they wanted to do, there usually wasn’t a punishment. These are lessons handed down from grandparents and fathers, uncles. They were encouraged to get a black woman for their first sex act so that they could practice … in the ’40s, they just picked them up on the side of the road just like Recy Taylor.

“It happened all the time.”

Disappearing history

If the violation of black women was so widespread that it contributed to one of the most monumental migration patterns in American history, why don’t more people know about it? How did our understanding of black women and interracial rape begin with slavery and end largely with the conclusion of the Civil War?

There are multiple reasons for this absence: Race men like Booker T. Washington didn’t think civil rights organizations had a role to play in protecting black women from rape. White women’s organizations were equally reluctant to acknowledge that their husbands and sons were attacking black women. White women like Rebecca Latimer Felton, America’s first female senator, not only ginned up fear that black men were raping white women en masse, they sucked away attention from the real epidemic of rape that was actually occurring.

Furthermore, the documentation of abuse was limited. Often, stories of abuse were passed down orally by grandmothers and mothers. Even now, it’s difficult for historians to find detailed, written accounts of these attacks. McGuire referred to it as “detective work.”

And these threats weren’t memorialized in song, as was lynching in Billie Holiday’s 1939 recording of “Strange Fruit.” If there were references, they were so oblique as to require their own decoder ring.

Even in places dedicated to telling the story of black American history such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., or the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, there is limited acknowledgment of interracial rape during Jim Crow, and certainly not as a reality endemic to black Southern life.

The Blacks in Wax Museum has an entire room dedicated to the horrors of lynching, which includes a re-creation of the murder of Mary Turner and her 8-month-old fetus in Brooks County, Georgia, but nothing specifically about the rape of black women during Jim Crow. The Blacksonian does include displays of news clippings about the assaults on Taylor in 1944 and Perkins in 1949. And it also produced videos that include quotes from Ida B. Wells and Dorothy Height about the threat black women faced.

While black women such as Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Nannie Helen Burroughs and Anna Julia Cooper were all devoted to mobilizing to secure black women’s safety from sexual violence in the 1890s, they’re remembered chiefly as anti-lynching activists or as buttoned-up practitioners of respectability politics. The same goes for their ideological sisters who came later, like Parks and Height.

In her speech as the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, Terrell addressed their estrangement from the rest of society.

“We wish to set in motion influences that shall stop the ravages made by practices that sap our strength, and preclude the possibility of advancement,” she said, referring to rape by white men.

Cooper bitterly implicated black men in black women’s victimization. “It is absurd,” she said in 1892 in A Voice From the South, “to quote statistics showing the Negro’s bank account and rent rolls, to point to the hundreds of newspapers edited by colored men, and lists of lawyers, doctors, professors, D.D.’s L.L.D.’s etc. etc. etc while the source from which the life-blood of the race is to flow is subject to the taint and corruption of the enemy’s camp.”

While the national office of the NAACP was working to dismantle separate-but-equal, the organization determined that any mention of interracial marriage or sex would derail its efforts. “Everything had to be as asexual as possible,” McGuire said. “Working on rape cases of black women who had been assaulted by white men would screw that up.”

There is so much photographic evidence of lynching, in part because it was a public spectacle, complete with photographers who profited from the murder of black people the way modern artists might sell concert posters. Genitals and other body parts of black men were preserved in jars and kept as mementos. Their charred bodies, hanging from trees, served as ominous warnings to other black people that they best remember their place.

But there is little visual record of the interracial rape of black women, save for photographs of them clutching their obviously biracial children. In The Rape of Recy Taylor, Buirski offers these images as a small record of an enormous epidemic.

We use art to document and memorialize the human condition. But the art that preserves the experience of black women during Jim Crow is limited and often deliberately opaque. The race films of the early 20th century are among the few remaining cultural artifacts that re-created black women’s experiences under threat from white men. Buirski employs their footage in her documentary.

But, by and large, the work of tracking and quantifying interracial sexual assault is difficult for historians. The language referring to such attacks in first-person accounts is often not explicit, although news clippings from the black press were clearer. Furthermore, there was a concerted effort to silence and discredit black female victims. That silencing was often twofold: first in the primary documents, such as white newspapers and police reports, and then again by white historians and archivists who may have deemed such accounts unworthy of preservation. In Taylor’s case, her attackers slandered and dismissed her as a prostitute whom they paid.

There is little visual record of the interracial rape of black women, save for photographs of them clutching their obviously biracial children.

“There wasn’t a good uniform record keeping of these kinds of assaults, largely because of racist police forces that didn’t take black women’s stories seriously, and also because a lot of these assailants were police officers,” McGuire said. “Sometimes within their own community there would be perhaps shame and silence in coming forward for a crime like this just because of the gender politics of the time, which were not limited to racial groups.”

When sexual violation was recorded, survivors often recounted their experiences through allusion. A woman might not say she was raped, but that a man “talked under my dress” or “played with my body.”

While “Strange Fruit,” the dirge made famous by Holiday, is the most recognizable protest song of the lynching era, there is no such work from the era that deals so explicitly with the threat of rape. Instead, in the same way historians must read between the lines of slave narratives, oral histories and other accounts of rape, so too must those examining art of the era. And so songs such as Nina Simone’s chilling rendition of “Pirate Jenny” and Aretha Franklin’s “At the Dark End of the Street” take on more sinister undertones when interpreted through this lens. They’re both songs appropriated by black women to tell different stories from the ones they were originally telling. The difference in tone, phrasing and the style in which these songs are sung is designed to evoke a dark, unsettling horror.

That sort of opaque doublespeak was another form of self-preservation. Anything other than silence could be punished with death. Remember, Taylor’s attackers firebombed her home because she told her husband what happened to her. Just as it was de rigueur to ignore that slaveholders owned fair-skinned children who bore their features and mannerisms, it became standard to look at black women during Jim Crow and ignore the obvious source of their lighter-skinned children.

Modern implications

There are through lines from the epidemic of sexual assault during Jim Crow to our modern era. The most obvious may be the case of Daniel Holtzclaw, the Oklahoma police officer who sexually preyed on poor women of color with criminal records. His predation was directly connected to the way law enforcement made black women’s lives worse. If black women weren’t directly victimized by police, their assaults weren’t taken seriously, which is why white men were so rarely prosecuted for them.

Even the current #MeToo moment is different for white and black women.

“I think the floodgates have opened for white women,” actress Gabrielle Union recently told The New York Times about #MeToo. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence whose pain has been taken seriously. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now.”

The Equal Justice Initiative is behind the national lynching memorial that will open in 2018 in Montgomery. An official from EJI told me the organization has plans for “an entire section dedicated to the sexual exploitation of black women, including Ms. Recy Taylor” in its Legacy Museum, which will open on April 26. But it doesn’t appear that there are plans to include sexual violence against black women in the lynching memorial, which will exist alongside the museum.

“I don’t think they need to be separate because, again, it’s part of the same terror structure, systematic terror against black people,” McGuire said. “Part of the issue that I’ve always had with cold case civil rights investigations and even in some ways the Equal Justice Initiative’s focus on lynching is that it becomes heavily gendered and is another way of kind of disappearing black women’s experiences under a regime of white supremacy and American apartheid. By focusing on those kinds of cases only, we’re not getting a full picture of the reign of terror that existed and that was inflicted upon black communities and black bodies. It ends up focusing on what happened to black men.”

Even as she was decrying lynching, Wells made a similar point in 1900 to a crowd gathered in Chicago.

“The negro has been too long associated with the white man not to have copied his vices as well as his virtues,” Wells said. “But the negro resents and utterly repudiates the efforts to blacken his good name by asserting that assaults upon women are peculiar to his race. The negro has suffered far more from the commission of this crime against the women of his race by white men than the white race has ever suffered through his crimes. Very scant notice is taken of the matter when this is the condition of affairs. What becomes a crime deserving capital punishment when the tables are turned is a matter of small moment when the negro woman is the accusing party.”

The way these stories were silenced reinforces a social hierarchy that contends black women should be grateful for attention from white men, even if it’s unsolicited or unwanted. Worse, it tells the world that black women and the assaults on us simply don’t matter. Ignoring this area of history has enormously harmful consequences, feeding into how we process accusations of sexual assault from black women today.

The rape of Recy Taylor and so many other unnamed, unrecognized and unheard black women reminds me of Cooper’s words from 1892: “Only the black woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole … race enters with me.’ ”

Liner Notes

Further reading:

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire

Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching by Crystal Feimster

Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women by Brittney C. Cooper

The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Constance and Ned Sublette

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Davis

When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings

Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920 by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore

Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves by Deborah Gray White

All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith

Failure of the Freedmon Bank

Black Past: Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company (1865-1874)

“The Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company, commonly referred to as The Freedmen’s Bank, was incorporated on March 3, 1865.  It was created by the United States Congress along with the Freedmen’s Bureau to aid the freedmen in their transition from slavery to freedom.

By late 1861, many black Americans along the border-states experienced a de facto freedom in the presence of occupying Union troops.  Some found employment in Union garrisons where they were monetarily compensated for their work.  At this time, northern abolitionists called for the creation of a freedmen’s bank to assist the ex-slaves in developing habits of financial responsibility.

During the Civil War, small banks were established across the South to receive deposits from black soldiers and runaway slaves working at Union garrisons. Many of the records of these deposits were lost, however, and many of the freedmen were prevented from recovering their deposits.  Also, when black troops were killed in combat and did not list next-of-kin, their deposits often went unclaimed.  Even when relatives were listed, locating them proved difficult since the Civil War disrupted black residential patterns.

John W. Alvord, a Congregational Minister and A. M. Sperry, an abolitionist, launched the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company in 1864 to eliminate individual bank mismanagement and bring all of the black deposits under central control in a single large institution.  After Congress passed legislation incorporating the bank on March 3, 1865,  President Lincoln immediately signed the bill into law.  Deposits were received only “by or on behalf of persons heretofore held in slavery in the United States, or their descendants.”  Up to 7% interest was allowed for deposits, and any unclaimed accounts were to be pooled into a charitable fund that was used to educate the children of ex-slaves.

In 1868 the bank headquarters was moved to Washington, District of Columbia (D.C.), where black staffers were trained to take over its operations. At its peak, the bank operated 37 branches in seventeen states and the District of Columbia making it one of the first multi-state banks in the nation. By 1870 nearly all the local branches were run by African Americans.

By 1874, massive fraud among upper management and among the board of directors had taken its toll on the bank.  Moreover, economic instability brought upon by the Panic of 1873 coupled with the bank’s rapid expansion proved disastrous.  Hoping to revive the bank, Frederick Douglass, who was elected president in 1874, donated tens of thousands of dollars of his own money to shore up the declining institution.

Although Douglass pleaded for Congress to intervene, on June 29, 1874, the bank was officially closed. At the date of closing $2,993,790.68 was due to 61,144 depositors.  Mistakenly believing that the deposits were insured by the federal government, the bank’s collapse left many African Americans cynical about the banking industry. ”

Jim Crow

Jim Crow laws were Southern state and local laws enforcing racial segregation in public schools, public facilities, water fountains, toilets, and public transportation. Enacted shortly after slavery after the Reconstruction period, these laws continued to be enforce until 1965, but in many situations these laws still continue today.   This created a separated and unequal system where white services (such as schools) were funded much better than black services.

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow | PBS | ep 1 of 4 Promises Betrayed

Watch the Other 3 Episodes Here


Jim Crow laws proscribed the lives and possibilities of black people throughout the South. The term “Jim Crow” initially referred to a style of minstrel show in which white performers caricatured black life for the entertainment of white audiences.102 By 1890, the term was used to describe the “subordination and separation of black people in the South, much of it codified and much of it still enforced by custom, habit, and violence.”103 Under Jim Crow rule, all aspects of life were governed by a strict color line, from the most central and important—public education was segregated throughout the South and interracial marriage was criminalized—to the most mundane and tedious.

In South Carolina, a 1917 law required that all circuses and other tent events maintain separate entrances and ticket booths for black and white attendees and imposed a maximum $500 fine for noncompliance.104 A 1915 law required that black and white employees of cotton textile mills be segregated at every stage of employment and restricted them from using the same entry/exit, occupying the same stairwell, or using the same tools.105 A 1924 law effectively outlawed interracial pool rooms by declaring that no license would be issued to a billiard room owner who intended his establishment to be patronized by customers of another race.106 And a 1910 law prohibited placing a white child in the permanent custody of a black adult.107 Similarly, Florida law required separation of the races on streetcars;108 Mississippi law mandated separate hospital entrances for white and black patients;109 North Carolina law authorized librarians to create separate reading areas for black patrons;110 and Alabama law prohibited white nurses from treating black male patients.111

In March 1901, a white woman and black man were arrested in Atlanta, Georgia, after two police officers claimed to have seen them talking and walking together on the street.112 Interviewed following her arrest, the white woman was indignant—not at the law, but at the suggestion that she would ever share the company of a black man in public. “I stopped and [a police officer] asked why I talked to a negro,” she told the press. “I told him I was a southern born woman, and his insinuations were an insult. He then said he would have to arrest me, and I was ridden to police barracks in a patrol wagon. It is the first ride I have ever taken of the kind, and I have been humiliated and disgraced. But somebody will suffer for this before it is done with.”113

Racial segregation often translated to the total exclusion of black people from public facilities, institutions, and opportunities. This separation plainly disadvantaged black people and served as a constant symbol of their inferior position in Southern society.

“Black southerners were left to brood over the message imparted by the Jim Crow laws and the spirit in which they were enforced. For all African Americans, Jim Crow was a daily affront, a reminder of the distinctive place “white folks” had marked out for them—a confirmation of their inferiority and baseness in the eyes of the dominant population. The laws made no exception based on class or education; indeed, the laws functioned on one level to remind African Americans that no matter how educated, wealthy, or respectable they might be, it did nothing to entitle them to equal treatment with the poorest and most degraded whites. What the white South insisted upon was not so much separation of the races as subordination, a system of controls in which whites prescribed the rules of racial conduct and contact and meted out the punishments.”114

Though legally emancipated from slavery and endowed with constitutional rights to participate in society as full citizens, black people soon learned that those rights were unenforceable in a white-controlled political system hostile to their exercise.
This message was communicated through an intricate and complex system of racial subordination built after the Civil War to maintain and reinforce white supremacy in a world without chattel slavery. Constructed of law and custom, force and fear, disenfrachisement, convict leasing, and Jim Crow segregation, the system was fragile and fiercely guarded.

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Historical Legislation that Gave White People a Head Start

MLK Jr’s Speech before the Poor Man’s Campaign on the Government Supported Inequalities in the US 

According to the Atlantic Black Star article, “8 Times the U.S. Government Gave White People Handouts to Get Ahead”, the following were huge white heads.

The Naturalization Act (1790)
restricted who could naturalize to whites only

The 1830 Indian Removal Act
With the help of the U.S. Army, Cherokee, Creek and other eastern Native American tribes were forced to relocate west of the Mississippi River to make room for white settlers.

The 1862 Homestead Act
This act gave away an overwhelming number of acreage to white settlers out west — land that had been previously settled by Native Americans. According to California News Reel, nearly 270 million acres of Indian Territory was converted to private property for white settlers.

The 1790 Naturalization Act
Under this legislation, only “free whites” were allowed to become naturalized citizens of the United States. Thus the doors were opened for European immigrants — but not anyone else. The right to vote, serve on juries and hold office was exclusively reserved for American citizens.

The G.I. Education Bill, Veteran Administration Housing Authority, and Health Care System
Because of these government programs, (mostly white) members of the armed forces were able to continue their education, guaranteed private housing, and granted access to a public health care system. Many of these benefits were reserved for white veterans, however. For the handful of Black veterans who could participate in these programs, their benefits were still fewer than those of their white counterparts.

The Atlantic: The Case For Reparations

“The oft-celebrated G.I. Bill similarly failed black Americans, by mirroring the broader country’s insistence on a racist housing policy. Though ostensibly color-blind, Title III of the bill, which aimed to give veterans access to low-interest home loans, left black veterans to tangle with white officials at their local Veterans Administration as well as with the same banks that had, for years, refused to grant mortgages to blacks. The historian Kathleen J. Frydl observes in her 2009 book, The GI Bill, that so many blacks were disqualified from receiving Title III benefits “that it is more accurate simply to say that blacks could not use this particular title.”

The Social Security Act of 1935
Enacted under President Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Social Security Act provided a financial safety net for millions of workers and guaranteed that they would continue to be paid after retirement. But this luxury didn’t extend to everyone, however. The act excluded agricultural and domestic laborers, many of whom were Black, Mexican and Asian.

SSA: The Decision to Exclude Agricultural and Domestic Workers from the 1935 Social Security Act

“The Social Security Act was also racially coded—in part because of the power of Southern Democrats in the New Deal coalition. Southern politicians, reported one architect of the new law, were determined to block any ‘entering wedge’ for federal interference with the handling of the Negro question. Southern employers worried that federal benefits would discourage black workers from taking low-paying jobs in their fields, factories, and kitchens. Thus neither agricultural laborers nor domestic servants—a pool of workers that included at least 60 percent of the nation’s black population—were covered by old-age insurance.”

The Atlantic: The Case For Reparations

““The Jim Crow South,” writes Ira Katznelson, a history and political-science professor at Columbia, “was the one collaborator America’s democracy could not do without.” The marks of that collaboration are all over the New Deal. The omnibus programs passed under the Social Security Act in 1935 were crafted in such a way as to protect the southern way of life. Old-age insurance (Social Security proper) and unemployment insurance excluded farmworkers and domestics—jobs heavily occupied by blacks. When President Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935, 65 percent of African Americans nationally and between 70 and 80 percent in the South were ineligible. The NAACP protested, calling the new American safety net “a sieve with holes just big enough for the majority of Negroes to fall through.”

The National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) of 1935
Also known as the National Labor Relations act, this legislation gave labor unions the power of collective bargaining, defined unfair work practices, and established consequences if those rules were broken. As unions excluded non-white workers from better paying jobs and benefits like health care, pension, and job security, millions of white workers were able to work their way into the middle class.

Commentary: Labor Unions and the Negro: The Record of Discrimination

“Many unions have a long history of racial discrimination—and it is this tradition of discrimination which is responsible, at least in part, for the marginal status that Negro wage earners have today in key sectors of the American economy”

Federal Housing Administration
Under this bill, white families were granted home loans, making it possible for them to purchase their very first humble abode. Unfortunately, mortgage eligibility was often tied to race while those living in integrated neighborhoods were deemed a “flight risk” and denied loans.

The Atlantic: The Case For Reparations

“Daisy and Bill Myers, the first black family to move into Levittown, Pennsylvania, were greeted with protests and a burning cross. A neighbor who opposed the family said that Bill Myers was “probably a nice guy, but every time I look at him I see $2,000 drop off the value of my house.”

The neighbor had good reason to be afraid. Bill and Daisy Myers were from the other side of John C. Calhoun’s dual society. If they moved next door, housing policy almost guaranteed that their neighbors’ property values would decline.

Whereas shortly before the New Deal, a typical mortgage required a large down payment and full repayment within about 10 years, the creation of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in 1933 and then the Federal Housing Administration the following year allowed banks to offer loans requiring no more than 10 percent down, amortized over 20 to 30 years. “Without federal intervention in the housing market, massive suburbanization would have been impossible,” writes Thomas J. Sugrue, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania. “In 1930, only 30 percent of Americans owned their own homes; by 1960, more than 60 percent were home owners. Home ownership became an emblem of American citizenship.”

That emblem was not to be awarded to blacks. The American real-estate industry believed segregation to be a moral principle. As late as 1950, the National Association of Real Estate Boards’ code of ethics warned that “a Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood … any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values.” A 1943 brochure specified that such potential undesirables might include madams, bootleggers, gangsters—and “a colored man of means who was giving his children a college education and thought they were entitled to live among whites.”

The federal government concurred. It was the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, not a private trade association, that pioneered the practice of redlining, selectively granting loans and insisting that any property it insured be covered by a restrictive covenant—a clause in the deed forbidding the sale of the property to anyone other than whites. Millions of dollars flowed from tax coffers into segregated white neighborhoods.

One man said his black neighbor was “probably a nice guy, but every time I look at him I see $2,000 drop off the value of my house.”

“For perhaps the first time, the federal government embraced the discriminatory attitudes of the marketplace,” the historian Kenneth T. Jackson wrote in his 1985 book, Crabgrass Frontier, a history of suburbanization. “Previously, prejudices were personalized and individualized; FHA exhorted segregation and enshrined it as public policy. Whole areas of cities were declared ineligible for loan guarantees.” Redlining was not officially outlawed until 1968, by the Fair Housing Act. By then the damage was done—and reports of redlining by banks have continued.”

1960s Jim Crow Laws
These outwardly discriminatory laws not only barred African-Americans from drinking at the same water fountain as whites, but also reserved the best jobs, schools, neighborhoods and hospitals for white people.

History of Discriminatory Gun Laws

1967 NBC News Interview with Martin Luther King Jr.

Different Rules for Whites timeline of PBS’s Power of an Illusion

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Racist History of the Supreme Court

EJI: Segregation in America


“For more than a century before its groundbreaking decision to desegregate public schools in 1954, the Supreme Court protected slavery, undermined equal rights, immunized lynch mobs from punishment, and embraced Jim Crow. Brown v. Board of Education was a striking departure from the Court’s longstanding role shielding the South from challenges to its racial caste system.

The Supreme Court vigorously defended the property rights of slave owners and enshrined the narrative of racial difference in its precedent by holding that black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” whether they were enslaved or not.58

The Court struck down state laws to prevent slave traders from kidnapping free black people and selling them into slavery59 and defended slave owners’ property rights by vacating the Missouri Compromise, which limited slavery in new United States territories.60

Infamously, the Court’s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford established that no black person, free or enslaved, could be a citizen of the United States.61 The Court reasoned that black people “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations,” and therefore, it is “absolutely certain that the African race were not included under the name of citizens of a State” and not entitled to the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship.62

Undermining Reconstruction

During Reconstruction — the period immediately following the Civil War when an effort was made to defend the rights of formerly enslaved black people — Congress passed three constitutional amendments: the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude; the Fourteenth Amendment overturned Dred Scott, declared all people born in the United States to be citizens, and guaranteed citizens due process and equal protection of the laws; and the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited denying a man the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The Supreme Court swiftly and systematically gutted all three.

The Fourteenth Amendment was designed to prevent states from violating the rights of formerly enslaved people. In 1872, in the Slaughterhouse Cases, the Court nullified the amendment by holding that it could not limit the power of states to deny basic rights to their own citizens.63

In 1875, in United States v. Reese, the Court held that the Fifteenth Amendment did not grant African Americans a federal right to vote, 64 struck down the statute Congress passed to protect African Americans’ voting rights, and overturned the convictions of two election officials who had refused to count a black man’s vote. 65

Complicity in Racial Terrorism

As racial terror lynching raged throughout the South following the abolition of slavery, the Supreme Court repeatedly rendered the federal government powerless to protect African Americans from racial violence.

After killing as many as 150 black people peacefully protesting at the courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana, in 1873, white defendants were convicted under a federal law designed to combat the Ku Klux Klan. 66 The Court overturned their convictions in United States v. Cruikshank and struck down the statute, holding that Congress was empowered to regulate only state action, not the acts of private citizens — even if they committed murder.67

The conceit of this private/state actor distinction was laid bare in Screws v. United States, when the Court overturned the conviction of a sheriff who, along with two other law enforcement officers, beat a handcuffed black man to death.68

The Court not only shut down federal attempts to protect black citizens, but also permitted state courts to deny justice to black victims. While the Court struck down a law that excluded black men from jury service solely based on race in 1879, it permitted states to create property and educational requirements for jury service and gave local officials nearly unfettered discretion to use those requirements to exclude African Americans. 69

The Court made it so difficult to prove racial discrimination in jury selection that between 1904 and 1935, not a single conviction of a black defendant was reversed because of racial discrimination in jury selection, even though African Americans were universally excluded from Southern juries.70 Meanwhile, all-white juries reliably acquitted white perpetrators of lynchings and other racial violence.

Authorizing Jim Crow

In 1898, in Williams v. Mississippi, the Supreme Court upheld Mississippi’s poll tax and other voting qualifications, even though the Court acknowledged they were adopted explicitly to disenfranchise African Americans, because the provisions on their face were “not limited by their language or effect to one race.”71
And even though registrars used the qualifications to deny registration to all black voters, the Court found “it has not been shown that their actual administration was evil; only that evil was possible under them.”72

Alabama voting laws were more explicitly discriminatory, but in Giles v. Harris, the Court found no constitutional problem with Alabama’s scheme, even when shown that black men who met all qualifications were still refused registration.73 The Court concluded there was nothing it could do if Alabama was truly determined to prevent African Americans from voting, and so it denied all relief.74

While the Court struck down an undeniably unconstitutional grandfather clause in Guinn v. United States in 1915, it upheld the use of literacy tests75 and poll taxes — tactics used to effectively deny voting rights to generations of African Americans for another 50 years.76

The Court struck down anti-segregation laws and upheld state laws that required segregation. In 1877, the Court in Hall v. DeCuir struck down a Louisiana law that prohibited segregation on all public conveyances within the state, 77 holding that it unconstitutionally regulated interstate commerce. 78 But a few years later the Court allowed a Mississippi segregation law to mandate racial separation on interstate railroad cars. 79

Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court’s most well-known decision upholding segregation, considered a Louisiana law requiring racial segregation of railroad passengers and found no constitutional violation where facilities were “separate but equal.” Writing in 1896, the Court found that Louisiana’s law could not “abolish distinctions based upon color, or [] enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.” 80 The Court rejected Mr. Plessy’s argument that forced racial separation branded black people as inferior, and countered, “If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” 81

Even when enforcing its own “separate but equal” doctrine, the Court showed little commitment to the “equal” requirement. In Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education, 55 years before Brown, the Court upheld the school board’s decision to close the black high school but keep open the white high school because, it concluded, “it is impracticable to distribute taxes equally.” 82 The Court absolved itself of responsibility for ensuring equality in education, writing that “the education of the people in schools maintained by state taxation is a matter belonging to the respective states.” 83

The Court’s embrace of Jim Crow extended even to voluntary associations between white and black people. In Berea College v. Kentucky, in 1908, the Court upheld a Kentucky law that prohibited private colleges from teaching black and white students together, reasoning that the college, although private, was nonetheless dependent on a state charter, and so was subject to virtually any conditions that Kentucky chose to impose. 84

In 1875, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which barred racial discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, conveyances, and places of amusement. In the Civil Rights Cases, the Court struck down the law, holding that Congress had no authority to prohibit discrimination by private parties.

The Court rejected the argument that the law was meant to eradicate the effects of slavery, writing that formerly enslaved people had already been given enough time and assistance and could not expect to forever be “the special favorite of the laws.”

Thought Co. : 10 Racist U.S. Supreme Court Rulings

“The Supreme Court has issued some fantastic civil rights rulings over the years, but these aren’t among them. Here are 10 of the most astonishingly racist Supreme Court rulings in American history, in chronological order.

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856)

When a slave petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for his freedom, the Court ruled against him—also ruling that the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to African Americans. If it did, the majority ruling argued, then African Americans would be permitted “the full liberty of speech in public and in private,” “to hold public meetings upon political affairs,” and “to keep and carry arms wherever they went.” In 1856, both the justices in the majority and the white aristocracy they represented found this idea too horrifying to contemplate. In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment made it law. What a difference a war makes!

Pace v. Alabama (1883)

In 1883 Alabama, interracial marriage meant two to seven years’ hard labor in a state penitentiary. When a black man named Tony Pace and a white woman named Mary Cox challenged the law, the Supreme Court upheld it—on grounds that the law, inasmuch as it prevented whites from marrying blacks and blacks from marrying whites, was race-neutral and did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling was finally overturned in Loving v. Virginia (1967). More »

The Civil Rights Cases (1883)

The Civil Rights Act, which mandated an end to racial segregation in public accommodations, has actually passed twice in US history. Once in 1875, and once in 1964. We don’t hear much about the 1875 version because it was struck down by the Supreme Court in the Civil Rights Cases ruling of 1883, made up of five separate challenges to the 1875 Civil Rights Act. Had the Supreme Court simply upheld the 1875 civil rights bill, U.S. civil rights history would have been dramatically different.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Most people are familiar with the phrase “separate but equal,” the never-achieved standard that defined racial segregation until Brown v. Board of Education (1954), but not everybody knows that it comes from this ruling, where Supreme Court justices bowed to political pressure and found an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment that would still allow them to keep public institutions segregated. More »

Cumming v. Richmond (1899)

When three black families in Richmond County, Virginia faced the closing of the area’s only public black high school, they petitioned the Court to allow their children to finish their education at the white high school instead. It only took the Supreme Court three years to violate its own “separate but equal” standard by establishing that if there was no suitable black school in a given district, black students would simply have to do without an education. More »

Ozawa v. United States (1922)

A Japanese immigrant, Takeo Ozawa, attempted to become a full U.S. citizen, despite a 1906 policy limiting naturalization to whites and African Americans. Ozawa’s argument was a novel one: Rather than challenging the constitutionality of the statute himself (which, under the racist Court, would have probably been a waste of time anyway), he simply attempted to establish that Japanese Americans were white. The Court rejected this logic.

United States v. Thind (1923)

An Indian-American U.S. Army veteran named Bhagat Singh Thind attempted the same strategy as Takeo Ozawa, but his attempt at naturalization was rejected in a ruling establishing that Indians, too, are not white. Well, the ruling technically referred to “Hindus” (ironic considering that Thind was actually a Sikh, not a Hindu), but the terms were used interchangeably at the time. Three years later he was quietly granted citizenship in New York; he went on to earn a Ph.D. and teach at the University of California at Berkeley.

Lum v. Rice (1927)

In 1924, Congress passed the Oriental Exclusion Act to dramatically reduce immigration from Asia—but Asian Americans born in the United States were still citizens, and one of these citizens, a nine-year-old girl named Martha Lum, faced a catch-22. Under compulsory attendance laws, she had to attend school—but she was Chinese and she lived in Mississippi, which had racially segregated schools and not enough Chinese students to warrant funding a separate Chinese school. Lum’s family sued to try to allow her to attend the well-funded local white school, but the Court would have none of it.

Hirabayashi v. United States (1943)

During World War II, President Roosevelt issued an executive order severely restricting the rights of Japanese Americans and ordering 110,000 to be relocated to internment camps. Gordon Hirabayashi, a student at the University of Washington, challenged the executive order before the Supreme Court–and lost.

Korematsu v. United States (1944)

Fred Korematsu also challenged the executive order and lost in a more famous and explicit ruling that formally established that individual rights are not absolute and may be suppressed at will during wartime. The ruling, generally considered one of the worst in the history of the Court, has been almost universally condemned over the past six decades.

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History of Immigration Discrimination

Splinter: The Racist History of Illegal Immigration

History of Immigration Discrimination

  • Naturalization Act of 1790
    • restricted citizenship to free white people who had been in the U.S. for two years
    • left out indentured servants, slaves, most women, Asian immigrants, etc
    • Denied most immigrants the right to vote and a political voice
  • 14th Amendment – 1868
    • Gave African Americans access to citizenship
    • Racial barriers remained for Asians but loopholes allowed for successful petitions in court
  • Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
    • banned most Chinese women and workers
    • Lasted 61 years
  • Naturalization Act of 1906
    • Forced immigrants to learn English to become citizens but maintained citizenship for white and black people only
  • Alien Land Law (1913)
    • a series of state laws passed over subsequent decades that prohibited “aliens” from owning or leasing land, initially applied exclusively to Asian immigrants giving white farmers the competitive advantage
  • The Immigration Act of 1917 (Asiatic Barred Zone Act)
    • law imposed literacy tests on immigrants
    • banned new categories of “undesirables”
    • barred immigration from the Asia-Pacific Zone
  • The Immigration Act (Johnson-Reed Act) of 1924
    • it limited the overall number of immigrants
    • established quotas based on nationality
    • reduced immigrants from Eastern Europe and Africa
    • completely restricted immigrants from Asia, except for Japan and the Philippines.
    • At the same time it increased visas available to people from Britain and Western Europe
  • WW2
    • US refused to increase immigration caps for 20,000 Jewish children fleeing Nazi rule
  • Immigration and Nationality Act – 1965
    • eliminated the quota system based on nationality
    • prioritized immigrants who already had family members in the U.S.
    • offered protection to refugees from areas with violence and conflict
    • Introduced for the first time a cap on Latin American immigrants
      • Overnight millions of Latin American migrant workers became “illegal”

Densho Encyclopedia: Naturalization Act of 1790

“The first statute in the United States to codify naturalization law. Alternately known as the Nationality Act, the Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person” who had been in the U.S. for two years. In effect, it left out indentured servants, slaves, and most women. This implied that black and, later, Asian immigrants were not eligible to be naturalized, but it said nothing about the citizenship status of non-white persons born on American soil. Subsequent nineteenth-century legislation included a racial requirement for citizenship. It was one of several early immigration laws that shaped the framework and outcome of the Ozawa v. United States case in 1922.[1]

Upon declaring independence from Great Britain, the leaders of the new republic aspired to create a distinct American nationality and minimize the risk of another monarchy. When they drafted the 1787 Constitution, they did not define what they meant by “natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States” and said very little about immigration. As historian Rudolph Vecoli notes, “one became an American by choice, not by descent,” through a common commitment to the doctrine of natural rights. Consequently, the only distinction between “natural born” and naturalized citizens it made was that the latter were to be ineligible for the presidency. It did authorize Congress to “establish a uniform Rule of naturalization” and allowed for the “migration or importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit,” resulting in a steady flow of slaves until 1808.[2]

The Naturalization Act of 1790 set the criteria for naturalization to two years of residency, proof of good moral character, and an oath to support the Constitution. It also mandated that one must “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign Prince, Potentate, State or Sovereignty.” Despite its generous terms extending citizenship to all children of citizens, it denied the right to naturalize to “persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States.” The law’s use of the phrase, “free white person,” also excluded blacks and immigrants of other races from being eligible for citizenship.[3] In 1795, as anti-immigrant feeling began to grow, the necessary period of residence was increased to five years. Without the right to naturalize, immigrants would not be able to vote and would have no political voice or power.

In 1870, Congress created a second racial category. In keeping with the reforms of the Reconstruction era, the new legislation gave “aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent” access to citizenship. Racial barriers to naturalization remained for Asians, but loopholes in citizenship rules and procedures allowed for successful petitions for naturalization through local courts. The Naturalization Act of 1906 standardized the application process with direct bearing on the Ozawa case. This legislation now regulated nonracial requirements such as filing a declaration of intention and appearing before a judge, but the preceding racial limitations were left intact.[4]

VOX: The racist history of US immigration policy

A History: The Construction of Race and Racism Dismantling Racism Project Western States Center

“Between the 19th & 20th Centuries over 600 separate pieces of anti-Asian legislation were passed limiting Asians from citizenship. Non-citizens had almost no rights. Whites could kill Asians with impunity because they could not testify in court.”

VOA: US Has Long History of Restricting Immigrants

“The U.S. Constitution, which went into effect in 1789, gave Congress “absolute authority” over immigration law, says Linda Monk, who wrote a book about the Constitution called “The Words We Live By.” The president executes those laws through regulations.

For about the first 100 years of American history, Congress did not place any federal limits on immigration.

During those years, Irish and German immigrants came to the U.S. in large numbers. Many Chinese immigrants did, too. In the 1860s, they came to work as laborers on the continental railroad and stayed.

Members of the American public disapproved of these groups. They did not like the Catholic religion that many Irish and German immigrants practiced. And they did not like Asian immigrants, whom they viewed as convicts, prostitutes, or competition for jobs.

So, in the late 1800s, Congress moved for the first time to limit the number of immigrants. Lawmakers targeted Asians, especially Chinese. The Page Act and the Chinese Exclusion Act banned most Chinese women and workers.

Restrictions on other nationalities

By the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. federal government had increased its role in immigration. It established Ellis Island in New York as the entry point for immigrants. And it oversaw a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants, especially from Italy and Eastern Europe. Many of the new arrivals were uneducated and had little money.

Once again, some people opposed the number and kind of immigrants entering the country. A group called the Immigration Restriction League was formed. They petitioned Congress to require immigrants to show that they could at least read.

Both Presidents Grover Cleveland and President Woodrow Wilson opposed the requirement. But in 1917, Congress approved the measure over Wilson’s objections. People who wished to settle in the U.S. now had to pass a literacy test.

In the 1920s, restrictions on immigration increased. The Immigration Act of 1924 was the most severe: it limited the overall number of immigrants and established quotas based on nationality. Among other things, the act sharply reduced immigrants from Eastern Europe and Africa. And it completely restricted immigrants from Asia, except for Japan and the Philippines.

At the same time, the historian’s page at the State Department notes that the act made more visas available to people from Britain and Western Europe.

“In all of its parts, the most basic purpose of the 1924 Immigration Act was to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity,” the State Department history page concludes.

Major change

During the 1940s and 50s, the U.S. made some policy changes that increased – however slightly – the number and nationalities of immigrants.

Then, in 1965, a major change happened. Under pressure in part from the civil rights movement, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act. President Lyndon Johnson signed it.

The act eliminated the quota system based on nationality. Instead, it prioritized immigrants who already had family members in the U.S. It also sought to offer protection to refugees from areas with violence and conflict.

Even though the act kept some limits in place, the origins of immigrants changed dramatically. Instead of being from Western Europe, most immigrants to the U.S. by the end of the 20th century were originally from Mexico, the Philippines, Korea, the Dominican Republic, India, Cuba and Vietnam.”

PBS: The Chinese Exclusion Act

History of Voter Suppression

History Channel: 15th Amendment

The 15th Amendment, granting African-American men the right to vote, was adopted into the U.S. Constitution in 1870. Despite the amendment, by the late 1870s discriminatory practices were used to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote, especially in the South. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that legal barriers were outlawed at the state and local levels if they denied blacks their right to vote under the 15th Amendment.

The 15th Amendment states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The amendment goes on to state that “The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

In 1867, following the American Civil War, the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress passed the First Reconstruction Act, over the veto of President Andrew Johnson. The act divided the South into five military districts and outlined how new governments based on universal manhood suffrage were to be established.

With the adoption of the 15th Amendment in 1870, a politically mobilized African-American community joined with white allies in the Southern states to elect the Republican Party to power, which brought about radical changes across the South. By late 1870, all the former Confederate states had been readmitted to the Union, and most were controlled by the Republican Party, thanks to the support of black voters.

In the same year, Hiram Rhodes Revels, a Republican from Natchez, Mississippi, became the first African American ever to sit in the U.S. Congress, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Although black Republicans never obtained political office in proportion to their overwhelming electoral majority, Revels and a dozen other black men served in Congress during Reconstruction, more than 600 served in state legislatures and many more held local offices

In the late 1870s, the Southern Republican Party vanished with the end of Reconstruction, and Southern state governments effectively nullified both the 14th Amendment (passed in 1868, it guaranteed citizenship and all its privileges to African Americans) and the 15th amendment, stripping blacks in the South of the right to vote.

In the ensuing decades, various discriminatory practices including poll taxes and literacy tests—along with intimidation and outright violence—were used to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965, aimed to overcome all legal barriers at the state and local levels that denied African Americans their right to vote under the 15th Amendment.

The act banned the use of literacy tests, provided for federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50 percent of the non-white population had not registered to vote, and authorized the U.S. attorney general to investigate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections.

In 1964, the 24th Amendment made poll taxes illegal in federal elections; poll taxes in state elections were banned in 1966 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

After the passage of the Voting Rights Act, state and local enforcement of the law was weak and it often was ignored outright, mainly in the South and in areas where the proportion of blacks in the population was high and their vote threatened the political status quo.

Still, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave African-American voters the legal means to challenge voting restrictions and vastly improved voter turnout”


“The Voting Rights Act “literally changed the face of southern politics” by bringing widespread enfranchisement to black communities for the first time since Reconstruction. 373 Just three years after the law passed, black voter registration in the South had increased by 1.3 million people. The greatest changes were in the states most targeted by the new law. In Mississippi, 60 percent of eligible black voters were registered in 1968, up from just 7 percent in 1965. 374 In Alabama, federal protection of black voting rights directly led to the ouster of Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark; he lost in 1966 to an opponent who publicly denounced his “mass arrest” tactics. 375

To stay in power as the South gained more than a million black voters, segregationists needed to suppress the black vote, so they began calling themselves “conservatives” and added more sophisticated tools to their repressive repertoire.

One tool was the voter fraud allegation, wielded in 1985 by then-United States Attorney Jeff Sessions against black voting rights activists in Alabama. Sessions targeted only black defendants, including civil rights icon Albert Turner, a former aid to Martin Luther King Jr. who was beaten in Selma on Bloody Sunday.

When critics pointed out that Sessions had targeted black people exclusively, he insisted, “We will respond to any substantiated charge of vote fraud against whites or blacks. I know of no charges against white election officials in my jurisdiction.” But Sessions was not responding to charges of voter fraud against the Marion Three — his office initiated the cases 376 because, as Mr. Turner observed, “I stand in the way of the white power structure.” 377

The “voter fraud” narrative remained a popular pretext for restricting and intimidating black voters and their advocates.

The Marion Three were acquitted, but the “voter fraud” narrative remained a popular tactic to restrict and intimidate black voters and their advocates.

Another tactic that became common in the 1980s is voter caging — the practice of sending mail to addresses on the voter rolls, compiling a list of the mail that is returned undelivered, and purging voters on that list on the ground that they do not legally reside at their registered addresses. 378 Proponents defended caging as a way to identify voter fraud but Republican officials targeted black and Latino neighborhoods for voter purges. A 1981 internal Republican National Committee memo about caging in Louisiana read, “I know this race is really important to you. I would guess that this program will eliminate at least 60-80,000 folks from the rolls . . . If it’s a close race, which I’m assuming it is, this could keep the black vote down considerably.” 379 A state judge later ruled that the program’s clear intent was to remove African Americans from the voter rolls. 380

Jesse Helms was elected to the Senate from North Carolina in 1973. A white Republican, he had supported I. Beverly Lake’s segregationist campaign for governor in 1960, and actively relied on voter caging 381 and other racialized tactics.

In 1984, Helms overcame a 20-point deficit after he published literature warning voters about black registration drives and filibustered the bill that sought to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. 382 In the twilight of his tenure, while Helms was a guest on the Larry King Live show, a caller thanked him for “everything you’ve done to help keep down the niggers.” 383 Helms retired in 2003 at age 81. 384

In 2010, Alabama’s Republican-controlled state government filed a lawsuit challenging the Voting Rights Act as “no longer necessary.” 385 Three years later, in Shelby County v. Holder, a divided Supreme Court effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act by striking down the requirement that states like Alabama obtain “pre-clearance” from the federal government before changing their voting laws. 386 In dissent, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the Court was turning its back to history. “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the [Voting Rights Act] has proven effective,” she wrote.

Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet. 387″

How Stuff Works: History of Voter Suppression in the U.S.

“The history of voter suppression in the U.S. is really the history of voting rights in the U.S. To begin, it’s important (and surprising) to note that the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly include a right to vote [source: Fairvote.org]. In fact, only members of the House of Representatives were elected “by the people” according to the 1776 Constitution. Although the 17th Amendment enabled the direct election of U.S. senators, we still don’t directly elect our president; technically, that’s up to the Electoral College.

The original version of the Constitution and Bill of Rights left it entirely up to the states to determine who constituted “the people,” and therefore had a right to vote at all. At first, only white men — and freed African-American slaves in four states — who owned property were allowed to vote, then states slowly began to drop the property requirement, opening it up to all white males and some African-American males by 1850 [source: Keyssar]. All women, non-African-American minorities and many non-Christian religious groups were denied the franchise.

After the brief Reconstruction period following the Civil War, in which freed slaves earned the right to vote and hold office, there was a sharp political shift in the South. Even though the 15th Amendment formally extended the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” in 1870, newly elected conservative Democrats — known as Dixiecrats — began to impose a series of laws in 1877 designed to suppress the black vote.

These Jim Crow voting laws included requirements to pass literacy tests, nearly impossible for uneducated former slaves. Other states instituted poll taxes, a financial burden that many poor African-American (and whites) were either unable or unwilling to pay. Some precincts even held “whites only” primaries in direct opposition to federal law. Attempts to break or protest Jim Crow laws often met with deadly retribution. In fact, the intimidation and suppression campaign was so successful that only 3 percent of voting-age African-American southerners were registered to vote in 1940 [source:American Civil Liberties Union].

Although women were finally extended the right to vote in 1920 through the 19th Amendment, it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the federal government finally eradicated Jim Crow voting laws in the southern U.S. The Voting Rights Act explicitly banned any “test or device” to qualify voters on the basis of literacy, education or fluency in English [source: Department of Justice]. Poll taxes weren’t banned until 1966, when the Supreme Court found Virginia’s poll taxes to be unconstitutional [source: Department of Justice].

Unfortunately, the history of voter suppression didn’t end in the 1960s. On the next page, we’ll list a few of the most popular methods of voter suppression — many of which are still used today.

Intimidation has been a favorite tactic of voter suppression since the early days of Jim Crow. While open hostility and violence might have been the norm in the post-Reconstruction South, modern methods of intimidation are usually more subtle.

The Republican National Committee came under fire in the early 1980s when it sponsored the creation of a group called the National Ballot Security Task Force to patrol polling stations in search of voter fraud. The task force, staffed by off-duty police officers armed with loaded service revolvers and wearing blue armbands, was sued for steering black voters away from polling stations in New Jersey and forced to disband [source: Robbins]. In 2009, The Department of Justice sued members of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (a group unaffiliated with the Black Panther Party of the 1960s) for brandishing a “police-style baton” to intimidate voters outside a Philadelphia polling station during the 2008 presidential election [source: Department of Justice]. And in 2012, advertising company Clear Channel Outdoor took down billboards in Ohio and Wisconsin noting the criminal consequences of voter fraud after public accusations of voter intimidation [source: Palmer].

Disinformation is another hugely popular tactic for suppressing votes in a target population. In the 2008 elections, Democrats in Nevada received robo-calls informing them that they could vote on November 5 — a day after the election — to avoid long lines. Hispanic voters in Nevada received similar messages saying that they could vote by phone [source: Freeman]. Voters in Lake County, Ohio, received official-looking mail stating that voters who had registered to vote through Democratic-leaning organizations would be barred from the 2008 election. And Michigan’s Secretary of State had to fight a phone-based disinformation campaign telling absentee voters to mail their ballots to the wrong address [source: Zernike].

While intimidation and disinformation are recognized examples of voter suppression, other methods are much more controversial. A strict voter ID law in Indiana, for example, has the blessing of the Supreme Court, yet the Justice Department has moved to block similar laws in Texas and South Carolina under accusations that the laws “(deny) or (abridge) the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group” [source: Chebium].

Similarly, a number of Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed laws barring convicted felons — even those who have served their time — from ever voting again. Other states have tightened the window for absentee, overseas and early voting, and banned same-day voter registration. Some states want to require voters to provide a proof of citizenship. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claim these laws have one purpose: to restrict and suppress the ability of minority, disabled and elderly voters from casting their vote [source:American Civil Liberties Union]. Supporters of these laws argue that increased restrictions only result in fairer, cleaner elections.”

Gutting of Section 5 from the Voting Rights Law (VRA)

In 2013 the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision, gutted the Section 5 in the Voting Rights Law which required lawmakers in states with a history of discriminating against minority voters get federal permission before changing voting rules. At the time 9 states Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia and dozens of counties and municipalities in other states, were currently trying to pass voter restrictions.

After the removal of Section 5 these states all passed variations of voter restrictions. Texas immediately announced after the decision that a voter identification law that had been blocked would go into effect immediately, and that redistricting maps there would no longer need federal approval. Changes in voting procedures in the places that had been covered by the law, including ones concerning restrictions on early voting, will now be subject only to after-the-fact litigation.

Overall, 20 states have new restrictions in effect since the 2010 midterm election. Since 2010, a total of 10 states have more restrictive voter ID laws in place (and six states have strict photo ID requirements) seven have laws making it harder for citizens to register, six cut back on early voting days and hours, and three made it harder to restore voting rights for people with past criminal convictions.


Overview of Current Voter Suppression Laws

ACLU: What the District

Explore how your own Congressional district has changed over time

Washington Post: Getting a photo ID so you can vote is easy. Unless you’re poor, black, Latino or elderly.

“In his wallet, Anthony Settles carries an expired Texas identification card, his Social Security card and an old student ID from the University of Houston, where he studied math and physics decades ago. What he does not have is the one thing that he needs to vote this presidential election: a current Texas photo ID.

For Settles to get one of those, his name has to match his birth certificate — and it doesn’t. In 1964, when he was 14, his mother married and changed his last name. After Texas passed a new voter-ID law, officials told Settles he had to show them his name-change certificate from 1964 to qualify for a new identification card to vote.

So with the help of several lawyers, Settles tried to find it, searching records in courthouses in the D.C. area, where he grew up. But they could not find it. To obtain a new document changing his name to the one he has used for 51 years, Settles has to go to court, a process that would cost him more than $250 — more than he is willing to pay.

“It has been a bureaucratic nightmare,” said Settles, 65, a retired engineer. “The intent of this law is to suppress the vote. I feel like I am not wanted in this state.”

Anthony Settles confers with his attorney Abbie Kamin. Settles is trying to overcome the state of Texas’ strict voter-ID law. (Photo Courtesy of the Campaign Legal Center )

In November (2016), 17 states will have voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. Eleven of those states will require their residents to show a photo ID. They include swing states such as Wisconsin and states with large African American and Latino populations, such as North Carolina and Texas. On Tuesday, the entire 15-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans is to begin hearing a case regarding the legality of the Texas law, considered to be the most stringent in the country.

Supporters say that everyone should easily be able to get a photo ID and that the requirement is needed to combat voter fraud. But many election experts say that the process for obtaining a photo ID can be far more difficult than it looks for hundreds of thousands of people across the country who do not have the required photo identification cards. Those most likely to be affected are elderly citizens, African Americans, Hispanics and low-income residents.

“A lot of people don’t realize what it takes to obtain an ID without the proper identification and papers,” said Abbie Kamin, a lawyer who has worked with the Campaign Legal Center to help Texans obtain the proper identification to vote. “Many people will give up and not even bother trying to vote.”

A federal court in Texas found that 608,470 registered voters don’t have the forms of identification that the state now requires for voting. For example, residents can vote with their concealed-carry handgun licenses but not their state-issued student university IDs.

Across the country, about 11 percent of Americans do not have government-issued photo identification cards, such as a driver’s license or a passport, according to Wendy Weiser of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), compares his state’s new voter-ID requirement to what is needed for “boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed.” Texas officials, who say the laws are needed to combat possible voter fraud, recently said in court papers that the Justice Department and civil rights groups suing the state are not able to find anyone “who would face a substantial obstacle to voting.”

But former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. has called the costs associated for voters seeking a photo ID a “poll tax,” referring to fees that some Southern states used to disenfranchise blacks during the Jim Crow era of laws enforcing racial segregation between the late 1800s through 1965.

Soon after Obama’s election, a surge of Republican-led state legislatures passed laws requiring photo IDs.

“Voters who have to show ID constantly in their everyday lives certainly don’t see ID as a problem,” said Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “It is a ­common-sense, basic requirement needed to ensure election integrity, which is an essential part of free and fair elections.”

Opponents say that the laws were designed to target people more likely to vote Democratic.

Last week, during the federal trial on Wisconsin’s voter-ID law, a former Republican staffer testified that GOP senators were “giddy” about the idea that the state’s 2011 voter-ID law might keep Democrats, particularly minorities in Milwaukee, from voting and help them win at the polls. “They were politically frothing at the mouth,” said the aide, Todd Allbaugh.

A recent voter-ID study by political scientists at the University of California at San Diego analyzed turnout in elections between 2008 and 2012 and found “substantial drops in turnout for minorities under strict voter ID laws.”

“These results suggest that by instituting strict photo ID laws, states could minimize the influence of voters on the left and could dramatically alter the political leaning of the electorate,” the study concluded.

The question of whether photo IDs are difficult to obtain has become central to cases across the country, where government and civil rights lawyers are challenging new state laws.

Three courts have in fact struck down the voter-ID law in Texas, but the state’s governor has not backed down and has promised to keep it in effect in November.

In 2012, a federal court in Washington concluded that the burden of obtaining a state voter-ID certificate would weigh disproportionately on minorities living in poverty, with many having to travel as much as 200 to 250 miles round trip.

“That law will almost certainly have retrogressive effect: it imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty,” wrote David S. Tatel, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in the panel’s 56-page opinion.

Voter-ID laws are also being litigated in North Carolina and Virginia, in addition to Texas and Wisconsin. Election experts predict that one of these cases could go to the Supreme Court before November.

‘A lot of them just give up’

Many of the residents struggling to obtain a valid photo ID are elderly and poor and were born in homes rather than hospitals. As a result, birth certificates were often lost or names were misspelled in official city records.

Hargie Randall, 72, was born in his family’s home in Huntsville, Tex., and has lived in the state his entire life. Randall, now living in Houston’s low-income Fifth Ward neighborhood, has several health problems and such poor eyesight that he is legally blind. He can’t drive and has to ask others for rides.

After Texas implemented its new law, Randall went to the Department of Public Safety (the Texas agency that handles driver’s licenses and identification cards) three times to try to get a photo ID to vote. Each time Randall was told he needed different items. First, he was told he needed three forms of identification. He came back and brought his Medicaid card, bills and a current voter registration card from voting in past elections.

“I thought that because I was on record for voting, I could vote again,” Randall said.

But he was told he still needed more documentation, such as a certified copy of his birth certificate.

Records of births before 1950, such as Randall’s, are not on a central computer and are located only in the county clerk’s office where the person was born.

For Randall, that meant an hour-long drive to Huntsville, where his lawyers found a copy of his birth certificate.

But that wasn’t enough. With his birth certificate in hand, Randall went to the DPS office in Houston with all the necessary documents. But, DPS officials still would not issue him a photo ID because of a clerical mistake on his birth certificate. One letter was off in his last name — “Randell” instead of “Randall” — so his last name was spelled slightly different than on all his other documents.

Kamin, the lawyer, asked the DPS official if they could pull up Randall’s prior driver’s-license information, as he once had a state-issued ID. The official told her that the state doesn’t keep records of prior identification after five years, and there was nothing they could do to pull up that information.

Kamin was finally able to prove to a DPS supervisor that there was a clerical error and was able to verify Randall’s identity by showing other documents.

But Myrtle Delahuerta, 85, who lives across town from Randall, has tried unsuccessfully for two years to get her ID. She has the same problem of her birth certificate not matching her pile of other legal documents that she carts from one government office to the next. The disabled woman, who has difficulty walking, is applying to have her name legally changed, a process that will cost her more than $300 and has required a background check and several trips to government offices.

Myrtle Delahuerta, 85, left, going over all of her historical documents at her home with attorney Abbie Kamin, right, in Houston Wednesday May 19, 2016 has still not been able to obtain a photo ID to vote in Texas because the name on her birth certificate doesn’t exactly match other legal documents. (Michael Stravato/For The Washington Post)

“I hear from people nearly weekly who can’t get an ID either because of poverty, transportation issues or because of the government’s incompetence,” said Chad W. Dunn, a lawyer with Brazil & Dunn in Houston, who has specialized in voting rights work for 15 years.

“Sometimes government officials don’t know what the law requires,” Dunn said. “People take a day off work to go down to get the so-called free birth certificates. People who are poor, with no car and no Internet access, get up, take the bus, transfer a couple of times, stand in line for an hour and then are told they don’t have the right documents or it will cost them money they don’t have.”

“A lot of them just give up,” Dunn said.”

Vox: The Supreme Court’s big racial gerrymandering decision, explained

“Election law expert Rick Hasen concluded his reaction to the Supreme Court’s racial gerrymandering case with one word: “Wow.”

In a ruling delivered on Monday, the US Supreme Court concluded that North Carolina was racially motivated, without proper cause, when lawmakers redrew the state map for congressional districts.

The North Carolina case dealt with two districts in particular. Republican lawmakers in the state, after the 2010 census, had redrawn the map to add more black voters into Districts 1 and 12. Lower courts concluded that race was a predominant factor in the redrawing of these districts, without a compelling interest that would justify heavily taking race into account.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision written by Justice Elena Kagan, agreed, concluding that North Carolina violated the Equal Protections Clause of the 14th Amendment by separating voters in different districts on the basis of race without “sufficient justification” for doing so.

In delivering its ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed lower rulings that had already led the state to redraw its congressional maps to not factor in race as much as before. But with its sweeping judgment, the Supreme Court also sent a signal to other states — telling them they have to be much more careful in redrawing their congressional and legislative districts. And that could ultimately shake up how far Republicans and Democrats can go in trying to redraw legislative maps to gain a political advantage, effectively encouraging state lawmakers to be less aggressive when gerrymandering.

As Hasen put it, “This decision by Justice Kagan is a major victory for voting rights plaintiffs, who have succeeded in turning the racial gerrymandering cause of action into an effective tool to go after partisan gerrymanders in Southern states.”

States can and should consider race when redrawing districts — under some conditions

States are charged with regularly redrawing their legislative maps, usually in line with the decennial national census. This is meant to keep up with shifting populations and demographics. But the party in power has throughout US history leveraged this ability to draw maps that are politically advantageous — by, for example, diluting the voting power of a certain demographic that’s less likely to vote for the party in question. This is known as gerrymandering, the act of manipulating electoral boundaries for political gain.

To understand the Supreme Court’s decision, it’s important to first know that a state can consider race when drawing its legislative maps. But to use race as a predominant factor, the state has to have a compelling interest. For example, a state can say that it needs to, under the federal Voting Rights Act, consider race to ensure that a minority voting bloc isn’t consistently negated by a larger set of white voters who vote against the minority voting bloc’s preferred candidate.

The compelling interest requirement is meant to address a big problem: In the US, lawmakers have often used racial demographics to gerrymander a legislative district map for personal political advantage. Since racial demographics can predict whom a certain group of voters will elect, this can help certain politicians — particularly Republicans today — stay in power. This doesn’t advance a compelling government interest, but elected lawmakers have an incentive to do it anyway for their own personal gain.

So states can end up with congressional districts that look like North Carolina’s, where big and small chunks of land are pulled together into an awkward shape — resembling rivers and toy puzzle pieces more than voting blocs.

North Carolina’s congressional districts. Javier Zarracina/Vox

The Supreme Court’s North Carolina decision will help avoid this kind of scenario in the future.

In striking down the North Carolina map, the Court also affirmed a two-step analysis for legal challenges over whether a state violated the law by considering race in its legislative map. First, a plaintiff must show that race was a predominant factor in the map’s redrawing. If that condition is met, the state must then prove that it had a compelling interest to predominantly consider race — such as protecting minority voting power under the Voting Rights Act. This is essentially what the Supreme Court held in other cases, including decisions regarding Virginia and Alabama.

“The big takeaway for legislators is you got to do your homework,” said Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, who worked on an amicus brief in favor of the North Carolina plaintiffs while he was at the US Department of Justice. “You got to actually put in the time to figure out where there are real responsibilities under the Voting Rights Act — and there will be real responsibilities under the Voting Rights Act. Where there are, you have to consider race to draw appropriate districts. Where there aren’t, you can’t just throw people into a district based on their race willy-nilly.”

In short, Levitt said, “You have to operate using precision tools, not blunt ones.”

With its new ruling, the Court gave voting rights advocates another tool to limit gerrymandering

Knowing the legal precedent here, North Carolina based its defense of its congressional map around the two-step analysis.

In regards to District 1, the state acknowledged that it had taken race into account. But it said it was concerned that if it didn’t add more black voters to the district, then it could have potentially diluted black voting power — in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court concluded that there was not enough evidence for the state’s claim. So the justices swatted it down.

“That was one of the fights today: If I’m a North Carolina legislator and I just say the words ‘Voting Rights Act,’ does that mean I can do whatever I want?” Levitt said. “The Court said, ‘No.’”

Things get more complicated in regards to District 12. There, the state argued that citizens’ race was not the predominant factor; instead, it said it predominantly based borders on voters’ partisan ties. In doing this, the state was trying to avoid tougher legal standards applied to considerations over race in gerrymandered maps than are applied to considerations over partisanship.

The problem for gerrymandering lawmakers is that the predominant consideration of race triggers “strict scrutiny,” in which they have to prove they have a compelling interest — through, for example, the Voting Rights Act considerations noted above — to redraw the districts how they want. This can be a very tough standard to meet.

But if gerrymandering lawmakers argue that they are using race as a proxy for political party, perhaps that may not trigger strict scrutiny — since they may be legally allowed to consider partisanship when redrawing legislative maps without meeting strict scrutiny. Until now, this argument seemed to give an out for allegations of racial gerrymandering.

“Another fight: If I draw districts based on race and say this was really politics, is that okay?” Levitt said. “And the Court’s answer was, again, ‘No.’”

This can get tricky, because party and race are often so closely aligned that it becomes difficult to see whether a partisan consideration or a racial one is the predominant factor. Hasen wrote, linking to his essay on the topic, “This is a particularly difficult question in the American South, because of ‘conjoined polarization,’ race and party overlap to a great extent, so the question of which predominates is somewhat nonsensical.”

Justice Kagan by and large dodged this issue in writing most of the majority opinion. She argued that the lower court’s ruling on District 12 was plausible enough, given the presented evidence, and the Supreme Court only had to step in and overturn the lower ruling if there was a “clear error” in how prior judges interpreted the facts of the case.

But Kagan also attempted to wrestle with the “conjoined polarization” issue in two footnotes — which Hasen called “bombshells.” One footnote concludes, for example, that “the sorting of voters on the grounds of their race remains suspect even if race is meant to function as a proxy for other (including political) characteristics.” So lawmakers may no longer be able to use race as a predominant factor even if they argue it’s used as a proxy for partisanship — and that will make it much harder to avoid strict scrutiny.

Hasen predicted this will make it much harder to gerrymander districts in the South: “This will lead to many more successful racial gerrymandering cases in the American South and elsewhere, and allow these cases to substitute for (so far unsuccessful) partisan gerrymandering claims involving some of these districts.”

In a follow-up to Hasen’s blog post, Levitt disagreed, arguing that the ruling is “pretty narrow” and won’t have as much reach as Hasen suggested.

Still, the ruling may force lawmakers to do a bit more homework — and make sure their legal arguments are really sound — before they approve a map. And that could make legislators less likely to redraw legislative maps in the aggressive way they have been for decades.

The latest ruling is not the final word on this issue. In fact, the North Carolina map that the state drew in response to lower court rulings in this same case has already inspired legal challenges. And there are standing legal challenges rooted in other states’ maps. So it’s likely the Supreme Court will be looking at some of these same issues in North Carolina and other states in the future — and the precedent established on Monday could be a big deal then.”

NY Times: Drive Against Gerrymandering Finds New Life in Ballot Initiatives

” The movement to take politics out of setting legislative district boundaries seemed to suffer a grievous, and perhaps even mortal, blow this spring (20180) when the Supreme Court passed up three chances to declare partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional.

But it turns out that reports of its death are exaggerated. As federal courts dither over how to resolve the issue, activists have begun tackling it state by state at the grass roots.

In Michigan, a proposed constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering, written and promoted by a nonpartisan group called Voters Not Politicians, will be on the ballot in November, unless blocked by a court challenge that has so far fallen short. So many Michiganders signed petitions to bring the measure to a vote — 110,000 more than state law requires — that the group ended its signature campaign 70 days short of the six months allowed.

In Missouri, another nonpartisan group called Clean Missouri needed 180,000 signatures to get its anti-gerrymander initiative on the ballot; it collected 346,000. Final certification is expected next month.

In Utah, a group called Better Boundaries collected 190,000 signatures, 75,000 more than were required, to place its proposition to end gerrymanders on the November ballot.

And in Colorado, both the Democratic-run state House and the Republican-run Senate voted unanimously in May to place two proposals on the November ballot that would shift the duty to draw state legislative and congressional districts away from lawmakers and into the hands of independent redistricting commissions.

Those proposals join another, in Ohio, that became law in May. The state legislature there put a measure to curb partisan gerrymandering of the state’s congressional districts on the ballot for the state’s May 8 primary, after it became apparent that a citizens’ campaign for an even tougher measure was likely to succeed. Ohioans approved the legislature’s version by a three-to-one margin.

“It’s the best reform map we’ve seen in decades,” said Joshua Silver, the chief executive officer of the clean-government advocacy group Represent.Us, which has offered support to all five initiative campaigns.

It is remarkable that five states are holding ballot measures on the issue in a single year; only five had taken them up over the entire preceding decade.

Just as unusual is how little opposition the measures are meeting, at least so far. Beyond Michigan, where the state Chamber of Commerce and the Republican attorney general are trying to block the anti-gerrymandering initiative, organized resistance to the proposals has been scant.

Mr. Silver compares the change in public opinion on gerrymandering — the practice of drawing maps to disproportionately favor one party — to the shifts on other issues like gay marriage, where voters’ views were often shown to be changing far faster than national political dogma.

In the past, only a handful of states — Idaho, Iowa and Arizona among them — embraced genuinely nonpartisan redistricting, while most states continued to treat mapmaking as the privilege of the party in power.

Nationally, Republicans have denounced attacks on gerrymanders as assaults on their political power — understandably so, because the Republican landslide in 2010 allowed the party to redistrict its way to long-term control of Congress, with House seats far out of proportion to its share of the vote in many states.

From 2008 to 2018, only California voted to strip state legislators of the power to draw all political boundaries. (New York voters approved nonpartisan redistricting in 2014 and Ohio voters in 2015, but only for state legislative seats, not for Congress.) Anti-gerrymander initiatives in Ohio and South Dakota were defeated in 2012 and 2016.

But advocates say that public disgust with the state of politics is increasingly overriding partisan sentiment on the issue.


“Gerrymandering resonates with people in a way it didn’t even a few years ago,” said Michael Li, senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. “We’re in a very distrustful moment. People think that people in power — the insider class — will do anything they can to keep it.”

Mr. Silver of Represent.Us said he agreed. “One thing that both Trump supporters and Bernie’s voters — and pretty much all voters — agree on is that the system is rigged,” he said, referring to Bernie Sanders, the liberal senator from Vermont. “In a political environment that’s confusing and frustrating to most Americans, this is an easy issue to understand.”

Only 26 states allow citizen-driven ballot initiatives, so their reach is limited. But legal experts and advocates say the campaign to end gerrymandering has other options it can pursue besides ballot initiatives.

Many states have constitutions that may offer more scope for lawsuits challenging gerrymandered maps than the federal courts do. Last winter the Pennsylvania Supreme Court became the first court to invalidate a state’s congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

And legislatures in some states, like Colorado, have begun to ponder whether the political and legal toll from partisan redistricting outweighs the advantages. Pennsylvania and Louisiana have seen the beginnings of bipartisan legislative efforts this year to hand over redistricting to apolitical commissions.

The current political climate is so unsettled, Mr. Li said, that legislators in some states worry about whether their party can count on having a majority — and with it, authority over redistricting — after the 2018 and 2020 elections.

“You don’t necessarily know who’s going to be in control in 2021 in many states,” he said. “That uncertainty creates an incentive to be reasonable in ways you didn’t have in the past.”

In some of the five states with ballot measures still to be decided this year, nonpartisan redistricting after the 2020 census could produce big changes. In Ohio, where statewide contests are often tossups, Republicans now control 11 of the state’s 15 House seats and dominate the state legislature. In Michigan, another battleground state, nine of 14 House seats are held by Republicans, as are both legislative chambers. In Colorado, on the other hand, the district map for the state House appears to favor Democrats, who won 57 percent of the seats in 2016 even though they received less than half the votes cast statewide, according to The Associated Press.

In strongly Republican Utah, the anti-gerrymander initiative is aimed more at boundaries drawn to protect entrenched incumbents than at any partisan imbalance, said Jeff Wright, a Republican and a co-chairman of the bipartisan group Better Boundaries.

He said that in 2016, there were hardly any competitive races for the Utah legislature: 70 percent of seats were won by margins of 30 points or more, including about one-fifth that were uncontested.

“So if you ask who’s getting the short end of the stick,” he said, “I’d say it’s the voters of Utah.”

Represent.Us, which claims 500,000 members, has poured money and volunteers into the Ohio referendum and other campaigns, Mr. Silver said. But most of the support for the ballot initiatives is homegrown. In Michigan, for example, Voters Not Politicians arose from a single Facebook post that its founder, Katie Fahey, dashed off in 2016; it mushroomed into a campaign that held 33 town-hall meetings across the state, recruited 12,000 volunteers and raised close to $1 million, most of it from small donors.

The group’s proposed remedy is similar to what has been advanced in the other states: amending the state constitution to turn responsibility for drawing political boundaries over to a citizens’ commission composed of Democrats, Republicans and independents or small-party supporters. The panel would be barred from giving any political party an advantage, and would judge its work using “accepted measures of partisan fairness.”


The state attorney general and the state chamber of commerce sued to block the proposal, saying that it is illegally broad. A lower court unanimously rejected that argument; the case is now before the state Supreme Court, which held a hearing about it last week.

The chamber says it does not support gerrymandering, “but we don’t see the current standard as favoring one party over another,” the group’s president, Richard K. Studley, said in an interview. “The current system isn’t perfect, but it’s better than what they’re proposing.”

Opponents appear to be planning a public campaign against the amendment should the court challenge fail. A new organization that appears tied to Republican Party interests, called Fair Lines America, has given $50,000 to the chamber-led alliance that is seeking to block the measure, and two veteran Michigan Republicans formed another group last year, People to Protect Voter’s Rights, to fight it.

Ms. Fahey of Voters Not Politicians said she believes public support for the proposal is strong.

“This is one of those building-block-of-democracy issues,” she said in an interview. “We’ve seen support across the state, including from the reddest counties.””

ABC News: Supreme Court gives Ohio right to purge thousands of voters from its rolls

“In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court gave Ohio a victory Monday in a fight over the state’s method for removing people from the voter rolls, a practice that civil rights groups said discourages minority turnout.

At least a dozen other politically conservative states said they would adopt a similar practice if Ohio prevailed, as a way of keeping their voter registration lists accurate and up to date.

Prof. Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, predicted that a win for Ohio would escalate voting wars between the political parties.

“You’ll see more red states making it easier to drop people from the voter registration rolls,” he said.

All states have procedures for removing from their registration lists the names of people who have moved and are therefore no longer eligible to vote in a given precinct. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a voter’s decision to sit out a certain number of elections could be the trigger for that effort.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, said the court’s job was not “to decide whether Ohio’s supplemental process is the ideal method for keeping its voting rolls up to date. The only question before us is whether it violates federal law. It does not.”

Ohio election officials send notices to anyone who fails to cast a ballot during a two-year period. People who do not respond and don’t vote over the next four years, including in two more federal elections, are dropped from the list of registered voters.

That’s what happened to Larry Harmon, a U.S. Navy veteran and software engineer who was turned away from his polling place in 2015 when he found out he wasn’t on the list. “I looked and I looked. And I saw my son’s name, but I didn’t see my name.” So he joined a civil rights group in suing the state. Ohio said he was sent a notice, but he said he didn’t get it.

A federal appeals court ruled against the state, concluding that roughly 7,500 Ohio voters — in a state that’s perennially a presidential battleground — were wrongly purged from the list in the 2016 election.

Opponents of Ohio’s system, led by the A. Philip Randolph Institute, said it violated the National Voter Registration Act, which specifies that voters can be purged from the rolls only if they ask, move, are convicted of a felony, become mentally incapacitated, or die. More than half the voters in Ohio fail to cast a ballot over a two-year period, the group said, and those who receive the state’s notices simply throw them away.

“The Supreme Court got this one wrong. The right to vote is not ‘use it or lose it,'” said Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “This decision will fuel the fire of voter suppressors across the country who want to make sure their chosen candidates win reelection, no matter what the voters say.”

Justice Stephen Breyer authored the dissent, which was joined by liberal justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, who also wrote a separate — and scathing — dissent.

Sotomayor scolded the court’s majority for ignoring “the history of voter suppression against which the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act] was enacted and upholds a program that appears to further the very disenfranchisement of minority and low-income voters that Congress set out to eradicate.”

“Communities that are disproportionately affected by unnecessarily harsh registration laws should not tolerate efforts to marginalize their influence in the political process, nor should allies who recognize blatant unfairness stand idly by,” Sotomayor added.

The Ohio Democratic Party issuing a statement condemning the ruling.

“Today’s split decision from the U.S. Supreme Court will unfortunately empower Republican officials across the country to continue making it harder for American citizens to vote,” Chairman David Pepper said, adding that “voting rights are on the ballot with this November’s elections.”

The Obama Justice Department supported the challengers in the early stages of the court fight, arguing that the mere exercise of the right not to vote cannot be the basis for removing a name from the voter rolls. But the Trump administration switched sides and supported Ohio, saying in a court brief that the state’s system strikes a balance between “on the one hand dramatically increasing the number of voters on the voter rolls but, on the other, giving states the flexibility they need to manage the issues that arise when you have over-inflated voter rolls.””

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History of  US Discriminatory Housing Policies

“Racial discrimination was once an explicit part of housing laws, regulations, and practices, which created unequal access to opportunity and wealth through intentional community and housing segregation by race.  While the laws have changed, the impact of decades of institutionalized discrimination continues to have a profound effect today.” The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston

The US has a long history of racially discriminatory legislation and policies that helped shape are unjust society today.  Click on this link to learn more.

History of  Discriminatory Housing Policies

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Urban Renewal Projects

National Geographic: Maps Show How Tearing Down City Slums Displaced Thousands

“In the 1950s and ‘60s, federally funded projects displaced hundreds of thousands of people in American cities.


Bigger circles represent cities where urban renewal displaced more people. In purple cites, the displaced were mostly people of color; in green cities, they were mostly white.

“Urban renewal projects changed the landscape of American cities in the 1950s and ‘60s. The federal government gave cities billions of dollars to tear down blighted areas and replace them with affordable housing. Or at least, that’s what was supposed to happen.

In many places, there was a net loss of housing as city leaders decided instead to build offices or shopping malls, or to expand hospitals and universities. Urban renewal projects displaced more than 300,000 people between 1955 and 1966, and the burden fell disproportionately on people of color, according to a new analysis by the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, which has created a new website called Renewing Inequality packed with interactive maps and statistics on urban renewal projects…

One thing that stood out, Nelson says, is that these projects weren’t limited to big cities: Most were carried out in cities of 50,000 people or fewer, and many were done in even smaller places. “It’s not just Chicago and New York,” he says. “It’s Fairbanks, Alaska, and Coos Bay, Oregon.”

In cities like Philadelphia, Detroit, and Atlanta, more than two-thirds of those displaced were people of color.  Many of the projects targeted areas that had been redlined in previous decades. Redlining, now used to refer to economic discrimination against neighborhoods predominantly populated by racial or ethnic minorities, was originally the result of a federal program intended to shore up the housing market after the Depression. Local real estate agents and bankers working for the program rated neighborhoods according to the risks they posed to lenders (redlining was also the subject of a previous mapping project by the Digital Scholarship Lab). This project resulted in systematic discrimination because many minority neighborhoods were marked red—hazardous to lenders—which made it difficult or impossible for people living there to get a loan to buy or maintain property. This in turn contributed to the neighborhoods’ decline.


In Atlanta, urban renewal projects in redlined neighborhoods (red areas on the map) displaced mostly non-white residents (purple bars in the chart on the right).

“Redlining created the crisis that urban renewal was created to solve,” says Brent Cebul, an urban historian at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and a co-author of Renewing Inequality.

These projects often caused new problems for the people they displaced, Cebul says. “If it was an African-American community, they more often than not ended up crowding into other African-American communities,” he says. In neighborhoods in Chicago and Cleveland, for example, schools became so overcrowded that they had to operate on two shifts, with some kids going to school in the morning and others in the afternoon. “Conditions were really intolerable in a lot of these neighborhoods where people ended up,” Cebul says, and many of them became flashpoints in the race riots of the mid- to late-’60s.

The benefits of urban renewal often flowed to better-off white suburbanites, who benefited from faster commutes to their city jobs on newly built highways, as well as from new office buildings, shopping centers, and venues for sports and entertainment like New York City’s Lincoln Center. “The question of what cities are for and who they’re for was really born through the urban renewal projects,” Cebul says.

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Racial History of Banking

Splinter: Racist History of Banking

Making Change: The Untold History of Black Banking in America

“Professor Mehrsa Baradaran is the author of The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, a history of black-owned and black-oriented banks in the United States. It’s not a happy story.

Baradaran’s narrative spans the post-Civil War Reconstruction years to the present day and in it she tracks the government’s basic failure to equip former slaves with trustworthy wealth-building institutions in the 1800s, the disastrous effect poverty and racist economic segregation had on black banks’ ability to serve their community, the cynical use of “black capitalism” rhetoric by mainstream politicians (particularly Richard Nixon) to diffuse demands for meaningful economic justice reforms, and the impossible situation many black financial institutions found themselves in as a result of the Great Recession.

Throughout, Baradaran doesn’t shy away from tough questions about whether economic success is meaningful without corresponding political power, whether banks created only to serve black communities could ever succeed, and what white America’s current responsibility is to an entrenched and growing racial wealth gap.

As a student of history and finance myself, I was fascinated by her book (read my review here), which exposed a side of capitalism and finance about which I know very little. Baradaran and I had a great discussion recently.

Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Make Change: I want to have you explain some of the history of the Freedman’s Savings Bank, which I had never heard of, and which is maybe the most awful story you tell. But I suspect, unless you were a scholar of black banking, most people don’t know this story.

Mehrsa Baradaran: It’s surprising that we don’t know this story…

The Freedmen’s Bureau was created by [President Abraham] Lincoln. It is meant to help freed slaves transition into capitalism. You’ve gone from being capital to becoming capitalists. So you have to get wages for your employment and transition into the populous. Everything, basically, that is meant to alleviate the transition ends up getting vetoed by [Andrew] Johnson after President Lincoln is assassinated.

So 40 acres and a mule, labor protections against exploitation, all of that stuff is vetoed. The Freedmen’s Bureau ends up becoming this failed effort. And the reason it’s a failed effort is because the South sort of violently overthrew their efforts.

The one thing that survives Johnson’s veto is this Freeman’s Savings Bank. The thinking here is ‘we’re not going to give you land because that becomes politically impossible. But we’re going to give you a savings account, and you’re going to save up your wages and buy land yourself.’

This is not a commercial bank, so there won’t be any loans—which defeats the purpose of banking because the way banks create wealth is to give loans.

It’s basically a glorified piggy bank. It’s created by Congress at a time when we barely have a national banking system. But it is not linked with the government. It looks like it is, because on the notes of the bank it’s got Abraham Lincoln’s face. It’s got the American flag on the building in Washington, D.C. It is advertised as an appendage of the Treasury. But it is not.

It’s really dangerous when it looks like it’s full faith and credit [linked with the federal government] but it’s actually not. That is the worst combination because you’ve got private gains and public losses. So, this is essentially this bank. You have a private president. This is Henry Cooke, and he is brothers with Jay Cooke, and Jay Cooke is a notorious railroad speculator. Consider railroad bonds as the mortgage-backed securities, the derivatives market of the day. Huge upside, huge risk.

What happens is Henry Cooke says is “I’ve got millions of dollars ($1.5 billion in today’s money) and it’s just sitting here. Why don’t I take this money and invest it in the railroad speculative market?” Although he’s just supposed to safeguard it, like a piggy bank.

  Plaque image via U.S. Department of the Treasury.

MC: I think you said in your book he had early success. His first investment worked.

M: Jay Cooke’s first investment did work.

MC: It reminds me of the aphorism that the worst thing that could happen to an investor is to have early success.

M: Right, but that’s speculative markets in general. You know what you’re getting into, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But the problem is, these depositors did not know what they were getting into. These freed slaves thought their deposits were going into like a locked safety deposit box.

But what was happening was Henry Cooke just takes that money, puts it in Jay Cooke’s venture, and the whole thing goes bust. And the freed slaves lose half of their deposits. It just goes poof, gone.

MC: All this is prior to 1933 and FDIC reform.

M: Absolutely.

MC: You said they recovered half?

M: They recovered about 40 percent of their deposits. But as W.E.B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass say, this is a huge blow to the community because not only had they trusted the federal government, but these wages did not come easy to these people. Think about what it was like to make a living in the post-Reconstruction South. This was before the Great Migration largely. These are sharecroppers, people who are barely scraping by. They are working really hard to get these wages into this bank, and then it just goes away.

You have black intellectuals, black bankers, black businessmen for 100 years after the Freedman’s Bank talk about its failure, and the distrust and the bitterness it put in the community that reverberated through time. But this was celebrated as the one success of Reconstruction. And it is an utter failure. Not only does it take away all of this money, but it also creates a sense of distrust in institutions that is not conducive to growing capital. Taking it to today, looking at the unbanked or underbanked: 60 percent of blacks in the South don’t have a bank account.

MC: Still today?

M: It’s shocking that it’s a current number. I don’t know if you can draw a direct line to the Freedman’s Bank, but a lot of black Southerners and those across the nation will say in surveys, ‘I don’t trust banks. These institutions are not for us. We cannot depend on white institutions. We’re going to create our own.’ And you do see a blossoming of these [black-owned] institutions afterwards as well.

MC: Which gets into the theme that comes back over and over again throughout your book, this tension between integration versus separation. “We’re going to create our own banks,” has in theory its own strengths and reasons behind it.

On the other hand, as you point out throughout the book, the separation itself brings with it a series of problems, like not being sufficiently interconnected to or supported by the majority banking system. When push comes to shove when a crisis hits, who gets saved and who doesn’t get saved is one of the things you highlight.

But, also if you don’t have the diversity of the white middleclass depositors as well as the ability to lend to that mortgage market, you end up … having costlier deposits and less profitability. The separation creates a lot of problems….

There’s an anecdote you told towards the end of your book about OneUnited Bank, which is a black-owned bank, formed in 1968, and its PR problem with the Charles Street AME Church. I think it explains a lot of [this].

M: What happens is that the Charles Street AME Church is one of the oldest black churches in the country, it has a history of being central to the abolitionist movement, the Civil Rights movement, and it needs a loan to create a new rec center/community center. Boston’s best and only black-owned bank is the OneUnited Bank. It started as Unity Bank in 1968 as a Civil Rights-era way for the community to organize, to self-finance. Now it’s become OneUnited.

OneUnited gives the church a loan of, I think, $7 million, and then some more. It ends up becoming $10 or $12 million. And after the financial crisis [that started in 2007], both the bank and the church struggle. As I demonstrate in the book, because of higher levels of poverty, black communities are hit much harder during financial crises. This one was no exception. The black community lost 50 percent of its wealth. The black banking industry was decimated.

So, when OneUnited Bank needs funds, like a ton of banks, they were saved during the fiscal crisis with TARP funds. Then the church fails. But OneUnited has these TARP funds to pay back, and so OneUnited decides to foreclose on the Charles Street AME Church. They have this foreclosure auction, sort of on the church steps, and it becomes this huge fiasco PR-wise, because between a foreclosing bank and a black church the community is going to side with the church.

A ton of black pastors from around the country, and press, come in defense of the church to say ‘how dare you foreclose on this church. And ironically, you’re this black bank. Shouldn’t you understand the importance of this black institution? Plus the fact that you have gotten these TARP funds.’ One of the pastors talks about the parable of the ungrateful servant who gets his debts wiped out from the Lord, and then turns around and makes his debtor pay. And so they’re saying this bank is essentially the ungrateful servant here.

But OneUnited has to pay back its TARP funds. It’s having a huge struggle to be solvent. And the irony isn’t that they foreclosed. The irony is that they were the only bank that was basically willing to give this black church this loan. And that’s across the board the case, where these black banks are giving a lot more loans to black churches. They’re much more willing to modify the loan and work with the churches and save them in their times of trouble.

So you know, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t as a black bank. You have to lend to these institutions because there’s pressure from the community. But you also have to serve your bottom line because you’re a bank….

And black bankers really struggle to remain profitable because of the forces of segregation and concentrated poverty, and all of the things that these banks are essentially created to fight become the very seeds of the banks’ destruction. They become victims of that poverty that they’re trying to alleviate.

MC: We don’t generally think of banks as victims, but you make a strong case. OneUnited Bank is in a moment of incredible weakness having taken TARP funds in an incredibly politically charged moment. They’re doing what banks do, which is when the loan ultimately can’t be paid, and the bank can’t come to an agreement with the borrower, then they’re going to do what banks have to do. And then that black bank looks like the exploiter.

M: That’s right. This theme of exploitation, in my first book [How the Other Half Banks] I talk about payday loans, check cashers, and this kind of exploitation, where they’re concentrated in poor communities. Black banks also suffer this charge, that you’re exploiting because you’re charging more for these loans. You’re supposed to be helping but because of this high interest, and because you are profiting from these loans, you’re an exploiter. And it’s the same with payday lenders. There’s the other side, maybe the libertarian or right-wing view that this is the cost of lending. If you have high risks, you have to charge high interest… I agree with both sides. It is too much to pay. It’s unfair in our society that the poor pay more for these services. It’s unfair that black communities have to pay more for these services. But it’s also not exploitation. It can be the cost of lending because you have concentrated risk and concentrated poverty that creates these high-interest loans.

In the finance world, you talk about risk diversity and getting a broad pool of customers. Segregation leads to concentrated risk by race. So you have these communities that are pockets of poverty, which are also pockets of risk. And so these banks, these payday lenders, these other “exploitative” institutions are not actually exploitative. They’re just charging higher rates to meet this higher risk.

But I think the reason why that [risk] was created was because of racist government policy, and there needs to be a public response to match that. There are market forces at play, but market forces didn’t create the systems. What created the systems was anti-market, sort of government forces that pooled people by race…

MC: You did get into something [in your book] you essentially call a myth, at least in the hands of President Richard Nixon, which is black capitalism. You meditate on black capitalism as it was used in his administration…as a decoy to defang what was going on in terms of black power, and to make the whites comfortable that we’re “doing something.” We’re really doing very little.

M: This is the most interesting part of the book to me. If you’re going to pick one chapter, chapter 6 is the part where I did the most work. It’s stuff that I didn’t know. I think it’s not well known at all.

I think we need to write volumes more explaining what happens to America and to civil rights specifically, between 1965 and 1969 a lot happens [politically]. …What happens with the civil rights era is everyone—all the principals of the civil rights era, Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy—all of these people who want forward motion, understand that you can’t just get these laws on the books. You also have to change past injustices. You’ve created these ghettos. You’ve created concentrated poverty. You’ve got this huge wealth gap.

Those things have to be addressed proactively through affirmative action. That’s the origins of that term, affirmative policy to change a history of racist policy, racist state action. There is this movement going on along these fronts, but there’s also this white backlash, specifically in the South but also across the country.

What Nixon does is he uses law and order as this racial dog whistle. But he also uses black capitalism. This idea is that it’s taking the fangs out of Black Power but also the civil rights movement that King was starting, this poor peoples’ movement. This idea is that we’ve just gone the first step in civil rights. Now we’ve got to address economic injustices, and we’ve got to come up with these programs.

Richard Nixon’s response to all this is absolutely no economic aid, absolutely no integration, no reparations, all of these things that these groups are putting forward. His response is we’re going to do black capitalism. What black capitalism means is we’re going to put some deposits in black banks. We’re going to have these black businesses. And it’s all going to be voluntary. It’s going to cost [the government] nothing. It’s essentially a decoy.

It takes the rhetoric of the Black Power Movement which was saying we want black ownership. But what they meant is political ownership and capital and a real stake in capitalism. Nixon subverts it and says, ‘you’re going to own businesses, and you’re going to own this problem of poverty,’ and this pivot point is crucial, and I think understudied and under-discussed.

When Nixon starts black capitalism, it’s so politically successful, it’s so vague—how can you be opposed to black capitalism. Are you racist or are you opposed to capitalism? (This is during the tail end of the Cold War.)

So it seems very promising. This is the tactic that is used by every president after Nixon, but it doesn’t get called black capitalism anymore. Clinton famously change it to community capitalism or community economic development. Ghettos become enterprise zones.

And it’s ongoing. President Trump’s [recently] deemed October 22 the start of Minority Enterprise Business Week. This is straight from the Nixon playbook. If you listen to Trump’s speech, he talks about black business as being the lifeblood of these institutions. This is the least controversial thing that this president has done. Obama did it. Clinton did it. Reagan did it. And this is all from Nixon’s playbook.

I think this is something we’ve missed. What it did was it took the sting out of every other real meaningful demand for economic justice. Now we have this myth of color blindness and black capitalism, but it’s doing nothing.

This is where I want to pull the veil off of this rhetoric that we’ve all become so comfortable with.

Nixon talks about integration, busing, as too much state intervention. The South wants to maintain white supremacy, and they can’t say white supremacy anymore. They can’t say the N word, as Lee Atwater says. So they start saying tax cuts. And they start opposing these civil rights laws using this free-market ideology, using this rhetoric of capitalism. They’re saying we’re not going to do anything for civil rights, except deregulate and the market will take care of it…

This is where black capitalism is the ultimate lie. When black people say finally, ‘hey, we’ve got these civil rights laws, now can we participate in capitalism?’ Richard Nixon said, ‘you get nothing. Good luck with your free market.’ Meanwhile, whites have been getting these subsidized mortgages and all of these state benefits up until that era. And now it’s like, none for you, just capitalism of the hardcore variety. .. …What we’ve tried to do is pretend you can have separate economic institutions without separate political institutions. The myth of black capitalism is if you do not have political power you can get economic power and sort of work your way into political power just by separating institutions.

MC: I feel like your book definitively says that’s not what you’ve observed. That’s not what you’ve been able to document.

M: Right. This goes back to Booker T. Washington who says if the black community can gain enough wealth, then it will gain respect and political power from the white community.

He has all these very hopeful but naive predictions. He says white men whose mortgages are owned by a black man—a black bank owns your mortgage—that white man is going to respect you. If you’re a black man that has a house, the white people are going to respect you.

Actually historically, what happens when a black person gets a house that’s bigger than a white person’s is they [whites] will actually burn it down. This is Tulsa [site of a massive racially-motivated riot in 1921 that decimated the wealthiest black neighborhood in the United States]. When black institutions have been more powerful than white institutions, instead of respect what they’ve garnered from the white society was resentment and some violence and backlash.

  Tulsa's Greenwood district, the wealthiest black neighborhood in the nation, in flames during the 1921 riot. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

You have to get political power to protect your assets. The idea is, if whites control all the political levers, if all you have is economic power, the white majority is naturally going to use their political power to deprive you or not protect your assets. This is the history of black property ownership and it is not a pleasant history.

Obviously, that’s not the case today for the large part, but it has created a bifurcated property ownership regime in this country, where whites owned way more property than blacks and those things self-perpetuate without any violence needed today….

After hundreds of years of state discrimination against blacks that was explicit, that was legal, we’ve never had an era where we’ve reversed that. Now if you say let’s at least have some slight thumb on the scale toward blacks, that’s [perceived by some as] anti-capitalist, that’s anti-free market…

I think sometimes when people talk about reparations or black activism they talk about slavery. But you don’t need to go back to slavery to draw a line to modern black poverty. You can just go to the New Deal. You can go to Federal Housing Authority loans. You can go to the creation of the ghetto and the perpetuation of that. And that’s relatively recent, and its effects certainly are ongoing.

MC: I don’t have any kind of way of suggesting a remedy for these things except maybe we have to read more history. I’m really glad to have read your history. I learned a ton.

M: Thank you.”

AP: Kept out: How banks block people of color from homeownership

“PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in lending, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.

This modern-day redlining persisted in 61 metro areas even when controlling for applicants’ income, loan amount and neighborhood, according to millions of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act records analyzed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The yearlong analysis, based on 31 million records, relied on techniques used by leading academics, the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice to identify lending disparities.

It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio. African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities – Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida – and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.

No matter their location, loan applicants told similar stories, describing an uphill battle with loan officers who they said seemed to be fishing for a reason to say no.

“I had a fair amount of savings and still had so much trouble just left and right,” said Rachelle Faroul, a 33-year-old black woman who was rejected twice by lenders when she tried to buy a brick row house close to Malcolm X Park in Philadelphia, where African Americans were 2.7 times as likely as whites to be denied a conventional mortgage.

In the 1930s, surveyors with the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation drew lines on maps and colored some neighborhoods red, deeming them “hazardous” for bank lending because of the presence of African Americans or European immigrants, especially Jews.

Redlining has been outlawed for half a century. And for the last 40 years, banks have had a legal obligation under the Community Reinvestment Act to solicit clients – borrowers and depositors – from all segments of their communities.

But in many places, Reveal found the law hasn’t made much difference.

The analysis – independently reviewed and confirmed by The Associated Press – showed black applicants were turned away at significantly higher rates than whites in 48 cities, Latinos in 25, Asians in nine and Native Americans in three. In Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, Reveal found all four groups were significantly more likely to be denied a home loan than whites.

“It’s not acceptable from the standpoint of what we want as a nation: to make sure that everyone shares in economic prosperity,” said Thomas Curry, who served as America’s top bank regulator, the comptroller of the currency, from 2012 until he stepped down in May.

Yet Curry’s agency was part of the problem, deeming 99 percent of banks satisfactory or outstanding based on inspections administered under the Community Reinvestment Act. And the Justice Department sued just nine financial institutions for failing to lend to people of color under the Obama administration.

Curry argued that the law shares part of the blame; it needs to be updated and strengthened.

“The Community Reinvestment Act has aged a lot in 40 years,” he said.

Since Curry departed nine months ago, the Trump administration has gone the other way, weakening the standards banks must meet to pass a Community Reinvestment Act exam. During President Donald Trump’s first year in office, the Justice Department did not sue a single lender for racial discrimination.

The disproportionate denials and limited anti-discrimination enforcement help explain why the homeownership gap between whites and African Americans is now wider than it was during the Jim Crow era.

In the United States, “wealth and financial stability are inextricably linked to housing opportunity and homeownership,” said Lisa Rice, executive vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, an advocacy group. “For a typical family, the largest share of their wealth emanates from homeownership and home equity.”

The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show the median net worth for an African American family is now $9,000, compared with $132,000 for a white family. Latino families did not fare much better at $12,000.

Lenders and their trade organizations do not dispute the fact that they turn away people of color at rates far greater than whites. But they maintain that the disparity can be explained by two factors the industry has fought to keep hidden: the prospective borrowers’ credit history and overall debt-to-income ratio. They singled out the three-digit credit score – which banks use to determine whether a borrower is likely to repay a loan – as especially important in lending decisions.

“While quite informative regarding the state of the lending market,” the records analyzed by Reveal do “not include sufficient data to make a determination regarding fair lending,” the Mortgage Bankers Association’s chief economist, Mike Fratantoni, said in a statement.

The American Bankers Association said the lack of federal enforcement proves discrimination is not rampant, and individual lenders told Reveal that they had hired outside auditing firms, which found they treated loan applicants fairly regardless of race.

“We are committed to fair lending and continually review our compliance programs to ensure that all loan applicants are receiving fair treatment,” Boston-based Santander Bank said in a statement.

New Jersey-based TD Bank, which denied a higher proportion of black and Latino applicants than any other major lender, said it “makes credit decisions based on each Customer’s credit profile, not on factors such as race or ethnicity.”

Reveal’s analysis included all records publicly available under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, covering nearly every time an American tried to buy a home with a conventional mortgage in 2015 and 2016. It controlled for nine economic and social factors, including an applicant’s income, the amount of the loan, the ratio of the size of the loan to the applicant’s income and the type of lender, as well as the racial makeup and median income of the neighborhood where the person wanted to buy property.

Credit score was not included because that information is not publicly available. That’s because lenders have deflected attempts to force them to report that data to the government, arguing it would not be useful in identifying discrimination.

In an April policy paper, the American Bankers Association said reporting credit scores would be expensive and “cloud any focus” the disclosure law has in identifying discrimination. America’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co., has argued that the data should remain closed off even to academics, citing privacy concerns.

At the same time, studies have found proprietary credit score algorithms to have a discriminatory impact on borrowers of color.

The “decades-old credit scoring model” currently used “does not take into account consumer data on rent, utility, and cellphone bill payments,” Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina wrote in August, when he unveiled a bill to require the federal government to vet credit standards used for residential mortgages. “This exclusion disproportionately hurts African-Americans, Latinos, and young people who are otherwise creditworthy.”



Philadelphia was one of the largest cities in America where African Americans were disproportionately turned away when they tried to buy a home. African Americans and non-Hispanic whites make up a similar share of the population there, but the data showed whites received 10 times as many conventional mortgage loans in 2015 and 2016.

Banks also focused on serving the white parts of town, placing nearly three-quarters of all branches in white-majority neighborhoods, compared with 10 percent for black neighborhoods. Reveal’s analysis also showed that the greater the number of African Americans or Latinos in a neighborhood there, the more likely a loan application there would be denied – even after accounting for income and other factors.

When Faroul applied for a loan in April 2016, she thought she was an ideal candidate. She holds a degree from Northwestern University, had a good credit score and estimates she was making $60,000 a year while teaching computer programming as a contractor for Rutgers University. Still, her initial loan application was denied by Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors, an independent broker that made nearly 90 percent of its loans to whites in 2015 and 2016.

“I’m sorry,” broker Angela Tobin wrote to Faroul in an email. Faroul’s contract income wasn’t consistent enough, she said. So Faroul got a full-time job at the University of Pennsylvania managing a million-dollar grant.

But that still wasn’t enough. When she tried again a year later, this time at Santander Bank, a Spanish firm with U.S. headquarters in Boston, the process dragged on for months. Eventually, an unpaid $284 electric bill appeared on Faroul’s credit report. She paid the bill right away, but it still tanked her credit score, and the bank said it couldn’t move forward.

Things suddenly took a turn for the better after Faroul’s partner, Hanako Franz, agreed to sign onto her loan application. At the time, Franz – who is half white, half Japanese – was working part time for a grocery store. Her most recent pay stub showed a biweekly income of $144.65. Faroul was paying for her health insurance.

The loan officer had “completely stopped answering Rachelle’s phone calls, just ignored all of them,” Franz said. “And then I called, and he answered almost immediately. And is so friendly.”

A few weeks later, the couple got the loan from Santander and bought a three-bedroom fixer-upper. But Faroul remains bitter.

“It was humiliating,” she said. “I was made to feel like nothing that I was contributing was of value, like I didn’t matter.”

‘It’s like a glass ceiling’

Contacted by Reveal, the lenders defended their records. Tobin, who turned down Faroul on her first application, said race played no role in the rejection.

“That’s not what happened,” she said and abruptly hung up. A statement followed from Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors’ chief operating officer, Jill Quinn.

“We treat every applicant equally,” the statement said, “and promote homeownership throughout our entire lending area.”

Faroul’s loan officer at Santander, Dennis McNichol, referred Reveal to the company’s public affairs wing, which issued a statement: “While we are sympathetic with her situation, we are confident that the loan application was managed fairly.”

But civil rights groups said Faroul’s experience reflects a pattern of discrimination by banks that keeps people of color from building wealth.

“It’s like a glass ceiling,” said Angela McIver, CEO of the Fair Housing Rights Center in Southeastern Pennsylvania. “OK, we’ll allow you to go this far, but . you’re not going to go any further.”

CNN: Wells Fargo accused of preying on black and Latino homebuyers in California

Wells Fargo discriminated against black and Latino homebuyers in Sacramento, California, by pushing them into more expensive mortgages than white borrowers, according to a federal lawsuit that cites former employees.

“The city of Sacramento accused Wells Fargo (WFC) of a “long-standing pattern and practice” of illegal lending in minority and low-income communities that reduced home values, limited property tax revenue and drove up foreclosures. “Wells Fargo’s discriminatory lending practices place vulnerable, underserved borrowers in loans they cannot afford,” said the lawsuit, which was filed Friday.

The city said that four anonymous former mortgage employees at Wells Fargo confirm that the bank “intentionally steered minority borrowers into higher cost loans because of their race or ethnicity.” Black Wells Fargo borrowers in Sacramento with credit scores above 660 are 2.8 times more likely to receive a high-cost or high-risk loan than comparable white borrowers, the lawsuit said. Latino borrowers were 1.8 times more likely, the suit said.

 The lawsuit comes just weeks after the Federal Reserve rocked Wells Fargo with an unprecedented punishment for “widespread consumer abuses,” including the infamous fake account scandal. The tough sanctions prevent Wells Fargo from growing until the Fed believes the bank has cleaned up its act.

Sacramento is not the first city to point the finger at Wells Fargo.

Last year, Philadelphia filed a similar lawsuit, citing former employees who alleged the bank encouraged workers to push the use of higher-cost loans to minorities. Baltimore and Miami have also accused Wells Fargo of discriminatory mortgage lending.

Sacramento argued that Wells Fargo has a long history of steering minority borrowers into mortgages that had higher costs and were riskier than more favorable loans provided to similarly situated white borrowers.

The lawsuit cited confidential witnesses who previously made or underwrote mortgages in Sacramento for Wells Fargo. The former Wells Fargo employees said they were instructed to offer “lender credits” to borrowers in minority neighborhoods. These credits increase the cost of a loan in exchange for the bank paying closing costs, making the overall cost of the mortgage more expensive.

One of the former Wells Fargo workers said in the lawsuit that he was not required to explain to borrowers that their higher interest rate would last beyond the point that the closing costs were repaid.

Wells Fargo loan officers were likely to charge a higher rate to borrowers with Mexican names, another former bank employee said in the lawsuit. The lawsuit also claimed that Wells Fargo took advantage of the language barrier with Spanish-speaking borrowers. It quoted a former employee who said that while Wells Fargo advertised for mortgages in Spanish, it did not produce translated paperwork to sign — even when the transaction was handled in Spanish.

“Wells Fargo deliberately created an incentive program that induced minority borrowers to take higher cost loans under terms that they did not understand,” the lawsuit said. The city also accused Wells Fargo of “refusing to extend credit to minority borrowers” who wanted to refinance their more expensive mortgages. Sacramento argued that Wells Fargo’s misconduct “directly caused an excessive and disproportionately high number of foreclosures.””

In These Times: Wells Fargo Shows Exactly How Structural Racism Works

“At a Senate Banking Committee hearing this week, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf argued that the company’s troubles didn’t reflect a culture of corruption but were caused by some 5,000 rogue “team members.” Stumpf was trying to explain why his company’s employees had created more than 2 million fake accounts for customers. He told a mostly unsympathetic audience, which included Sen. Elizabeth Warren, that “wrongful sales practice behavior goes entirely against our values, ethics and culture.” Warren accused him of “gutless leadership” and urged him to resign.

Wells Fargo is a curious case. Often overshadowed by banks like Chase and Citigroup, it was, until it took a hit from the recent uproar, the biggest bank in the world by market capitalization. It was also once “viewed as one of the good guys,” as Bloomberg put it, because its “conservative lending policies had helped it weather the worst of the housing bust” in 2008. On the “Vision and Values” page of its website, Stumpf claims that “everything we do is built on trust. It doesn’t happen with one transaction, in one day on the job or in one quarter. It’s earned relationship by relationship.”

Despite its good-guy reputation in some quarters and its professed commitment to building trust, however, Wells Fargo was a central player in the lending practices that contributed to the housing crisis of the late 2000s. And it is still dealing with the fallout from lawsuits dating back to that era—notably, a case to be heard by the Supreme Court in its coming term. The case involves a suit brought by Miami for the financial burden imposed on it by the lending practices of Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The Court’s ruling in that case could determine whether similar suits in other cities, including Chicago, can move forward. Either way, the company’s recent history offers a clear glimpse into the gears of structural racism in the United States and the broader culture of corruption within the banking industry.

Wells Fargo has always denied that it engages in racial discrimination. But in 2012, staring down the barrel of a lawsuit by the state of Illinois and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, it agreed to a settlement in which it paid more than $175 million. According to a Department of Justice statement, “Wells Fargo was aware the fees and interest rates it was charging discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers, but the actions it took were insufficient and ineffective in stopping it.”

In Cook County, Illinois, between 2004 and 2007, Wells Fargo originated more than 61,000 mortgage loans, more than 25,000 of which were made to minorities, or some 41 percent. Of the 61,000 total loans, at least 10,000 were high-cost loans, of which more than 6,500—or 65 percent—were made to minorities. (Cook County includes Chicago.) Wells Fargo’s record was even worse at the national level, according to a judge in a case involving the company, who noted that it gave three times more subprime loans to African-Americans than “similarly situated white borrowers” from 2004 to 2008.

What’s at stake in the Supreme Court case is whether cities like Chicago have legal standing to sue banks for the damages incurred by predatory lending. The focus, in other words, is on the havoc created by what The Chicago Reporter called a “vacancy epidemic.” Cities are interested in recouping lost revenue from property taxes and the costs they incur in dealing with vacant properties.

But there are costs that will never be quantified or recovered in court. As the attorney general of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, said in 2012, “there’s an entire generation of wealth in minority communities that’s been taken away.” The impact of foreclosed homes isn’t limited to the former homeowners. The effects multiply and spread out, depressing property values in entire communities, which make them less attractive to homebuyers, which hurts the quality of schools and other public institutions, which depresses home values further and destroys local economies—in a reinforcing cycle of dysfunction.

This week, in response to Wells Fargo’s latest scandal, Hillary Clinton published a statement saying “there is simply no place for this kind of outrageous behavior in America,” and that she has a plan to address it. The three-point plan includes protecting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from Republican attacks, imposing “real consequences” for Wall Street firms that break the law and creating new safeguards to “address the risks that the big banks continue to pose to our system. And if any bank can’t be managed effectively, it should be broken up.”

The last point was, of course, a major source of tension between Bernie Sanders and Clinton during the Democratic primary campaign, in which Clinton shied away from talk of breaking up big banks and imposing fundamental reforms. Her latest statement gestures toward a more aggressive stance. But it seems curious that it was provoked by a scandal involving fake accounts. Egregious as that behavior is, it pales next to the devastation wrought by several decades of structural racism in the housing market. If Clinton isn’t yet convinced by the evidence that the culprits in that crisis “can’t be managed effectively,” it seems doubtful she ever will be. ”

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History of Segregation

“”racial segregation” is the separation of access to facilities, services, and opportunities such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation along racial lines.” Wikipedia

  • Slave Segregation
    • Slave Codes
      • gave slave owners permission to segregate their slaves however they want
      • outlawed black people from employing white people
      • White women who married a slave must become a slave to her husband’s master
    • “I will say then, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office, of having them to marry with white people. I will say in addition, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I suppose, will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality, and inasmuch, as they cannot so live, that while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, that I as much as any other man am in favor of the superior position being assigned to the white man.” Abraham Lincoln (1858)
  • Black Codes (enacted 1865 and 1866)
    • indirect segregation
      • excluded from certain businesses or from the skilled trades
      • limited the type of property African Americans could own
      • forbidden to carry firearms
      • forbidden to testify in court, except in cases concerning other blacks.
      • interracial marriage was prohibited
      • vagrancies laws
  • Jim Crow Period (1870s- 1965)
    • Officially legalized segregation across all aspects of life
      • segregated where to walk, talk, drink, rest, travel, eat, who could marry, and most public facilities and services
    • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation and introduced the “separate but equal” doctrine
      • Under the doctrine, as long as the facilities provided to each race were equal, state and local governments could require that services, facilities, public accommodations, housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation be segregated by race
      • Justice John Marshall Harlan, the only judge to diseent wrote in his dissent, protested that the decision was an expression of white supremacy; he predicted that segregation would “stimulate aggressions … The destinies of the two races in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what will more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that coloured citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens?
    • In 1912 President Woodrow Wilson ordered segregation throughout the federal government.
    • In World War I, blacks served in the United States Armed Forces in segregated units.
    • The U.S. military was still heavily segregated in World War II
      • Black soldiers had to sometimes give up their seats in trains to the Nazi prisoners of war.
    • American sports were racially segregated until the mid-twentieth century
    • Many U.S. states banned interracial marriage
      • In 1967, Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other.[64] Their marriage violated the state’s anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as white and people classified as “colored” (persons of non-white ancestry).[65]
      • In the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967, the Supreme Court invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage in the U.S
    • Explicit Housing Discrimination
      • Racially Biased Zoning Ordinances
      • Sundown Towns
      • Racial Covenants
      • The Public Works Administration (PWA) urban renewal projects
        • demolished integrated communities to create segregated ones
      • Public Housing discrimination
      • Federal Housing Administration (FHA) program
        • guaranteed loans to builders of suburban subdivisions, on the explicit condition that black families be excluded and that house deeds prohibit resale to them
      • Intimidation/white terrorism
      • Predatory Selling and Renting
      • Redlining and Banking discrimination
        • 1934-1968 – 98% of home loans were only given to white people
      • Urban renewal projects
    • White Supremacy protecting segregation
      • “White Americans concentrated in the South and influential throughout the country conducted a widespread, organized, and determined campaign to defend their “way of life” against the “burden of integration.” Racist politicians enjoyed support from the majority of white voters; the Ku Klux Klan claimed many of the South’s most prominent and powerful citizens as members; and white perpetrators of vicious attacks on black people were regularly acquitted by all-white juries…White Americans committed to the myth of black inferiority used the law and violent terrorism to establish an apartheid society that relegated black Americans to second-class citizenship and economic exploitation. ” EJI
      • “In 1940, 77 percent of black Americans still lived in the South, where they made up 24 percent of the population but only 3.5 percent of registered voters. The white-controlled Democratic Party made white supremacy a central platform, excluded black members as a matter of policy,  and dominated state politics throughout the region.” EJI
      • “Racial violence was not restricted to the South. Millions of black Americans fled to the North and West, where they were seen as threats to white jobs and culture…Unchecked racialized violence and disenfranchisement of black voters kept America’s racial hierarchy intact. Public education was legally segregated throughout the South, and residential segregation in the North and West was widespread. Leisure and recreation spaces across the country were segregated by race, and many states banned interracial marriage.” EJI
      • “Truman’s support for federal legislation to end lynching, poll taxes, and segregation in interstate travel was the last straw for many Southern politicians, who formed the States’ Rights Party in 1948. The so-called Dixiecrats planned to leverage the Southern states’ electoral votes to defend racial segregation and maintain white supremacy.  They nominated first-term South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond for president and Mississippi Governor Fielding Wright as his running mate. At the convention, Thurmond declared, “There is not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” The Dixiecrats carried Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina in 1948, and won 2.4 percent of the popular vote — more than 1.1 million votes nationwide.Truman won in a landslide, and the States’ Rights Party faded, but the defectors stayed in power. James Eastland, Mississippi’s senior senator by 1948, was a major coordinator of the Dixiecrat campaign but returned to the Senate as a Democrat and became chair of the civil rights subcommittee.

        The Dixiecrat revolt began the South’s gradual shift from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party and cemented a white supremacist identity, a states’ rights narrative, and a model of uncompromising segregationist leadership.” EJI

      • “For more than a century before its groundbreaking decision to desegregate public schools in 1954, the Supreme Court protected slavery, undermined equal rights, immunized lynch mobs from punishment, and embraced Jim Crow.

        • Infamously, the Court’s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford established that no black person, free or enslaved, could be a citizen of the United States. The Court reasoned that black people “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations,” and therefore, it is “absolutely certain that the African race were not included under the name of citizens of a State” and not entitled to the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship.
        • In 1875, in United States v. Reese, the Court held that the Fifteenth Amendment did not grant African Americans a federal right to vote, struck down the statute Congress passed to protect African Americans’ voting rights, and overturned the convictions of two election officials who had refused to count a black man’s vote.
        • While the Court struck down a law that excluded black men from jury service solely based on race in 1879, it permitted states to create property and educational requirements for jury service and gave local officials nearly unfettered discretion to use those requirements to exclude African Americans
        • The Court made it so difficult to prove racial discrimination in jury selection that between 1904 and 1935, not a single conviction of a black defendant was reversed because of racial discrimination in jury selection, even though African Americans were universally excluded from Southern juries.  Meanwhile, all-white juries reliably acquitted white perpetrators of lynchings and other racial violence.
        • In 1898, in Williams v. Mississippi, the Supreme Court upheld Mississippi’s poll tax and other voting qualifications, even though the Court acknowledged they were adopted explicitly to disenfranchise African Americans, because the provisions on their face were “not limited by their language or effect to one race.”
          And even though registrars used the qualifications to deny registration to all black voters, the Court found “it has not been shown that their actual administration was evil; only that evil was possible under them.”

        • Alabama voting laws were more explicitly discriminatory, but in Giles v. Harris, the Court found no constitutional problem with Alabama’s scheme, even when shown that black men who met all qualifications were still refused registration. The Court concluded there was nothing it could do if Alabama was truly determined to prevent African Americans from voting, and so it denied all relief.

        • While the Court struck down an undeniably unconstitutional grandfather clause in Guinn v. United States in 1915, it upheld the use of literacy tests and poll taxes — tactics used to effectively deny voting rights to generations of African Americans for another 50 years.

        • The Court struck down anti-segregation laws and upheld state laws that required segregation. In 1877, the Court in Hall v. DeCuir struck down a Louisiana law that prohibited segregation on all public conveyances within the state,  holding that it unconstitutionally regulated interstate commerce.  But a few years later the Court allowed a Mississippi segregation law to mandate racial separation on interstate railroad cars.

        • Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court’s most well-known decision upholding segregation, considered a Louisiana law requiring racial segregation of railroad passengers and found no constitutional violation where facilities were “separate but equal.” Writing in 1896, the Court found that Louisiana’s law could not “abolish distinctions based upon color, or [] enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.”  The Court rejected Mr. Plessy’s argument that forced racial separation branded black people as inferior, and countered, “If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

        • Even when enforcing its own “separate but equal” doctrine, the Court showed little commitment to the “equal” requirement. In Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education, 55 years before Brown, the Court upheld the school board’s decision to close the black high school but keep open the white high school because, it concluded, “it is impracticable to distribute taxes equally.”  The Court absolved itself of responsibility for ensuring equality in education, writing that “the education of the people in schools maintained by state taxation is a matter belonging to the respective states.”

        • The Court’s embrace of Jim Crow extended even to voluntary associations between white and black people. In Berea College v. Kentucky, in 1908, the Court upheld a Kentucky law that prohibited private colleges from teaching black and white students together, reasoning that the college, although private, was nonetheless dependent on a state charter, and so was subject to virtually any conditions that Kentucky chose to impose.

        • In 1875, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which barred racial discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, conveyances, and places of amusement. In the Civil Rights Cases, the Court struck down the law, holding that Congress had no authority to prohibit discrimination by private parties.

        • The Court rejected the argument that the law was meant to eradicate the effects of slavery, writing that formerly enslaved people had already been given enough time and assistance and could not expect to forever be “the special favorite of the laws.

  • Outlawing Segregation
    • “During World War II, American leaders resented the way that German and Japanese propagandists “made the most of the anti-Negro discrimination in this country.” And after the war, “[t]he Cold War focus on the ideals of democracy and freedom assured that racial exceptions to the American practice of those principals would receive careful attention,” one historian observed. “Acts of racial violence in obscure rural parts of Dixie changed almost overnight from events of mostly local interest to headlines splashed across newspapers around the world.” Federal officials and Northern elites who had been indifferent to generations of racial violence and discrimination became more responsive when the issue threatened national political interests and not just black lives.  In 1942, in response to black leaders’ threat to stage a march on Washington, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination in the national defense industry. Six years later, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which abolished racial discrimination in the military and ended segregation in the armed forces. In 1944, a NAACP lawsuit challenging the Democratic Party’s all-white primaries led to a decision striking down the practice in Texas that ultimately ended segregated primaries in all Southern states. In 1946, the Supreme Court declared state segregation laws unconstitutional as applied to interstate bus travel. At the same time, grassroots activism against segregation was on the rise. Between 1940 and 1946, NAACP membership grew from less than 50,000 to nearly a half million, and a third of these were based in the South. 37 A black veteran named Medgar Evers helped the organization sprout branches throughout Mississippi in the 1940s and to charter a statewide conference in 1945. 38 In 1942, 2000 people attended a mass meeting in Harlem, New York, at which speakers called on President Roosevelt to condemn lynching.” EJI
    • After 50 years of “separate but equal” doctrine sanctioned by Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), federally legalized racial segregation and discrimination was slowly outlawed during the civil rights movement during the following court cases and legislation:
      • In 1947, the federal case Mendez v. Westminster School District of Orange County held that the segregation of Mexican American students in California was unconstitutional
      • In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was the first major US Supreme Court case to rule that segregation was unconstitutional.
      • Brown v. Board of Education II (1955) – Also known as Brown II, in this case, the Supreme Court required that desegregation occur with “all deliberate speed.” However, because enforcement of the ruling was vague, the “all deliberate speed” provision of Brown II did not occur until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 placed sanctions on districts that were not in compliance
        • “The decision approved gradualism, imposed no deadlines for beginning or completing integration, issued vague guidelines, and granted Southern district judges broad discretionary oversight. Hailed as a “very definite victory for the South,” 139 the ruling pleased many pro-segregation legal and political strategists and emboldened states to undermine courts’ desegregation orders.” EJI
      • Civil Rights Act in 1964 outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
      • Voting Rights Act in 1965 outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War
      • The Fair Housing Act of 1968, administered and enforced by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, prohibited discrimination in the sale and rental of housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.
      • By 1968 all forms of federal racial segregation and discrimination had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and by 1970 support for formal legal segregation had dissolved.  Racial discrimination became illegal in school systems, housing, businesses, voting, the American military, other civil services and the government.
      • “From 1968 to 1973—and earlier in certain Circuit Courts— the Supreme Court continued to rule in ways that were supportive of desegregation efforts.
  • Desegregation vs integration

    • “School desegregation history in the United States is characterized by several decades of progress, peaking in the 1980s, and a subsequent retreat; this pattern is evident in both the judicial support of desegregation and the trends measuring progress in desegregation. Segregated schools are consistently linked to unequal educational opportunities and outcomes, while desegregated and diverse schools are associated with numerous benefits for students of all races. The causes of school segregation (and the re-segregation of previously desegregated schools) are complicated; they include residential segregation, legal constraints, termination of court orders, student assignment policies that deprioritize diversity, structural features of school and district boundaries, and unregulated forms of school choice. Given this complexity, it is not surprising that the policies for addressing segregation are similarly complex and must be carefully tailored to the local context and demography. Since the 1950s, school districts across the nation have implemented desegregation efforts in various ways, both voluntary and mandatory, with varying levels of success. However, creating and maintaining desegregation is not sufficient for truly achieving integration, which can occur through a comprehensive and deliberate structuring of classrooms and learning environments. “Desegregation” refers to a legal or political process of ending the separation and isolation of different racial and ethnic groups. Desegregation is achieved through court order or voluntary means. “Integration” refers to a social process in which members of different racial and ethnic groups experience fair and equal treatment within a desegregated environment. Integration requires further action beyond desegregation…during the mid-1970s, a shift occurred that began to limit the extent to which desegregation could and would occur. Milliken v. Bradley limited interdistrict remedies for addressing segregation, Board of Education of Oklahoma v. Dowell held that once a district was declared “unitary” it no longer had to maintain desegregation, and Freeman v. Pitts allowed school districts to be released from court order even if full desegregation had not been achieved. Most recently, in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, the Supreme Court ruled that school districts could not consider the race of an individual student when assigning students to schools. Together, the legal cases of the last four decades have constrained the ways in which school districts can attempt to achieve desegregation.” Oxford Bibliographies
    • “Segregation (by now generally recognized as an evil thing) is the arbitrary separation of people on the basis of their race, or some other inappropriate characteristic. Desegregation is simply the ending of that practice. Integration, of the sort ordered by Waldrip, is the reverse of segregation: the conscious mixing of people on the basis of race…The legitimate goal is an end to discrimination, not some arbitrary admixture of salt and pepper” William Raspberry
    • “In recent years many historians have come to distinguish between these like-sounding words.. The movement toward desegregation, breaking down the nation’s Jim Crow system, became increasingly popular in the decade after World War II. Integration, on the other hand, Professor Oscar Handlin maintains, implies several things not yet necessarily accepted in all areas of American society. In one sense it refers to the “levelling of all barriers to association other than those based on ability, taste, and personal preference”;[1] in other words, providing equal opportunity. But in another sense integration calls for the random distribution of a minority throughout society. Here, according to Handlin, the emphasis is on racial balance in areas of occupation, education, residency, and the like.”  Morris J. MacGregor, Jr. in his paper “Integration of the Armed Forces 1940-1969”
    • “The term ‘desegregation’ is normally reserved to the legal/legislative domain, and it was the legalization of discrimination in public institutions based on race that many fought against in the 1960s. The term ‘integration,’ on the other hand, pertains to a social domain; it does and should refer to individuals of different background who opt to interact.” Henry Organ
    • “In 1968, the Fair Housing Act permitted African Americans to access previously white neighborhoods. But it prohibited only future discrimination, without undoing the previous 35 years of government-imposed segregation.”
  • Re-segregation
    • De facto segregation
      • Has been increasing since the civil rights movement
      • School desegregation history in the United States is characterized by several decades of progress, peaking in the 1970-80s, then rapidly resegregating to segregation levels equalivant to pre-1968 levels.  This was the result of judicial support of desegregation and the trends measuring progress in desegregation
        • Decline of judicial support
          • Milliken v. Bradley (1974) the Supreme Court ruled that de facto racial segregation was acceptable, as long as schools were not actively making policies for racial exclusion
          • Board of Education of Oklahoma v. Dowell (1991) held that once a district was declared “unitary” it no longer had to maintain desegregation
          • Freeman v. Pitts (1992) allowed school districts to be released from court order desegregation even if full desegregation had not been achieved.
          • Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007) the Supreme Court ruled that school districts could not consider the race of an individual student when assigning students to schools.
          • Together, the legal cases of the last four decades have constrained the ways in which school districts can attempt to achieve desegregation.”
        • White re-segregation social trends
          • White Resentment/Resistance
          • In response, segregationist forces comprised of activist politicians, cultural commentators, and grassroots community groups used the same infrastructure and identity developed in the fight against school desegregation to oppose the broader civil rights progress that followed.The full compilation of civil rights heroes and martyrs — including many names we know and remember — is too long to include here, but another group of actors has remained largely anonymous and unacknowledged. That roster includes white elected officials who proudly targeted civil rights activists with violence and intimidation; white community leaders, clergy, and educators who chose to remain silent while their friends, relatives, and neighbors harassed, beat, bombed, and murdered black people; white law enforcement officials who protected white supremacy; and Southern lawmakers who weakly condemned the most infamous attacks while obstructing federal civil rights legislation and fanning the flames of segregationist outrage.
          • “Opposition to civil rights and racial equality cannot be dismissed as the extremism of a few marginalized vigilantes. Like the lynchings prevalent in generations past, school closures, economic reprisals, arrests and harassment, mob violence, bombings, and murder were bold, public acts that implicated the entire community.

            Hundreds, if not thousands, of white jurors refused to hold white people accountable for crimes committed against black activists. Thousands of law enforcement officials and officers failed to protect black citizens from harassment, attacks, shootings, and bombings, and many police violently abused and even killed black activists. Public officials who spouted racist rhetoric from their campaign podiums, shut down public schools and parks to prevent integration, and encouraged violence against civil rights activists represented white citizens who applauded their speeches, endorsed their actions, and repeatedly re-elected them to local, state, and national office.

            People like James Eastland, Strom Thurmond, and George Wallace portrayed white Southerners as patriots rather than racists; as brave protectors of their culture rather than perpetrators of violent attacks against men, women, and children; and as defenders of state sovereignty against an overreaching federal government intent on destroying their way of life rather than violators of constitutional rights. “We are about to embark on a great crusade,” Eastland told a gathering of pro-segregation activists in 1955. “A crusade to restore Americanism and return the control of our government to the people.”348

            Opponents of racial equality embraced this identity, which empowered them to cast their immoral behavior as moral and to feel pride rather than shame as they used economic intimidation, criminalization, bombings, beatings, and even murder to defend white supremacy. This identity became the civil rights era’s most enduring legacy.” EJI


  • “Over the last 50 years, our political, social, and cultural institutions accommodated and embraced elected officials, journalists, and white leaders who espoused virulently racist ideologies. White segregationists were not banished or shamed; they were respected and elected to some of the highest levels of national authority long after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The accommodation of people who proudly proclaimed racist ideology and white supremacy implicates these institutions and undermines the notion that racial equality has been achieved.” EJI
  • Southern Strategy – created the modern day Republican party as the “white man’s” party which seeks votes from white resentment against civil rights, especially desegregation from the South and suburbs in all directions.
  • Before Brown II was decided, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi adopted constitutional amendments authorizing their legislatures to end public education if the Court ordered immediate desegregation. Other strategists developed policies disguised as desegregation plans that instead stopped desegregation in its tracks. In March 1955, North Carolina became the first state to pass a pupil placement law.  Marian Wright Edelman, then a young black civil rights lawyer named Marian A. Wright, called the policy “legalistic horseplay to keep Negro children out of white schools.” By authorizing local school districts to assign students to schools based on a long list of subjective, “race-neutral” criteria, the law maintained nearly all-white schools without explicit legal segregation. 136 In the words of historian Earl Black, the “North Carolina Way” ended “school desegregation at a seemly pace, one approximating the crawl of an arthritic turtle.”
  • “Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that allowed the state to use its police powers to keep schools segregated.  In Virginia, Prince Edward County officials stopped funding public education,  and North Carolina devised a plan that permitted local communities to close public schools by popular vote if they were threatened with imminent desegregation.

    North Carolina’s pupil placement law survived legal challenge in 1957, and by 1958, every other Southern state had passed their own.  Alabama legislators explicitly declared that the state’s placement plan was intended to block integration, but in 1958, a unanimous Supreme Court nonetheless upheld the law.  Alabama officials were “jubilant,” and Senator Russell Long of Louisiana said the decision was “the most encouraging thing for the South in some time,” as it “shows a willingness of the court to settle for token integration.”

    Indeed, though Brown ruled that segregated schools harmed black students and violated their rights as Americans, Brown II prioritized the rights and preferences of white parents by enabling delay. State legislatures passed bills to thwart desegregation through “freedom-of-choice plans, which allowed parents to choose among several schools; transfer options, which permitted parents to move their children out of integrated schools; and grade-a-year plans, which started desegregation in the first or twelfth grade and then expanded it to one additional grade every year.”  EJI

  • “Virtually no desegregation occurred in any states of the former Confederacy until 1957, leading one black congressman to concede that the South had won “the first round in the battle for compliance” with Brown. One exception was Clinton, Tennessee, where the integration of a small-town high school in 1956 led to prolonged violence by enraged white mobs organized by White Citizens’ Councils” EJI
  • “Nine black students attempting to enroll at all-white Little Rock Central High School that September were confronted by angry white crowds of students and adults and blocked by Arkansas National Guard troops commanded by Governor Orval Faubus. When President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to escort the Little Rock Nine into school, hundreds of white people attacked black residents and reporters, causing nationally publicized “chaos, bedlam, and turmoil” that led a federal court to halt desegregation. The Supreme Court overturned that decision and ordered immediate integration, but in a move voters later approved in a referendum, Faubus closed all public high schools in Little Rock for the 1958-1959 school year.” EJI
  • “By 1960, only 98 of Arkansas’s 104,000 black students attended desegregated schools; as did 34 of 302,000 in North Carolina; 169 of 146,000 in Tennessee; and 103 of 203,000 in Virginia. In the five Deep South states, every single one of 1.4 million black schoolchildren attended segregated schools until the fall of 1960. By the start of the 1964-65 school year, less than 3 percent of the South’s African American children attended school with white students, and in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina that number remained substantially below 1 percent” EJI
  • “After Brown II, many states authorized the closing of public schools to avoid integration. In 1956, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that required the closure of any public school where white and black children were enrolled together and cut off state funds to integrated schools.  The governor promptly closed nine schools in Warren County, Charlottesville, and Norfolk to prevent integration.States also redirected public funds to maintain segregated education. After Virginia’s highest court invalidated the 1956 laws closing and defunding integrated public schools, lawmakers enacted a new “freedom of choice” program that created tuition grants for white students to attend new private schools…Federal courts struck down state efforts to selectively close public schools to avoid integration, 174 but those rulings failed to stop white residents from fleeing public schools. In 1963, after a federal court ordered immediate integration in Macon County, Alabama, Governor George Wallace temporarily closed Tuskegee High School to prevent 13 black students from enrolling. When the school reopened, all 275 white students withdrew, and most used state-funded scholarships to enroll at Macon Academy — a newly formed, all-white private school.” EJI
  • “In 1963, the University of Alabama was ordered to admit three black students. George Wallace had just taken office as governor after promising to resist integration: “I shall refuse to abide by any such illegal federal court order even to the point of standing in the schoolhouse door, if necessary.” He famously reaffirmed this promise in his inaugural address, declaring from “where once Jefferson Davis stood”:In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation now . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.The federal court enjoined Governor Wallace from interfering in the black students’ enrollment, but when they arrived to register on June 11, 1963, he stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium to block their entrance and declared, “I stand here today, as Governor of this sovereign State, and refuse to willingly submit to illegal usurpation of power by the Central Government.”  Only after President John F. Kennedy federalized the national guard did Wallace step aside and allow the students to register. The national guard remained for several days to prevent violence.” EJI
  • “Southern lawmakers’ strict control over voter registration secured their seats and allowed them to gain seniority that translated to great power in Congress… The South’s outsized political power in Congress depended on preventing black people from voting Because Southern districts included large numbers of black residents, the disenfranchisement of Southern black people translated into the super-enfranchisement of Southern white people: in a 50 percent black Southern district where no black people voted, each white vote carried twice the influence of a Northern vote cast in a fully enfranchised district. In this way, the disenfranchisement of Southern black people empowered Southern white voters at the expense of almost everyone else.” EJI

  • “The Voting Rights Act “literally changed the face of southern politics” by bringing widespread enfranchisement to black communities for the first time since Reconstruction. 542 Just three years after the law passed, black voter registration in the South had increased by 1.3 million people. The greatest changes were in the states most targeted by the new law. In Mississippi, 60 percent of eligible black voters were registered in 1968, up from just 7 percent in 1965…To stay in power as the South gained more than a million black voters, segregationists needed to suppress the black vote, so they began calling themselves “conservatives” and added more sophisticated tools to their repressive repertoire.One tool was the voter fraud allegation, wielded in 1985 by then-United States Attorney Jeff Sessions against black voting rights activists in Alabama. Sessions targeted only black defendants, including civil rights icon Albert Turner, a former aid to Martin Luther King Jr. who was beaten in Selma on Bloody Sunday.


  • “White parents nationwide acted to deny black children equal education by voting to close and defund public schools, transferring their children to private, white-only schools, and harassing and violently attacking black students while their own children watched or participated. ” EJI
  • Michael Hobbes: How White Parents Stopped School Integration


  • “Dozens of people died in anti-civil rights violence between 1954 and 1968,223 and countless more were injured and traumatized while fighting for equal rights. A study of violent civil rights-related incidents in the South documented more than 100 attacks between January 1, 1955, and May 1, 1958.224 “Although [demonstrators] won several victories,” one scholar observed, “the U.S., particularly the South, became a war zone.”” EJI
  • “White Americans implemented a strategy of “massive resistance” to desegregation by deploying a range of tactics and weapons against the growing movement for civil rights. Some of these tools, such as bombing and murdering civil rights activists, continued the tradition of maintaining white supremacy through lethal violence. Other methods, such as criminalizing, arresting, and imprisoning peaceful protestors, foreshadowed the modern mass incarceration era. Opposition to civil rights and racial equality was a mass movement. Most white Americans, especially in the South, supported segregation” EJI
  • “White Citizens’ Councils spread rapidly throughout the South. Within two years, more than 250,000 determined members 116 were working together to delay school desegregation through political action, economic intimidation, and even violence. In South Carolina, the councils had 55 chapters totaling 40,000 members by July 1956. 117 Within two weeks after 17 black parents signed a pro-integration petition in the community of Elloree, South Carolina, all had lost their jobs or been evicted from their farms; 14 of the parents asked to withdraw their names. Mississippi had 60,000 members by October 1955. When 53 black residents of Yazoo County signed a desegregation petition launched by the NAACP, the council published a newspaper ad naming them and they faced widespread harassment, lost work, and even had their bank accounts cancelled. Ultimately, all signers removed their names and the Yazoo County NAACP was disbanded.” EJI
  • “The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, formed in 1909 as a bi-racial organization to advance justice for African Americans, faced retaliation from segregationists long before the civil rights era. But its role in Brown made the NAACP a target of white politicians, lawmakers, and angry community members 120 who blamed it for the crisis of desegregation and declared war on its members. White Citizens’ Councils throughout the South capitalized on whites’ dominance over financial capital, land ownership, and industry to punish civil rights participation. After the local council circulated the roster of NAACP members in Clarendon County, South Carolina, those listed promptly lost their jobs, credit, and suppliersZ. Alexander Looby and Arthur Shores, black NAACP lawyers who actively filed desegregation lawsuits after Brown, both survived bombings of their homes in the early 1960s.  But other bombings claimed the lives of NAACP activists, including Harry and Harriette Moore, teachers and founders of the NAACP chapter in Brevard County, Florida. Their deaths in an explosion at their home on Christmas Day in 1951 led to protests across the nation but no immediate arrests.In Mississippi alone, the list of murdered NAACP activists included Reverend George Lee (1955), Medgar Evers (1963), Louis Allen (1964), and Vernon Dahmer (1966). “A jury would not dare convict a white man for killing a nigger in Mississippi,” boasted Klansman Sam Bowers after he was indicted for Mr. Dahmer’s murder. He was not convicted. A threatening poster circulated by the KKK in Birmingham, Alabama (1933). (Alabama Department of Archives and History.) Opponents also used legislation to undermine NAACP activities. Between 1956 and 1960, states passed some 230 laws targeting desegregation activists, and most specifically targeted the NAACP.  Some laws explicitly barred NAACP members from public employment, especially as school teachers;  the NAACP and its members were harassed with criminal prosecutions and bar association disciplinary proceedings; and some states outlawed the organization entirely.  In 1956, Alabama Attorney General John Patterson filed suit to enjoin the NAACP’s activities in the state and demanded access to its membership lists and other records. “The NAACP is no credit to the Negro race and has set the Negro’s cause back 100 years in Alabama,” remarked Patterson, who was later elected governor.  The state court granted an injunction restraining the NAACP from operating in Alabama that lasted for several years until it was overturned by the Supreme Court.  Other states employed the same strategy.Courts eventually invalidated most anti-NAACP statutes, but the lengthy litigation diverted already strained resources from civil rights efforts. Harassment and violence also contributed to drops in participation: Southern membership fell from 128,000 in 1955 to 80,000 in 1957 and nearly 250 branches dissolved; NAACP activities briefly shut down statewide in Louisiana and Texas; and Alabama’s NAACP ceased operations from 1956 to 1964.  “At stake in the long run,” read an official NAACP press statement in 1958, “is the continued existence of NAACP in Alabama and in other Southern states which have taken similar action to ban NAACP in the belief that the civil rights movement and desegregation of public schools can be halted if NAACP is suppressed.” ” EJI
  • “After Brown, a federal judge ordered the local high school in Clinton, Tennessee, to integrate by the start of the 1956-57 school year, and a small group of black students dubbed the “Clinton Twelve” registered to attend class with 800 white students.  John Kasper of the Seaboard White Citizens’ Council quickly arrived in Clinton, where he urged white students to boycott classes and community members to protest integration.  A few days after students began classes, the crowd of pro-segregation protestors had grown to between 500 and 1000 people and the local sheriff sent the black students home “for their own safety.” 

    That evening, Kasper led 800 people in an anti-integration rally on the lawn of the Anderson County courthouse. The next day, more than 200 white students boycotted class and the mob outside the school grew increasingly violent, assaulting a black woman as she passed on the street and breaking a window at the local police station.  “We need all the rabble rousers we can get,” Kasper told a crowd of white supporters in Birmingham a few weeks later. “We want trouble and we want it everywhere we can get it — a collapse of law and order is near at hand.”

    Kasper was jailed for contempt of court, and Asa Carter of the North Alabama White Citizens’ Council took over leadership of the Clinton opposition. Clinton had just 4000 residents, but Carter rallied a mob of more than 1000 people for several nights, giving speeches attacking the Supreme Court and the NAACP as agents of “mongrelization” through “race mixing.” His enraged audience assaulted black motorists and pedestrians,  burned a cross on the Clinton High School lawn, and faced off with local police until, at the mayor’s request, the governor sent in the state highway patrol and national guard.

    White violence escalated even after troops arrived. Segregationists shot into a home occupied by the father of one of the Clinton Twelve, threw dynamite into the black community of a nearby town, and attempted to lynch two black men held in the local jail. Seventy miles away, a mob of five white men confronted two white national guardsmen near the town of Dayton and asked if they would go to Clinton to enforce integration if ordered; when one of the guardsman answered that he would, one of the men attacked him with a knife. 

    School resumed in Clinton after Labor Day. Troops departed and white student attendance gradually increased, but tensions remained. On September 26, 1956, dynamite exploded in a field next to the home of one of the Clinton Twelve.  On December 4, a white minister who escorted the black students to classes was beaten by enraged whites as he returned home.  On February 14, the black section of Clinton suffered at least eight dynamite explosions and, a week later, only seven of the original Clinton Twelve remained at Clinton High School, where they experienced attacks and harassment throughout the year.  On October 5, 1958, two years after black students first integrated Clinton High School, the school was heavily damaged in a pre-dawn bombing.” EJI

  • “In the wake of Brown, up to a quarter of white Southerners admitted to pollsters that they “favored violence, if necessary, to prevent school desegregation.”  In 1956, Ku Klux Klan rallies drew hundreds, even thousands, in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida — states where the group had been considered extinct. In 1957, six Birmingham, Alabama, Klansmen castrated a black man after taunting him for “think[ing] nigger kids should go to school with [white] kids…Virtually every year after Brown, school desegregation generated violent opposition somewhere: Milford, Delaware, in 1954;  Hoxie, Arkansas, in 1955; Tuscaloosa, Alabama,  Clinton, Tennessee, Mansfield, Texas,  and Clay and Sturgis communities in Kentucky in 1956;  Little Rock and Nashville in 1957;  Clinton (again) in 1958;  New Orleans in 1960;  Athens, Georgia, in 1961;  Oxford, Mississippi, in 1962;  and Birmingham in 1963.

    In Mansfield, Texas, the local citizens’ council organized white residents armed with guns and other weapons to block black children from entering school. The mobs also hanged an effigy of a black man with signs attached to each pant leg that read, “This Negro tried to enter a white school. This would be a terrible way to die” and “Stay Away, Niggers.” Texas Governor Allan Shivers commended the “orderly protests against a situation instigated and agitated by the [NAACP],” and sent Texas Rangers to remove any students “white or colored, whose attendance or attempts to attend Mansfield High School would be reasonably calculated to incite violence.”  Local residents and state officials prevented Mansfield’s public schools from officially desegregating until 1965.

    Mob violence waged by white segregationists throughout the South drew national attention and brought school desegregation to a halt across the region. ” EJI

  • “In November 1960, after the state legislature’s attempt to block a federal court’s order to desegregate New Orleans schools failed, mobs organized outside two elementary schools where four black students enrolled. Escorted by federal marshals, six-year-old Ruby Bridges started first grade at all-white William Frantz Elementary School and was greeted by “hundreds of vicious protestors, their faces contorted by hate, spitting, snarling, and yelling obscenities—such as ‘kill them niggers’—at first-graders walking to school in their Sunday best.”A group of white mothers gathered daily to scream invectives at children, using profanity that writer John Steinbeck described as “bestial and filthy and degenerate.”  When Ruby arrived in her assigned classroom, she and the teacher were the only two people present; nearly all the white children were withdrawn from school and Ruby remained the only student in her class for the entire school year. Despite Ruby’s young age, a woman threatened to poison her on the second day of school, and another woman confronted her with a black doll in a wooden coffin.Ruby’s family members also faced threats and retaliation: the local grocery story banned the family from entering, Ruby’s father was fired from his job,  and her grandparents were evicted from the Mississippi farm where they worked as sharecroppers.Hundreds of white students protest at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, on September 20, 1962, in response to James Meredith’s enrollment as the school’s first black student. (AP) In 1962, after a federal court ordered the University of Mississippi to enroll 29-year-old black veteran and Mississippi native James Meredith, Governor and White Citizens’ Council member Ross Barnett personally blocked Mr. Meredith from entering the Ole Miss campus. On September 30, 1962, pro-segregation mobs gathered on campus and waged violent riots that left two people dead and many injured. When a federal marshal escorted Mr. Meredith on campus to enroll, Mississippi Attorney General Joe Patterson told students they could refuse “to socialize or fraternize with an undesirable student.” Mr. Meredith suffered ongoing isolation, harassment, and violence. As he ate in the cafeteria one night in October, a rock was thrown through a window near his table, and on another occasion, a dead raccoon was left on his car.James Meredith persisted and graduated on August 18, 1963, but that did not end his activism or the violence against him. In 1966, while staging a one-man protest march across Mississippi, Mr. Meredith was shot and wounded.In 1956, after a federal court ordered the segregated University of Alabama to admit a black woman named Autherine Lucy, a white mob gathered on campus, burned a cross, and marched through town singing Dixie. Chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Autherine has got to go,” the mobs terrorized any African Americans it encountered, broke car windows, and smashed roofs.The mob of students and older community members grew to 1200 people and confronted Ms. Lucy on her third day of class, shouting “Lynch the nigger!” and “Keep Bama white!”  She was pelted with rotten eggs, gravel, and mud balls containing rocks and had to hide in the back of a police car to escape.  In response, the university suspended Ms. Lucy citing safety concerns, and then expelled her when she tried to challenge the suspension in court. This major segregationist victory spurred a surge of support for the citizens’ councils” EJI
  • “In response to the extensively reported violent chaos in communities fighting desegregation, some states passed laws cutting off state funds to districts that desegregated without conducting a referendum, and Southern compliance with Brown went from slow to stopped. Arguing against these postponements in 1958, NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall noted that courts were delaying integration orders only in response to violence or the threat of violence, and he expressed concern that white children were being taught that violating the law was the way to get what they wanted. “I’m not worried about the Negro kids,” he added. “They’ve been struggling with democracy for years.”” Violent resistance to school desegregation persisted for more than a decade after Brown. In 1966, when 450 black students enrolled in Grenada, Mississippi, public schools following a court order to desegregate, local white leaders threatened to fire or evict black parents who allowed their children to participate, and  black students withdrew.The black students who arrived for the first day of school faced a white mob that chased them through the streets and beat them with chains, pipes, and clubs so severely that some had to be hospitalized. The mob violence continued for days without intervention from law enforcement.In 1967, 13 years after Brown, a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed that “violence against Negroes continues to be a deterrent to school desegregation.””  EJI
  • “The movement to challenge segregated lunch counters started when black students staged a sit-in at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, in February 1960. The sit-ins spread and attracted violent responses.242 In 1960, protestors from Tougaloo College staging a sit-in at a Woolworth’s in Jackson, Mississippi, were attacked by white men who kicked one student in the face until he lost consciousness and clubbed a teacher to the floor.243 That same year, white Americans armed with sticks, clubs, pipes, and whips attacked African Americans staging a “wade-in” to protest racial segregation of a public beach in Biloxi, Mississippi.244 When students at Alabama State College, a traditionally black college in Montgomery, Alabama, staged a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in the county courthouse in 1960, Governor John Patterson threatened to terminate the college’s funding unless it expelled the student organizers and warned that “someone [was] likely to be killed” if the protests continued.245 The college expelled nine students.246 In August 1960, Florida activists organized several days of sit-in protests at the segregated Woolworth’s in Jacksonville. On August 27, several thousand white men armed with ax handles and baseball bats and waving Confederate flags attacked African Americans as they walked through a park to join the demonstration. Charlie Davis, a 27-year-old black man, was killed in the violence that erupted that day; more than 70 people were severely injured and 150 were arrested. 247 Mayor W. Haydon Burns told the press: “We regret there were irresponsible elements of the citizenry who would take the law into their own hands, and this includes members of both races.”248 When activists renewed the sit-ins in October, the Klan kidnapped a black 16-year-old, drove him outside town, stripped him naked, and beat him with a belt and a pistol.249 In 1961, SNCC field secretary Bob Moses was taking two black residents to the Amite County, Mississippi, courthouse to register to vote when he was attacked and severely beaten by a white man. Mr. Moses pressed charges and after he testified at trial against his attacker — Bill Caston, a cousin of the local sheriff — he was advised to leave the county to avoid further violence. Caston was acquitted by an all-white jury

Justice System

  • Criminal law has been used to maintain racial control since the end of the Civil War.252 In the 1960s, nearly a century after Emancipation, elected officials denounced peaceful civil rights protestors as “criminals” and “law breakers” and used the legal system to harass, beat, arrest, and imprison activists.253 The law protected white supremacy rather than racial equality, and persecuted those who opposed the racial status quo. “The Community Relations Service (CRS) of the Justice Department, established under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, reported police brutality and other violence against black people that went unpunished throughout the 1970s,” wrote historian Mary Frances Berry, “while the FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division spent their time in surveillance of black individuals and groups.”254

    A week after 17-year-old Deborah Bracy and several other black students integrated the high school in Wetumpka, Alabama, she was arrested, charged with assault, and jailed overnight for poking a white classmate with a pencil.255

    Clyde Kennard, a black veteran, was targeted by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission after he applied to all-white Mississippi Southern College in Hattiesburg in 1955. When surveillance and investigations failed to discredit him, officials charged him with minor allegations of theft and alcohol possession. An all-white jury convicted Mr. Kennard of stealing $25 worth of chicken feed and he was sentenced to seven years in prison, where he died from undiagnosed colon cancer in 1963. He was 36 years old.256

    In response to the Montgomery bus boycott, police arrested scores of black activists and carpool drivers on phony traffic charges and tried to disbar the black lawyer who filed the lawsuit challenging bus segregation.257

    Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and boycott organizer Jo Ann Robinson were among 89 leaders arrested and charged with organizing an illegal boycott.258 The grand jury wrote: “In this state we are committed to segregation by custom and law. We intend to maintain it.”259

    As a movement leader, Dr. King was routinely targeted by Southern law enforcement. Between the start of the Montgomery bus boycott and his 1968 assassination, Dr. King was arrested, jailed, and fined more than 25 times, in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 and 1958; Atlanta in 1960; Albany, Georgia, in 1961 and 1962; Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and 1967; St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964; and Selma, Alabama, in 1965. 260 He was not alone.

    After two Florida A&M students were arrested for sitting in the “white section” of a bus in Tallahassee, the black community launched a boycott modeled after the Montgomery effort. Boycott organizers and participants faced similar harassment. In October 1956, 21 carpool drivers and nine boycott leaders were arrested for allegedly not having proper car tags. After a three-day trial, they were convicted; some were sentenced to pay fines and some were sent to jail.261

    “For more than a decade — from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s,” wrote Michelle Alexander, officials who opposed civil rights systematically and strategically framed their rhetoric as “calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime.”294 Some segregationists even claimed that integration caused crime, and found their rhetoric bolstered by suspect but highly publicized FBI reports of dramatic increases in the national crime rate.295

    By criminalizing civil rights activists, opponents of civil rights shifted the public debate from segregation to crime.296

    In the 1968 presidential election, both Richard Nixon and former Alabama Governor George Wallace made “law and order” a central theme of their campaigns; combined, they won 57 percent of the vote.297 Nixon ran one ad that “explicitly called on voters to reject the lawlessness of civil rights activists and embrace ‘order’ in the United States.” 298

    It was a popular message. By 1968, 81 percent of Americans agreed that “law and order has broken down in this country” and the majority blamed “Negroes who start riots” and “Communists.” EJI

    “In 1961, an interracial group of civil rights activists set out on a Freedom Ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans, Louisiana, to test a recent Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in interstate bus travel.314

    In Anniston, Alabama, segregationists hurled a fire bomb into a Freedom Rider bus on May 14, 1961. (AP Photo)
    When the Freedom Riders’ bus arrived in Anniston, Alabama, on May 14, 1961, it was met by a mob of white men armed with pipes, chains, and bats, who smashed windows, slashed tires, and dented the sides of the bus. 315 Police arrived 20 minutes after the attack began and made no arrests. They escorted the crippled bus to the city limits and then abandoned it. 316 When flat tires forced the driver to stop at a service station shortly after, another armed white mob trapped the riders in the bus and threw a firebomb inside, then viciously beat the riders who escaped.317 Two days later in Birmingham, police chief Eugene “Bull” Connor allowed a white mob of several hundred people to attack the riders with baseball bats, hammers, and pipes, leaving several seriously injured.318

    The next day, a new group of riders continued on to Montgomery, where they were abandoned by police and attacked by a white mob of 200 people at the downtown Greyhound bus station. About 20 people were injured in the attack, including reporters and photographers covering the Freedom Rides for national media.319

    That evening, civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth organized an evening service at Montgomery’s First Baptist Church in support of the riders. While more than 1000 people sang and listened to sermons inside the church, white men surrounded the building, vandalized parked cars, and threatened to set the church on fire. When federal marshals tried to intervene, they were pelted with bricks and bottles by white rioters, who then overturned cars, fired bullets and firebombs at local black residents, and attacked black people in the street.320

    Alabama Governor John Patterson refused to condemn the white rioters, and instead blamed the Freedom Riders for the violence they suffered in Alabama. During his 1958 campaign, Patterson had warned that integration would cause “violence, disorder, and bloodshed” and had refused to repudiate an endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan.321

    “If the Federal Government really wants to help in this unfortunate situation,” Patterson told reporters in Montgomery, “they will encourage these outside agitators to go home. We have the means and the ability to keep the peace in Alabama without any outside help.” EJI

    Northern Opposition

    White opposition to civil rights was largely a Southern movement, but it spread quickly. Between 1941 and the late 1970s, some five million African Americans fled to the North and West, marking the first time in American history that a large proportion of African Americans lived outside the South.350 Southern segregationists saw potential allies in the North and West.

    As civil rights gains spread, white residents of major cities outside the South blocked efforts to end racial discrimination in housing, education, and public services. Elected officials used legislation and violence to fight racial equality, deny black people access to public services, and exacerbate the poverty that plagued black neighborhoods.

    Some of the earliest clashes took place in border states like Maryland and Delaware. By 1950, Baltimore had six whites-only swimming pools; the one pool for African Americans was so crowded that children had to swim in shifts.354 Threats of violence delayed implementation of a 1956 court order to integrate the pools, and in 1962, a mob of 1000 white people threw stones and bottles at African American children swimming in a traditionally white pool.355

    In 1960, 90 percent of Baltimore restaurants refused to serve African Americans.356 When a group of high school and college students boycotted a segregated lunch counter, Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals Robert Bell recounted:

    People were spitting and yelling and screaming at us; the epithets were ones you would imagine they would be in the context of that situation. Some people on the picket line were hit, although there was not as much physical violence as I thought there might be. The police were standing about, watching, but they didn’t intervene to protect us from getting hit and they didn’t arrest anyone.357

    When 11 black students integrated the white high school in the southern Delaware town of Milford in fall 1954, the local school board president predicted it would “blow the town apart.”358 Plans for a school dance triggered a mass meeting attended by some 1500 white residents, and after 800 people signed a petition opposing an integrated dance,359 school officials canceled the event. 360 The black students were told to stay home for several days, and when they returned to school, police had to escort them through mobs shouting, “The Bible gives authority for segregation!” and “We just don’t want our children to go to school with Negroes!”361 Milford expelled the black students and the NAACP sued, sparking more cross burnings, rallies, and pro-segregation demonstrations. The next year, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that Milford could delay integration while awaiting guidance from the United States Supreme Court. 362 Segregation persisted in Milford for 15 years, until the last segregated school closed in 1970.

    Employment discrimination was a major barrier to economic advancement for black people in the North and West. Hiring restrictions that barred black people in Detroit and Chicago from many positions and promotions during the 1940s war boom persisted long after the war ended.364 Many trade unions barred black workers, and non-union employers often offered black applicants lower pay and lesser positions, if they were hired at all.365

    From 1960 onward, the unemployment rate for black Americans stayed at double the rate for white Americans.366 Even after the Civil Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination in employment, job advertisements in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune sought “white applicants only.”367

    Housing segregation shaped urban landscapes in the North, where housing shortages penned black migrants in overcrowded and overpriced neighborhoods. Housing segregation enabled school segregation, which in many cities remained a vestige of segregated neighborhoods long after segregation laws were struck down.

    In Philadelphia, more than 200 African Americans attempting to rent or buy homes at the edges of the city’s segregated residential districts were attacked during the first six months of 1955 alone. Black residents found themselves trapped in the North Philadelphia ghetto for years.368

    In Los Angeles, more than 100 African Americans were targeted with violence when they tried to move out of segregated black neighborhoods between 1950 and 1965. 369 These attacks, including dynamite bombings, cross burnings, and rocks thrown through windows, led to only one arrest and prosecution.370

     The Chicago Housing Authority invested in segregation by concentrating more than 10,000 public housing units in isolated African American neighborhoods — a policy the Supreme Court found in 1976 violated racial desegregation laws.”371

    Slavery and codified racial segregation have come to be thought of as uniquely Southern phenomena, but it is clear that the legacy of white supremacy and racial bigotry was a powerful force in the North and West. Inspired by Southern segregationists, there is a clear and undeniable record of pervasive discrimination based on race that spread across America. The legacy of this history haunts us still.” EJI

    “Outside the South, residential segregation was a driving force of school segregation before and after the civil rights era. In 1970, average residential segregation in Northern and Western population centers was even higher than in the South — more than four out of five black residents lived in segregated neighborhoods. 575

    Residential segregation was “manufactured by whites through a series of self-conscious actions and purposeful institutional arrangements.” 576 After the Fair Housing Act of 1968 barred white homeowners from explicitly refusing to rent or sell to black people, “[r]ealtors no longer refused outright to rent or sell to blacks . . . but real estate agents continued to practice surreptitious and widespread discrimination,” such as excluding listings from predominately black newspapers and lying to black home seekers about the availability of apartments. 577

    Audits revealed such rampant housing discrimination in St. Louis in 1969 that four realty companies were forced to sign a consent decree with the Department of Justice. In Palo Alto, California, a 1971 study found that black people experienced discrimination in 50 percent of apartment complexes, while a 1976 investigation in suburban Baltimore uncovered discrimination in more than 45 percent of cases. 578 Home ownership was no solution, as banks often rejected mortgage applications from qualified black buyers. 579 These practices made it difficult for black families to move into white neighborhoods, which in turn made it difficult to meaningfully integrate schools.

    To implement Brown during the 1970s, courts ordered the transportation of black and white students to public schools outside of their neighborhoods. In 1971, the Supreme Court upheld courts’ authority to order busing 580 and many school districts implemented busing plans in the 1970s and 1980s. In response, white families across the country organized opposition to “forced busing” that mirrored Southern opposition to school desegregation.

    “I favor segregation,” Orville Hubbard, mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, explained to the New York Times in 1968. “Because if you have integration, first you have kids going to school together, then next thing you know, they’re grab-assing around, then they’re getting married and having half-breed kids. Then you wind up with a mongrel race. And from what I know of history, that’s the end of civilization.” 581 Hubbard’s supporters kept him in office from 1942 to 1978. 582

    New York Governor Norman Rockefeller signed a bill to outlaw busing in 1969, but the law was later deemed unconstitutional.583 In Boston in 1974, after a federal court ordered the local school committee. To propose a desegregation plan, the committee chairman, John Kerrigan, voted to defy the order and develop no plan. “This is a vote against those maggots that live outside the city,” he announced. “And it’s the proudest vote I’ve cast in seven years on this committee.” 584

    That September, after court-ordered busing began in Boston, white mothers led the opposition. 585 White mobs attacked buses carrying black students to white schools with eggs, bricks, and bottles. Protestors, students, and bystanders alike were stoned, stabbed, and beaten in clashes that continued for weeks until quelled by the National Guard. 586

    Northern segregation activists distinguished themselves from “unsophisticated racist Southerners” by focusing on their identities as mothers concerned about school safety, quality, and cohesiveness. 587 In Michigan, anti-busing crusader Irene McCabe declared, “We are not racists. We respect the blacks. Our concern is with education.” 588 Louise Day-Hicks, former Boston mayoral candidate and founder of the anti-busing group Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR), staunchly opposed busing but avoided public racism: “I am not a racist. You show me where I have said anything against . . . Negroes.” 589

    In Boston in 1974, school committee chairman, John Kerrigan, voted to defy the order and develop no plan. “This is a vote against those maggots that live outside the city,” he announced. “And it’s the proudest vote I’ve cast in seven years on this committee.”

    White residents rioted when their black neighbors attempted to move in. (Library of Congress)
    But the racial motivations were barely obscured just below the surface. “White motherhood meant teaching their children lessons in racial distance, in a racially determined place in society, and in white superiority,” wrote historian Elizabeth Gillespie McRae. “Whiteness had so infused definitions of motherhood in the Jim Crow South and a Jim Crow nation that they could hardly be separated.” 590

    Mass organizing against busing forced school boards across the country to demand that courts lift or weaken busing mandates. As early as 1977, federal courts agreed to lift a busing order imposed on Oklahoma City schools just five years earlier after concluding that integration had been achieved. 591 Boston’s desegregation plan was ruled successful in 1987. 592

    On July 17, 2001, Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project published a study reporting that school districts across the nation — particularly in the South — were re-segregating at an alarming rate.

    Residential segregation remained so persistent that sociologists observed, “No group in the history of the United States has ever experienced the sustained high level of residential segregation that has been imposed on blacks in large American cities for the past fifty years.” 593

    On January 15, 1991, the Supreme Court nonetheless declared that federal school desegregation injunctions were intended to be temporary and made it easier for schools to end busing and other desegregation policies. 594

    A decade later, researchers found that, due to relaxed court oversight, school districts across the nation — particularly in the South — were re-segregating at an alarming rate. 595 The study reported that more than 70 percent of African American students attended predominately minority schools in the 1998-1999 school year — more than in the 1972- 1973 school year. 596

    Between 2000 and 2014, the number of schools classified by the United States Government Accountability Office as “high poverty and comprised mostly of Black or Hispanic students” more than doubled, from 7009 to 15,089. 597 Today, across the country, schools with at least 90 percent non-white students spend $733 less per student than schools that are 90 percent white. 598 Exacerbating the inequality, tracking policies funnel white students into magnet programs and advanced courses; 599 as a New Jersey parent observed, “You can . . . look in a classroom and know whether it’s an upper-level class or a lower-level class based on the racial composition of the classroom.” 600

    School segregation remains most deeply entrenched in the South. In Georgia, students at “integrated” Turner County High School attended private, segregated proms — one for black students and one for white students — until 2007, and Wilcox County High School did not hold its first integrated prom until 2013. 601

    Alabama’s constitution still mandates separate schools for white and black children because voters rejected repeal attempts in 2004 and 2012. 602 Alabama schools remain deeply separate and unequal, with African Americans making up 94 percent of students attending “failing” schools in the state. 603

    Why Racism Isn’t Just a Southern Problem | Decoded | MTV News

      • White Flight
        • Migration of middle-class white populations during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s-60s and 70s during forced busing in response to desegregation efforts and actions in white communities
          • Continues to various forms after the 60s till present day
        • “In the 1960s, white families moved from cities to suburbs when they saw black neighbors move in next door. Now, they move from suburbs to farther-out fringe areas often not counted in academic studies “hunkering down in all-white neighborhoods, affluent gated communities, or unincorporated housing developments at the exurban fringe,” the researchers write. And more white Americans, drawn by walkable neighborhoods or transit, are moving back into the inner cities that were once shunned. Young whites and baby boomers, for example, are moving to areas of central cities such as Washington, D.C., which was, for years, a majority-minority city. That, in turn, prices out minority residents.” 

        • “When terrorism ultimately failed, white homeowners simply fled the neighborhood. The traditional terminology, white flight, implies a kind of natural expression of preference. In fact, white flight was a triumph of social engineering, orchestrated by the shared racist presumptions of America’s public and private sectors. For should any nonracist white families decide that integration might not be so bad as a matter of principle or practicality, they still had to contend with the hard facts of American housing policy: When the mid-20th-century white homeowner claimed that the presence of a Bill and Daisy Myers decreased his property value, he was not merely engaging in racist dogma—he was accurately observing the impact of federal policy on market prices. Redlining destroyed the possibility of investment wherever black people lived…White flight was not an accident—it was a triumph of racist social engineering” Ta-Nehisi Coates 
      • Residential segregation
        • De facto Housing Discrimination
          • Implicit redlining and banking discrimination
          • Racial Steering
            • Advising customers to purchase homes in particular neighborhoods on the basis of race
            • Failing, on the basis of race, to show, or to inform buyers of homes that meet their specifications.
          • Exclusionary zoning laws
            • laws to make it difficult to build mixed-income housing, multi-family or apartment buildings, which are all “indirect ways” to prevent affordable Housing
            • Studies have demonstrated that higher-income and predominately-white jurisdictions generally adopt more restrictive land-use regulations. As a result, minority and lower-income groups are essentially locked into rigidly segregated neighborhoods.
            • Restrictive from the standpoint of economic efficiency, regulations that limit density also decrease the total housing supply of a region. With the lowered housing stock, market demand for the units is amplified thus raising prices.
          • Gentrification
      • By 1990, the legal barriers enforcing segregation had been mostly replaced by decentralized racism, where whites pay more than blacks to live in predominantly white areas
        • These higher rents are largely attributable to exclusionary zoning policies that restrict the supply of housing.
    • “We’ve done little to desegregate neighborhoods, believing their racial homogeneity is “de facto”, tied to private prejudice, personal choices, realtor discrimination or income differences that make middle-class suburbs unaffordable to most African Americans. Under our constitutional system, if neighborhoods are segregated by private activity, we can do little about it.Only if neighborhoods are segregated “de jure”, by explicit government policy, is remedial action permitted. Indeed, the constitution requires remedies for de jure segregation. In truth, de facto segregation is largely a myth. As my new book, The Color of Law, recounts, racially explicit government policy in the mid-twentieth century separated the races in every metropolitan area, with effects that endure today. ”
    • “The meaning of the ongoing resegregation of our public schools becomes clearer if we look back at the campaign to integrate them—which was concerned less with race than with resources. We like to think of the men and women whose struggle led to Brown v. Board of Education as democratic idealists, but their motivations were more complex: if the efforts to upend Jim Crow reflected idealism, it was a cynical idealism. The damning images of Southern resistance to integration, and Northern riots against busing, obscure the fact that the decision to fight segregation was as fraught for African-Americans as the prospect of desegregation was for the whites who most violently opposed it. In the decades prior to Brown, the civil-rights establishment had fought a fierce and futile battle for the equal distribution of resources between black and white schools. It was only after attempting to force school districts to uphold the latter part of “separate but equal” proved to be a failure that the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund changed its tactics, and attacked separation itself. (It was for this reason, incidentally, that the effort to dismantle educational apartheid in the South came to involve Linda Brown, of Topeka, Kansas—a city where there was a parity of resources between black and white schools.) The tactical shift was not universally welcomed by African-Americans: critics like Zora Neale Hurston howled at the implication that black learning could be insured only by proximity to white children. Elijah Muhammad warned, ominously, that “only a fool allows his enemies to educate his children.” But decades of fruitless lawsuits seeking equal resources for black and white students had taught the N.A.A.C.P.’s lawyers that the only way to secure a fair distribution of resources was to literally sit the black children in the same classrooms as the white ones…The Supreme Court decision on Brown, in 1954, marked a moral high point in American history, but the practice that it dispatched to the graveyard had already begun to mutate into something less tangible and far more durable. What would, in the end, preserve the principle of “separate inequality” was not protests like the one staged by Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas, who deployed the National Guard to Little Rock’s Central High School, in 1957, in order to keep black students out. Instead, it was policies like the Interstate Highway Act, whose passage one year earlier helped spawn American suburbia. In the wake of Brown, private schools, whose implicit mission was to educate white children, cropped up throughout the South. The persistent legacies of redlining, housing discrimination, and wage disparity conspired to produce segregation without Jim Crow—maintaining all the familiar elements of the past in an updated operating system.” Jelani Cobb – New Yorker
  • Hypersegregation
    • In a 1988 study, Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton identified five dimensions of segregation being applied to African Americans within inner cities:
      • evenness
        • the difference between the percentage of a minority group in a particular part of a city, compared to the city as a whole
      • clustering
        • the gathering of different minority groups into a single space
        • clustering often leads to one big ghetto and the formation of hyperghettoization
      • exposure
        • the likelihood that a minority and a majority party will come in contact with one another.
      • centralization
        • measures the tendency of members of a minority group to be located in the middle of an urban area, often computed as a percentage of a minority group living in the middle of a city (as opposed to the outlying areas)
      • concentration
        • the dimension that relates to the actual amount of land a minority lives on within its particular city
        • The higher segregation is within that particular area, the smaller the amount of land a minority group will control.
    • The pattern of hypersegregation began in the early 20th century.
      • African-Americans who moved to large cities often moved into the inner-city in order to gain industrial jobs.
      • The influx of new African-American residents caused many European American residents to move to the suburbs in a case of white flight.
      • As industry began to move out of the inner-city, the African-American residents lost the stable jobs that had brought them to the area. Many were unable to leave the inner-city, however, and they became increasingly poor.[8] This created the inner-city ghettos that make up the core of hypersegregation.
      • Though the Civil Rights Act of 1968 banned discrimination in sale of homes, the norms set before the laws continue to perpetuate this hypersegregation.[34]
      • Data from the 2000 census shows that 29 metropolitan areas displayed black-white hypersegregation; in 2000.
        • Two areas—Los Angeles and New York City—displayed Hispanic-white hypersegregation.
        • No metropolitan area displayed hypersegregation for Asians or for Native Americans.[35]
  • Modern Segregation
    • “The current state of the American city is the direct result of unconstitutional, state-sanctioned racial discrimination.”Richard Rothstein author of “The Color of Law”
    • A typical white person lives in a neighborhood that is 75 percent white and 8 percent African American, while a typical African American person lives in a neighborhood that is only 35 percent white and 45 percent African American.
    • And racial segregation has deprived the neighborhoods occupied by people of color of essential public services and private investments. Today, even middle-class black and Latino neighborhoods have lower house price appreciation, fewer neighborhood amenities, lower-performing schools, and higher crime than white neighborhoods with comparable income levels.
    • “Because our nation failed to confront the narrative of racial difference in the decades after the assassinations of national civil rights leaders and the rise of politicians opposed to civil rights signaled the end of the Civil Rights Movement, white opposition rebranded itself while racial inequality grew.

      In 2016, the rate of African American unemployment (8.4 percent) was nearly double the rate for white Americans (4.3 percent). 605 A 2017 study concluded that “discrimination against black job applicants hasn’t changed since the 1990s.” 606 In part due to high rates of joblessness, 22 percent of African Americans live in poverty, compared to 9 percent of white Americans. 607 The racial wealth gap nearly tripled between 1984 and 2009, and today, for every $100 of wealth held by a white family, a black family has just $5.04. 608

      For a fleeting moment, racial justice challenged the American conscience and became a critical issue for this nation. But a generation later, racial injustice was again a burden that black communities bore in resegregated isolation, while many white Americans actively defended the status quo or avoided serious engagement with racial issues entirely.

      The number of white adults reporting “no interest” in the issue of employment discrimination against black Americans rose from 13 percent in 1964 to 34 percent in 2000. 609 “[T]he expression of racial apathy in the post-civil rights era is one new way in which white Americans can deny having negative feelings toward racial minorities while indirectly supporting the racial status quo.” 610

      More recently, a 2016 Pew Research Center poll reported wide gulfs in views on race relations: 38 percent of white Americans agreed that the nation has already made the changes necessary to achieve equal rights while only 8 percent of black Americans said the same. 611

      In the same study, 41 percent of white respondents said too much attention is paid to race these days, and just 19 percent of white respondents (in contrast with 70 percent of black respondents) agreed that institutional discrimination is a bigger problem than individual prejudice. 612

      “Perhaps I was too optimistic,” Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, five years before he was assassinated on a Memphis hotel balcony. “Perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.” EJI

  • Modern School Segregation
    • School segregation for black students is worse today than it was in 1968
    • Classrooms were the most diverse from the 1970s through the early 1990s. At peak integration, four out of 10 black southern students attended a white school, while less than a third of all black students attended black schools.
    • Experts say the backslide was the consequence of a series of judicial decisions, beginning with Milliken vs. Bradley in 1974, a relatively unheard of but seminal case in the desegregation saga. Criticized by some as “one of the worst Supreme Court decisions” ever, Milliken dealt with Detroit’s plan to integrate students by busing them from the intercity to the suburbs. The court ruled that such a plan was unconstitutional, arguing that black students had the right to attend integrated schools within their own school district, but were not protected from de facto segregation.”That decision … said the racial disparities across districts would remain outside the reach of policymakers,” Clotfelter wrote in piece exploring the impact of Milliken.
    • Court-mandated desegregation was dealt its own deadly blow by three rulings from the Supreme Court between 1991 and 1995. According to the court, integration was only a temporary federal policy and after the historical imbalance was righted, school districts should reclaim local control and were released from desegregation orders.
    • Since then, school segregation has been intrinsically tied to the racial gaps in housing and income, leading to the re-emergence of the color line. Economic segregation, which disproportionately affects black and Latino students, is increasing. In California, Asian and white students are 10 times more likely to go to a high-quality school than Latinos and therefore dramatically more likely to attend college.

    Source: Politifact: American schools are ‘more segregated than they were in the 1960s,’ says Hillary Clinton

    • In the wake of the Brown decision, the percentage of black students in majority white southern schools went from zero to a peak of 43.5 percent in 1988. But those changes have reversed in recent years, with data from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project showing that by 2011 that figure was back to 23.2 percent, just below where it stood in 1968.
    • Today’s typical white student attends a school that is nearly 75 percent white, but only one-eighth Latino and one-twelfth black. Put another way, in a classroom of 30 students, the average white student has 21 white classmates, two black classmates, four Latinos, one Asian and one “other.” Conversely, the typical black or Latino student would have eight white classmates and at least 20 minority classmates.
    • The UCLA research also found strong connections between poverty and segregation, with blacks and Latinos representing more than half of children in schools with the most poverty, and just 11 percent of students in the least impoverished schools. For many black and Latino children, this can often mean less qualified teachers, as well as shoddier facilities and materials. “In many respects, the schools serving white and Asian students and those serving black and Latino students represent two different worlds,” say the researchers.

    Source: Frontline: The Return of School Segregation in Eight Charts

    • Brown v. Board happens, and the way that we’re taught it or the myth about it is immediately our nation repented and went into an integrated future together. That’s not what happened. There was massive resistance, and we don’t see real desegregation occurring in this country until 1964, and really most rapidly from 1968 on. Then you see pretty rapid desegregation particularly in the South, but then that changes, and in 1988 we start to go backwards. So we reach kind of the peak of schools integrating, of black students attending majority white schools at the highest rates that they ever have in the country, and then we start to see school districts re-segregating, which means black students are starting to go to schools that are more and more segregated. And school districts that had had a degree of integration are losing that integration.

    Source: NPR:  How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By ‘Individual Choices’

The Atlantic: Can School Integration Make a Comeback?

VICE: Most black kids can’t swim, and segregation is to blame

“In 2014, the CDC found that an 11-year-old black child is 10 times more likely to drown than a white child the same age. The notion that “black people can’t swim” may sound like a stereotype, but it’s a real disparity and it’s rooted in a history of discriminatory access to swimming pools.

This summer alone has produced three high-profile incidents of white Americans calling or threatening to call the police on black pool goers.

In South Carolina, a white woman was charged with multiple accounts of assault for accosting a 15-year-old black boy and the police officer who responded to the incident. In North Carolina, a man lost his job after a video of him calling the police on a woman who refused to show him her identification. And a white property manager at a Memphis apartment complex lost her job after calling the police on a man for wearing socks in the pool.

These are just a few of the most recent incidents in a long history of discriminatory access at American swimming pools, going back almost 100 years. And before this year, they didn’t tend to end in the arrest or punishment of the white individual involved. So VICE News spoke with Jeff Wiltse, a professor of history at the University of Montana, and the author of “Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America,” who provided some context.

“It was socially normal for blacks and whites to swim together at these public pools during the late 19th and early 20th century, but that all changed during the 1920s and 1930s when cities opened up large resort-like pools,” Wiltse said. “That permitted males and females to use them together.”

Wiltse said that it was at that point that white swimmers and public officials imposed racial segregation, largely because most whites did not want to allow black men to interact with white women at such intimate public spaces.

Pools were desegregated after World War II, frequently by court order, but like America’s public schools, integration in the water was more of a legal concept than a cultural one. In fact, racial desegregation of public pools rarely led to any meaningful sort of interracial use, said Wiltse.

“In general, whites abandoned public pools that black swimmers started to use,” he explained. But even as white flight increased, black participation dropped.

“Swimming became broadly popular within white communities and was passed down from generation to generation. Because of African-Americans’ more restricted access, swimming did not become a broadly popular activity among black families.”

In 2017, USA Swimming, the governing body for the sport of swimming in the U.S., found that 64 percent of African-American children have low or no swimming ability.

And according to their data, black children and their parents are three times more fearful of drowning than white children and their parents. That’s something Dezria Holmes hopes will stop with her generation.

Holmes knows how to swim, but she wouldn’t call herself a strong swimmer. She’s trying to change that for her children, 12-year-old Madison and 7-year-old Mason. Both are enrolled in a Chicago swimming program launched by USA Swimming, Chicago Park District, and Illinois Swimming to get a more diverse group of young people in the water.

“My grandparents couldn’t swim because of segregation,” said Holmes. “So when I saw the opportunity for my daughter to swim, and then my parents were able to see their granddaughter swim. They were actually crying, because no one in our family swims like Madison. So to be afforded this opportunity has just been amazing.””

Why Chicago’s Public Schools Are Broken

Social Welfare


“Following are some key events of racism in the history of social welfare. Unless  otherwise cited, this history is drawn from Neubeck and Cazanave’s (2001) Welfare Racism: Playing the Race Card Against America’s Poor.

Mothers Pensions in the early 1900s
In the early 1900s state legislatures began to pass bills that supported single mothers called “Mother’s Pensions’. While African Americans were more deeply impoverished, the aid was given almost solely to white women with Anglo ancestry. Because benefits were administered locally, rules frequently were created explicitly to exclude women of color. One common requirement was that a mother maintained a “suitable home” for her children.  The term “suitable”, which was not clearly defined, was frequently used to exclude African-American women due to negative stereotypes of African Americans.

The New Deal and Aid to Dependent Children in the 1930s
In 1935 The New Deal established the Social Security Act, which included the
Aid to Dependent Children program (ADC). Language from the original Social Security Bill that outlawed racial discrimination was totally removed from the bill, giving states silent permission to discriminate. Like the mother s pensions, ADC was administered at the local level, leaving more room for racial discrimination in some states. The federal government did not participate in personnel or administration in the individual states, tacitly allowing discrimination in hiring and African Americans were rarely hired as welfare workers.

The children of poor southern African American women were often barred or removed from ADC rolls under the rationale of “suitable work” or “employable mother”.   The same standards were not applied to white mothers- where staying home with children was socially valued.

In 1935 Congress approved support for widows of retired workers and their children under the Old-Age Insurance Provisions Act. While this was an important step in eliminating old-age poverty, the majority of professions which were covered in the act were occupations for whites, and occupations filled mostly by African Americans (domestic work, seasonal labor, farm labor) were excluded. White widows were offered an alternative to ADC that was preferable since they did not have to demonstrate economic need and were not subject to morality tests, suitable home policies, or compulsory work requirements.  These white widows were considered the “deserving poor”, and they rapidly left ADC creating a two-tiered system.

Post World War II
After World War II individual states and localities tried to control the growth and costs of ADC. This resulted in many more restrictive policies, including more “suitable home” policies, which were used to racially discriminate.  “Man-in-the-house” policies were also implemented, which denied ADC to families whose mothers were suspected of receiving financial assistance from adult males. These households were subject to surprise middle-of-the-night raids by local welfare caseworkers in search of male guests, or any sign that a male had been around. These policies were practiced more commonly on African American households.

Strict residency requirements also served to discourage poor southern African American families from migrating north. This discriminated against migrant farm workers, many whom were African American, whose work required moving from state to state. In the 1950s many states adopted an “employable mother” rule with the intention of discouraging out-of-wedlock births by African American women. This played into the racist stereotype of the African American “breeder” woman.

As more African Americans from the South moved North, many white communities enforced, often through violence or threat of violence, practices that maintained segregated neighborhoods. As the proportion of ADC rolls made up of African Americans grew, many Europe Americans developed “punitive and antagonistic” attitudes toward ADC recipients of color.  During the 60s many studies showed that families of color received less in ADC money than their white counterparts and states where more people of color were on the rolls were more restrictive with benefits. ADC was renamed Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in 1962 when mothers of the children receiving aid were made eligible to receive assistance.

While new policies, such as the G.I Bill and private health and pension policies helped fuel postwar prosperity for the middle-class, African Americans did not benefit from these programs because of discrimination in labor and housing markets. Practices like “redlining” began with the National Housing Act of 1934, which established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) It describes the practice of marking a red line on a map to delineate the area where banks would not invest, primarily areas where people of color lived; later the term was applied to discrimination against a particular group of people (usually by race or sex) no matter the geography. The most devastating form of redlining and the most common use of the term refers to mortgage discrimination in which middle income black and Latino residents are denied loans available to lower income whites (Brown, 1999).

LBJ and “The Great Society” in the 1960s
Launched in 1964, The Great Society was President Johnson’s anti -poverty program. In addition to alleviating poverty, the other stated goal of the Great Society was racially biased social policies inherited from the New Deal (Brown, 1999). While some gains were made by African Americans as a result of the War on Poverty, Nixon’s administration reversed much of the redistributive policies of the Great Society by limiting programs, and shifting resources to middle-class constituencies in the form of block grants.

1960s-1980s and the role of the media.
During this time, the media played a key role in fostering and reinforcing racist stereotypes and negative controlling images African Americans who relied on welfare. The idea of the “Welfare Queen”– an African-American woman who allegedly lived lavishly on AFDC money was a powerful radicalized controlling image perpetuated by President Reagan. This contributed to a national sentiment of primarily white people’s hostility toward welfare, and this was the same hostility that caused the demise of AFDC in the 1990s.

In the 1980s, with the rise of new liberalism, more emphasis was placed on the market to solve problems than on social programs. Many have associated neoliberalism with exacerbating racism and inequalities by not acknowledging that social stratifications exist.

Clinton and G.W Bush
In 1996 AFDC was replaced by the Personal Responsibility and Work
Opportunity Reconciliation Act’s (PRWORA) Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program. The focus of PRWORA and TANF are reducing those who receive welfare by instituting work requirements, ending welfare as an entitlement program, mandatory time limits, and the encouragement of two-parent households. Many believe that the philosophy behind PRWORA is a fear that immigrants and people of color relying on government aid instead of working.  “By the 1990s a major goal of welfare reform was the reassertion of racial, gender, and class control over impoverished African- American mothers, and through them, control over their children (Neubeck and Cazenave, p 155) During George W. Bush’s presidency, eligibility for TANF became increasingly limited. However, funding was increased for marriage initiatives (Limbert and Bullock, 2005).

Jacobin: How a Democrat Killed Welfare

Bill Clinton gutted welfare and criminalized the poor, all while funneling more money into the carceral state.

“Bill Clinton’s 1992 election was meant to be a turning point in American politics. Liberals breathed a sigh of relief, believing him to be a much-needed break from the Reagan-Bush era of “small government” and social welfare cuts.But the optimism surrounding Clinton’s election — and favorable assessments of his time in office since — ignore the destruction his administration brought to poor and working people, especially African Americans, and mask not only the continuation but intensification of anti-poor policies. Rather than offering a reprieve from punitive austerity, Clinton took the Reagan-Bush agenda a step further. If his administration was a turning point, it turned us in the wrong direction.In 1994, Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the largest crime bill in history, which allocated $10 billion for prison construction, expanded the death penalty, and eliminated federal funding for inmate education. The act intensified police surveillance and racial profiling, and locked up millions for nonviolent offenses such as drug possession. It helped usher in the era of mass incarceration that devastated communities of color (for which Clinton himself has recently apologized).Clinton’s simultaneous expansion of federal law enforcement and shrinking of the federal workforce to its lowest level in thirty years reallocated taxpayer dollars from employing people in social service jobs to putting more cops on the streets.The starkest example of the many racist and anti-poor measures directed at African Americans and passed during his administration was the 1996 welfare reform bill, which transformed welfare from an exclusive and unequal cash assistance system that stigmatized its recipients into one that actually criminalized them.The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act ended traditional welfare by turning a federal entitlement, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), into block grants, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). TANF established tougher mandates on poor single mothers and gave states more flexibility in how they spent welfare dollars (opening the door for increased discrimination against minorities).It prohibits anyone from receiving assistance for more than two consecutive years or for more than five years over the course of their life. The act also requires aid recipients to be employed, in most cases, at least thirty hours a week to get their welfare checks, amounting to an hourly wage well below the legal minimum.

Once recipients reach their program time limit, TANF forces them even further into the labor market with little consideration of how they could ensure their children are properly cared for or whether paid employment will earn them an adequate wage. Many more are not even able to find work. A 2012 report by the Urban Institute concluded that for recipients with barriers to employment, TANF did little to help them find jobs.

Sweeping in scope, TANF contains clauses to bolster marriage, mandate job training, and offer parenting classes. The “flexibility” that was a hallmark of the welfare reform bill enabled states to shift welfare funds away from direct cash assistance toward child care programs or subsidies for companies hiring welfare recipients, meaning that a greater portion of public welfare dollars went to the private sector.

States were pressured to reduce welfare rolls — now the singular quantitative measure of success for the program — and used multiple strategies to deter the needy from applying for aid. They implemented complicated and demeaning application procedures and relied on fingerprinting and drug testing to weed out the “criminal element” — even though there was little evidence of widespread criminal activity among recipients.

The net result was that all recipients and applicants were assumed to be potential criminals. Surveillance of low-income women punished black women in disproportionate numbers, resulting in more black children in foster care and black women in prison. Today, welfare and law enforcement work together to closely monitor the parenting of poor mothers.

These punitive policies were not new, but rather an extension of a long, racialized attack on welfare. AFDC was not controversial when it was instituted in the 1930s. Many people subscribed to traditional ideas about gender roles, believing that poor single mothers without a male breadwinner should be supported by the state in order to enable them to stay home and care for their children.

The overwhelming majority of recipients at the time, however, were white women. Women of color were considered less deserving of assistance. State and local social administrators of AFDC, especially in the South, systematically excluded African Americans and Mexican Americans from welfare receipt through “suitable home clauses” and “employable mother laws,” which denied assistance to mothers who didn’t keep “proper” homes or who it was believed could get a job and become self-supporting.

As black migration to the North intensified, more women of color applied for assistance, resulting in opposition to the welfare program. Journalists wrote about welfare fraud and the “problem” of black migration, and there were growing calls to get people off the rolls. In 1967, the Johnson administration instituted a Work Incentive Program (WIN), the first-ever mandatory federal employment rule for AFDC, requiring states to direct a portion of their welfare population to employment programs.

This landmark legislation shifted the role of welfare away from support for single mothers toward one of requiring those mothers to take paid employment outside the home. Although symbolically important because it signaled a new direction in federal policy, WIN was never adequately funded nor effectively enforced. The welfare rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s opposed the mandatory work rules and fought for higher monthly benefits, tempering some of these regressive policies. But only temporarily.

The punitive approach to addressing poverty was a result of the way race and poverty had become intertwined in the national debate. In the 1960s, urban social disorder, black demands for economic equality, and federal anti-poverty initiatives drew the nation’s attention to the persistent problem of black poverty. But the dominant liberal approach explained poverty as a product of black culture, reinforcing the notion that certain poor people were responsible for their own poverty.

Most notoriously articulated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” the culture of poverty argument suggested that a dysfunctional family structure — in particular single-parent families — was a primary reason for persistent African-American inequality.

The solution became one of attempting to instill proper values of work and marriage in black men and women. Poor black women were demonized as “welfare queens,” a trope popularized by Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s, which implied that black women chose welfare over work and milked the system for all it was worth. This rhetoric was used to justify sweeping cuts in welfare spending.

Likewise, Clinton’s welfare reform bill was rooted in a culture of poverty argument, evidenced by his racially coded language of dependency and people taking advantage of the system. Stereotypes about women were the foundation of the 1996 welfare reform debate.

Clinton alluded to the fear of black street crime, drug use, crack babies, the breakdown of the family, and the drain on public dollars. His primary goal in dismantling AFDC, as he put it, was to end the “cycle of dependence” and “achieve a national welfare reform bill that will make work and responsibility the law of the land.”

Clinton did not offer a departure from either earlier liberal policies that blamed the poor for their poverty or neoliberal economics. Instead, he turned what had been a few piecemeal reforms into a systematic overhaul of federal policy that led to the criminalization of the welfare poor. He redirected state resources away from financial support for the needy and toward surveillance and criminalization.

In an era of market worship, those who couldn’t demonstrate self-reliance or independence were identified not only as unworthy of assistance, but as a potential threat to the core institutions of American society.

Clinton’s dismantling of welfare, couched in a language of personal responsibility and public policy correction, was the culmination of a trend among both Democrats and Republicans to deter and discourage poor women of color from applying for assistance. In this regard, there was little new about the “New Democrat.””

Newsweek: Racism Has Shaped U.S. Welfare Policy Since 1935

A recent UNICEF report found that the U.S. ranked 34th on the list of 35 developed countries surveyed on the well-being of children. According to the Pew Institute, children under the age of 18 are the most impoverished age population of Americans, and African-American children are almost four times as likely as white children to be in poverty.

These findings are alarming, not least because they come on the 20th anniversary of President Clinton’s promise to “end welfare as we know it” with his signing into law, on Aug. 22, 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (P.L. 104-193).

It is true that the data show the number of families receiving cash assistance fell from 12.3 million in 1996 to current levels of 4.1 million as reported by The New York Times. But it is also true that child poverty rates for black children remain stubbornly high in the U.S.

My research indicates that this didn’t happen by chance. In a recent book, I examine social welfare policy developments in the U.S. over a 50-year period from the New Deal to the 1996 reforms. Findings reveal that U.S. welfare policies have, from their very inception, been discriminatory.

Blemished by a History of Discrimination
It was the 1935 Social Security Act, introduced by the Franklin Roosevelt administration, that first committed the U.S. to the safety net philosophy.  From the beginning, the policy had two tiers that intended to protect families from loss of income.

On one level were the contributory social insurance programs that provided income support to the surviving dependents of workers in the event of their death or incapacitation and Social Security for retired older Americans.

The second tier was made up of means-tested public assistance programs that included what was originally called the “Aid to Dependent Children” program and was subsequently renamed the Aid to Families with Dependent Children in the 1962 Public Welfare Amendments to the SSA under the Kennedy administration.

The optimistic vision of the architects of the ADC program was that it would die “a natural death” with the rising quality of life in the country as a whole, resulting in more families becoming eligible for the work-related social insurance programs.

But this scenario was problematic for black Americans because of pervasive racial discrimination in employment in the decades of the 1930s and 1940s. During these decades, blacks typically worked in menial jobs. Not tied to the formal workforce, they were paid in cash and “off the books,” making them ineligible for social insurance programs that called for contributions through payroll taxes from both employers and employees. Nor did blacks fare much better under ADC during these years.

The ADC was an extension of the state-operated mothers’ pension programs, where white widows were the primary beneficiaries. The criteria for eligibility and need were state-determined, so blacks continued to be barred from full participation because the country operated under the “separate but equal” doctrine adopted by the Supreme Court in 1896.Jim Crow Laws and the separate but equal doctrine resulted in the creation of a two-track service delivery system in both law and custom, one for whites and one for blacks that were anything but equal.

Developments in the 1950s and ’60’s further disadvantaged black families. This happened when states stepped up efforts to reduce ADC enrollment and costs. As I examined in my book, residency requirements were proposed so as to bar blacks migrating from the South to qualify for the program. New York City’s “man in the house rule” required welfare workers to make unannounced visits to determine if fathers were living in the home – if evidence of a male presence was found, cases were closed and welfare checks discontinued.

Always an Unpopular Program
Because of the strong American work ethic, and preference for a “hand up” versus a “hand-out,” the means-tested, cash assistance programs for poor families – and especially ADC renamed AFDC – have never been popular among Americans. As FDR himself said in his 1935 State of the Union address to Congress, “the government must and shall quit this business of relief.”

As the quality of life did indeed improve for whites, the number of white widows and their children on the AFDC rolls declined. At the same time, the easing of racial discrimination widened eligibility to more blacks, increasing the number of never-married women of color and their children who were born out of wedlock.

One point, however, to note here is that there has always been a public misconception about race and welfare. It is true that over the years blacks became disproportionately represented. But given that whites constitute a majority of the population, numerically they have always been the largest users of the AFDC program.

Holes in the Safety Net
The retreat from the safety net philosophy can be dated to the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. On the one hand, politicians wanted to reduce the cost of welfare. Under Reagan policies of New Federalism, social welfare expenditures were capped and responsibility for programs for poor families given back to states. On the other hand, the demographic shift in the welfare rolls exacerbated the politics around welfare and racialized the debate.

Ronald Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” narrative only reinforced existing white stereotypes about blacks: “There’s a woman in Chicago. She has 80 names, 30 addressees, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veterans’ benefits on four nonexistent deceased husbands. She’s got Medicaid, is getting food stamps and welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000.”

The 1990s Gear Change
By the late 1990s efforts of reforms targeting the AFDC program shifted to more nuanced forms of racism with claims that the program encouraged out-of-wedlock births, irresponsible fatherhood and intergenerational dependency.

The political context for the 1996 reforms, then, was fueled by racist undertones that played into public angst about rising taxes and the national debt that were attributed to the high payout of welfare checks to people who were not carrying their own weight.

This emotionally charged environment distorted the poverty debate, and paved the way for a reform bill that many saw as excessively punitive in its harsh treatment of poor families.

Although credited to the Clinton administration, the blueprint for the 1996 welfare reform bill was crafted by a caucus of conservative Republicans led by Newt Gingrich as part of the Contract with America during the 1994 congressional election campaign.

Twice President Clinton vetoed the welfare reform bill sent to him by the GOP-dominated Congress. The third time he signed, creating much controversy, including the resignation of his own adviser on welfare reform, the leading scholar on poverty David Ellwood.

The new bill replaced the AFDC program with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Stricter work requirements required single mothers to find work within two years of receiving benefits. A five-year lifetime limit was imposed for receiving benefits. To reinforce traditional family values, a core principle of the Republican Party, teenage mothers were to be prohibited benefits, and fathers who were delinquent in child support payments were threatened with imprisonment. States were banned from using federally funded TANF for certain groups of immigrants and restrictions were placed on their eligibility to Medicaid, food stamps and Supplementary Social Security Income (SSI).

The Impact

Despite many bleak predictions, favorable outcomes were reported on the 10th anniversary of the bill’s signing. Welfare rolls had declined. Mothers had moved from welfare to work and children had benefited psychologically from having an employed parent.

However, the volume of research generated at the 10-year benchmark has not been matched, in my observation, by that produced in years leading up to the 20-year anniversary.

More research in particular is needed to understand what is happening with families who have left welfare rolls because of passing the five-year lifetime limit for receiving benefits but have not sustained a foothold in an ever-increasing specialized workforce.

Disentangling Intertwined Effects of Racism and Poverty

U.S. welfare policy is, arguably, as much a reflection of its economic policies as it is of the nation’s troublesome history of racism.

In the words of President Obama, racism is a part of America’s DNA and history. Similarly, the notion that anyone who is willing to work hard can be rich is just as much a part of that DNA. Both have played an equal role in constraining adequate policy development for poor families and have been especially harmful to poor black families.

Racism has left an indelible mark on American institutions. In particular, it influences how we understand the causes of poverty and how we develop solutions for ending it.

Indeed, with the continual unraveling of the safety net, the 20th anniversary of welfare reforms can be an impetus for taking a closer look at how racism has shaped welfare policy in the U.S. and to what extent it accounts for the persistently high poverty rates for black children.”

The Atlantic: States With Large Black Populations Are Stingier With Government Benefits

Research suggests that states with homogenous populations are more willing to spend on the safety net than those with higher shares of minorities.

 “When he launched his War on Poverty in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson visited Tom Fletcher, an unemployed white Appalachian coal miner who lived in Kentucky. The White House had chosen Fletcher, who had eight children, to become the face of American poverty, and an iconic Time magazine photo captured the president squatting next to Fletcher and three of his boys on the porch.

Poverty, in the 1960s, did not just affect white Appalachians like Fletcher. As Johnson himself wrote in his memoirs, the poor “were black and they were white, of every religion and background and national origin. And they were 35 million strong.” But Johnson chose a white family to represent poverty to the American public. His legislative agenda would be contentious, and he needed as much support from Republicans and Democrats as he could get. It seems he made a calculation: Convincing elected officials, the majority of whom were white, to help poor people would be a lot easier if they thought of the poor as white people like them.

The example highlights a fact of life about welfare in America: People are more likely to support anti-poverty programs if they conceive of the poor as “like them,” especially when it comes to race. On a state-by-state basis, places with the most homogeneous populations tend to be the most generous. Oregon, for example, one of the whitest states in the union, has an extensive safety net, as I’ve written about before. Today, Oregon, where 84 percent of the population is white and 1.8 percent of the population is black, gives a single-parent family of three $506 a month through Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), the modern-day welfare program. Mississippi, which is 60 percent white and 38 percent black, gives a single-parent family of three just $170 a month. Oregon also helps people get off welfare by linking them to employment and pays their wages for up to six months. Mississippi has a work requirement for people receiving welfare, but does little to help them get a job. “I think what you see in other states is you see this kind of partisan, ‘we are going to take it out on poor people,’ philosophy. You just haven’t seen that here,” Tina Kotek, a Democratic legislator in Oregon, told me last year.

That states have so much leeway in how they administer benefits is one of the legacies of a massive overhaul of welfare programs in 1996. In those reforms, spearheaded by then-president Bill Clinton, the government changed cash assistance to a program called TANF, which was administered through what are known as “block grants” to states. States could decide what they did with TANF funds, and could set their own limits for how much cash families could receive and who could receive it. A new Urban Institute analysis finds that allowing states to decide how to spend TANF dollars has led to even more racial discrepancies in who receives benefits. The Urban Institute analyzed a federal database that tracks state policy decisions about TANF and found that the states whose populations are more heavily African American are now less generous, more restrictive, and provide TANF for a shorter period of time than whiter states.

This has big implications in today’s political climate, as Republicans talk about consolidating federal anti-poverty programs such as Medicaid and food stamps and sending them to states through block grants. Block-granting other programs could cause similar racial disparities in who receives them. “TANF is a cautionary tale about what block grants can mean,” said Heather Hahn, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and one of the authors of the study.  “When states have flexibility to set policies, the state philosophies will prevail in determining what those policies are.

One way to track the generosity of state benefits is something called the TANF-to-poverty ratio. It measures how many families are receiving benefits for every 100 families living in poverty. The Urban Institute, using data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, found that the whitest states have the highest TANF-to-poverty ratio. They include Vermont, which gives TANF to 78 families for every 100 families in poverty, and Oregon, which gives TANF to 46 families for every 100 families living in poverty. States that have the lowest TANF-to-poverty ratio are those with high shares of African Americans, including Louisiana, which gives benefits to four families for every 100 living in poverty, and Arkansas, which gives benefits to seven families for every 100 living in poverty. (For more on Arkansas’ changes to welfare, read my story from 2016.) About 56 percent of the country’s African Americans live in the 25 states that rank lowest on the TANF-to-poverty ratio, the Urban Institute found, as opposed to 46 percent of white people.

A similar correlation was observed in measurements of the benefits’ generosity, according to the Urban Institute. A five-percentage-point increase in the African American share of the population was associated with an average decrease of $25 a month in the maximum monthly benefit available to families—$413 a month compared to $440 for the median state. States with higher shares of African Americans also have higher penalties when people don’t comply with a program’s rules, a policy known as “initial sanctions,” Hahn said. “When we look at some of these individual policies, we can see how having a higher share of African Americans in the population translate to a lower maximum benefit level, and harsher initial sanctions,” Hahn said.  “When we put them all together and look across the board, we see this consistent pattern.”

It is not surprising that block-granting TANF has followed along racial divides: From the early history of the country’s welfare programs, allowing local discretion as to who can receive benefits has continually led to African American families receiving less or getting tossed off the rolls altogether. When mothers’ pensions, the precursor to welfare, were launched in the early 20th century, they mostly went to white women. Case workers had a fair amount of discretion in who received these pensions, and they believed African American women should work—something they tended to believe was beneath white women. They regularly denied African American women pensions, according to Jennifer Mittelstadt, a professor of history at Rutgers University.When the Aid to Dependent Children program (which later became Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC) began in 1935, that discrimination persisted, according to Joe Soss, a professor at the University of Minnesota and the co-author of Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race. Though ADC was a cash-assistance program for poor women, some states began disqualifying certain women from receiving it. In the South during harvest season, officials would shutter the welfare offices and require that African American women requesting ADC work in the fields, for instance. They’d enforce a series of rules designed to keep black women off welfare rolls, disqualifying women if they had a man living in their house who wasn’t their husband, or if their homes were deemed untidy by case workers, he said. “Whenever you find space for discretion in the South and West, you often get racial discrimination as a result,” Mittelstadt told me.But as African Americans moved north, they were more successful at accessing benefits, helped in part by a welfare-rights movement tied to the Civil Rights movement. In addition, when the federal government began administering anti-poverty programs in the 1960s in the wake of Johnson’s War on Poverty, it became harder for states to deny aid, and the federal government challenged states that were discriminating against certain races. As a result, the number of African Americans on the welfare rolls started to climb.Having more minorities on the rolls in turn created a new problem for case workers, though, who worried there would be backlash against welfare because of the number of black families receiving benefits, according to Mittelstadt. The term “welfare” had a positive connotation among Americans before the 1960s, according to Soss, but as the program became more diverse, stereotypes about “freeloaders” started to emerge. When case workers brainstormed about how to defend the program, they decided they could pitch welfare as something that would be “rehabilitative” for black women, rather than just a free handout. They would “rehabilitate” black women by making them work in order to receive benefits. “It’s a subtle rethinking of the purpose of the program,” Mittelstadt said. “That rethinking paves the way for the much bolder changes that came in the ‘70s and ‘80s and ‘90s.”
Indeed, reforms in the 1980s and 1990s added some work requirements for people who wanted to receive cash assistance. Still, because AFDC was a federal program, states did not have that much discretion in how they distributed benefits. The big change came in 1996, when the federal government restricted the amount of time that people could receive benefits, and required a certain percentage of welfare recipients to be working. The reforms of 1996 wiped away the victories of the welfare-rights era, and essentially allowed states to make receiving benefits much more difficult, according to Soss. “We really returned to a situation in which, although the money is coming from the federal government, the states have a great deal of discretion at least in the direction of limiting aid to people,” Soss told me.As a result, many states have made it much more difficult to receive benefits. Out of 11,717 people in Mississippi who applied to get TANF last year, just 167 were approved, according to ThinkProgress. A bill recently passed in Mississippi may make it even harder to get benefits—it essentially privatizes the agency that approves benefits and asks potential recipients to jump through more hoops to apply. One of the lawmakers behind the bill penned an op-ed alleging that Mississippi welfare recipients were “taking advantage” of the program by living in multiple states, and speculating that enrollees were using stolen identities, and that some welfare recipients had actually won money in the lottery.

State-by-State Changes in the TANF-to-Poverty Ratio, 1996-2014

Source: The Urban Institute, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Blaming welfare recipients is a common strategy in states where recipients are a different race from almost all lawmakers and the majority of voters. Attitudes towards welfare recipients often dictate state policy. “If voters or policymakers perceive people receiving welfare as different from themselves, they may believe that welfare dependency is caused more by personal shortcomings than by circumstances beyond one’s control,” Hahn and her co-authors write.

In reality, most welfare recipients are people who were born into poverty, and who are struggling to find work and support their families. Changes to welfare in states with a higher share of African Americans have made this proposition more difficult. One woman I interviewed in Arkansas was struggling to support her family after her husband got shot. She wanted to look for jobs that were commensurate with her experience, but because the state of Arkansas required her to spend a certain number of hours volunteering per week in order to receive welfare, she barely had time to look for another job, or go on interviews. “The program is designed to keep you in a rut,” the woman, Raquel Williams, told me. “It’s not built to empower anybody.”

That policies can differ so much among different states—and that such differences correspond so tightly with racial breakdowns—is the unfortunate lesson of welfare reform. Giving states leeway on how they treat their poor has always been a risky proposition, with states with high shares of minorities historically choosing to leave people out. It’s only when the federal government intervenes that a more egalitarian response is possible. That, however, may not be what Congress wants.”

Slate: Republicans’ Fixation on Work Requirements Is Fueled by White Racial Resentment

“Thursday afternoon, the House narrowly passed a Farm Bill that, if it were to become law, would vastly expand work requirements for SNAP (formerly “food stamps”) recipients, putting more than 2 million people at greater risk of hunger. The vote is the latest in a coordinated GOP effort to ration everything from health care to housing according to work status. The vote came on the heels of a sweeping proposal from the Trump administration to reform several federal agencies, including rebranding the Department of Health and Human Services as the Department of Health and Public Welfare—presumably to make its association with the now-pejorative welfare even more obvious to the public—with an explicit emphasis on standardizing work requirements across public assistance programs.

This “illusory emphasis on employment” was part of a multifaceted condemnation of the Trump administration’s approach to poverty in a report presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council early Friday. Hours before the House vote, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., rebuked the report as “misleading,” arguing that “being able to provide for one’s self and family is empowering, both economically and spiritually.”

Haley’s comments fit right into the Trump administration’s crusade to sell work requirements as measures that promote the “dignity of work“ and incentivize “community engagement.” In truth, work requirements devalue work and demean the people doing it. People in poverty are required to accept jobs on any terms, while the labor they already perform within their homes and communities is disregarded entirely. This narrow framing of work and productivity has deep historical roots, and stems from a long tradition of exploitation that, then as now, disproportionately affects women of color.

Absent any evidence that they’re necessary or effective, work requirements gain traction because they play into the public perception that people in poverty—especially black women in poverty—are lazy, irresponsible welfare queens. At a political moment when policymakers are deliberately broadening the scope of what’s considered “welfare,” it’s clear that consequences of the American pastime of embedding—and accepting—racism in public policy will ultimately envelop anyone below a certain net worth. In states where Trump’s agenda is already in practice, we can glimpse what’s in store for millions more Americans if this vision is fully realized.

In many ways, Mississippi provides this playbook. Last April we interviewed women in Jackson about their experiences accessing supports like SNAP and TANF (cash assistance, or “welfare”). One woman, Carla (a pseudonym, which is standard in such policy research), has held numerous paying jobs in her adult life and now also cares for her two young children as well as a brother, who has a disability, and her elderly mother.

She also shows up for other families in her community. When the city stopped providing a school bus to her housing complex, Carla began driving the neighborhood kids to school herself, improvising a bus using her 18-passenger van. Noting the curvy road with no sidewalks, she explained, “I didn’t want to see them walking. It’s too much.” These forms of productivity, however, are invisible within the “work requirements” rubric. And so, attending to the needs of the community becomes a casualty of meeting the requirements of the state. As Carla says, “You get on this program and then now you’re neglecting everything else trying to deal with the stipulations of this program.”

Within the scope of work that counts to the state, dignity is not part of the picture. As Carla said, “When you come in, [employers] already know you work for TANF,” and, she says, they treat her badly as a result. But with no power to negotiate for better conditions or hold out for better options, “You’re backed up against the wall; you can’t afford to lose this job.”

In one placement through her welfare office, Carla was fired after declining to clean the bathroom at the end of her shift—a duty that was not included in the job description as a teacher’s assistant. She said that she thought her employer was trying to find out, in her words, “Just, ‘How much will she take before she acts like how I think she should act?’ ” She lost both TANF and SNAP when she was unable to find a new job within 10 days.

Work requirements coerce women like Carla into no- or low-wage work where they risk exploitation to qualify for fewer than $6 a day in TANF benefits for a family of three. While “work activities” that satisfy this requirement in Mississippi do include jobs that are paid an hourly wage, they also encompass community service, work experience programs, and the provision of child care for another TANF recipient engaged in community service, for which that $6 a day is the only compensation. And the odds of receiving benefits at all are bleak: In 2016, Mississippi approved just 1.4 percent of applicants to the program, despite having among the toughest job markets and the highest child poverty rate in the country.

Fighting the latest proposals at the national level requires dismantling their ideological foundations. Ultimately, the proliferation of work requirements advanced by the current administration spring from a tree with very deep, racist roots.

To start, the predecessor to “welfare as we know it” was the mother’s pension, which, as long as it primarily served white women, wasn’t thought of as welfare at all. It was designed to enable widowed mothers to meet their basic needs without wage work, precisely because Americans believed mothers should be able to dedicate their time solely to the unpaid work of child care and housekeeping. Once more black women began accessing assistance, however, work requirements followed. With the Great Migration, Northern states increasingly imposed work requirements that were already commonplace in the South (and had followed more informal practices of restricting black women’s access to welfare to compel work during harvesting season).

With clear echoes of rhetoric from today, the 1967 amendments to the Social Security Act, which first established national work requirements for cash assistance, proclaimed that mandatory work would impart “a sense of dignity, self-worth, and confidence which will flow from being recognized as a wage-earning member of society.” Yet in her testimony to Congress about the reform, welfare activist Beulah Sanders foreshadowed Carla’s experience, evoking the long history of black women performing domestic work for their wealthier white counterparts: “One of the things we are concerned about is being forced into these nonexisting positions which might be going out and cleaning Mrs. A’s kitchen.”

Coupled with the overvaluing of any job outside the home, a central tactic in the institutionalization of work requirements was the devaluing of family caregiving, the very thing that led to the early mother’s pension when white women were the beneficiaries. Nixon, in a speech to the Republican Governors Association in 1971, decried a system in which “one person can be penalized for doing an honest day’s work and another can be rewarded for doing nothing at all,” completely erasing the labor recipients were doing within their home. Twenty-five years later, welfare reform established that women could meet the new TANF work requirements by caring for another welfare recipient’s child, but not their own; as Deborah Stone writes, “work for work’s sake became the new mantra.”

Critically, although work requirements and other welfare policies have been designed as tools of racial exclusion, they hurt white people too. As Michelle Alexander argues regarding the criminal justice system in The New Jim Crow, not only are the disadvantages to members of other races endemic of a racialized system, they are necessary to preserve its legitimacy as a “race-neutral” system. So, white Americans become “collateral damage” of racist policy.

The unemployment rate of a specific county, for example, is ostensibly a “race-neutral” indicator of how hard it is to find work. As such, the Michigan lawmaker who proposed exempting predominantly white, rural counties from Medicaid work requirements, while still imposing them on the counties that are home to predominantly black cities like Detroit and Flint, could argue with plausible deniability that charges of racism were “ridiculous.”

Contrary to popular belief, white Americans have always been the primary recipients of public benefits, and comprise by far the largest group of Medicaid beneficiaries. And the inaccessibility of benefits and the exploitation inherent in the “workfare” model lowers the floor for everyone, while incentivizing employers to “set wages at extremely low levels with the knowledge that welfare recipients must accept any job that comes along or risk losing their benefits.”

But due to the decadeslong political project of stigmatizing any form of means-tested assistance (as opposed to more universally available programs like Social Security)—which has relied heavily on the cultivation of racial resentment and derisive characterizations of “the poor”—even those who clearly recognize the inadequacy of the safety net and private market commonly call for further retrenchment rather than expansion. For example, as Julilly Kohler-Hausmann documents in her 2017 book Getting Tough, Californians writing letters to Gov. Ronald Reagan in the 1970s commonly bemoaned their lack of health care, sick leave, or adequate pay—but rather than demanding their own access to these basic benefits, constituents argued that “welfare” should be slashed.

In a study published earlier this month, researchers found that white racial resentment predicted opposition to welfare spending, echoing the findings of a widely cited 2001 paper correlating race and support for welfare. In other words, the racism that has imbued anti-poverty policy for decades has further undermined the type of solidarity across poor and working-class people that could bolster demands for both higher wages and a more robust social safety net.

Our government’s ongoing role in stoking racial resentment and mainstreaming the idea that paid work alone is what makes us worthy of rights should be deeply troubling to us all. Carla’s words indicate she heard the message loud and clear: “The world has already labeled any type of assistance that you get from the government as bad. You are less than a human … You do not matter.”

Powerful new research suggests that these othering experiences aren’t just a threat to our sense of social belonging and economic well-being but to democracy itself. As Jamila Michener, author of Fragmented Democracy: Medicaid, Federalism, and Unequal Politics shared with us, “Punitive policies like work requirements … tell beneficiaries that they have little power, are not trusted, will not be heard, and cannot count on the government for help in times of need. Having learned such lessons, beneficiaries lose faith in government, forgo opportunities to vote, and disengage from politics more broadly.” Considering more than half of Americans will at some point in their lives fall below the poverty line, the scope of this underrecognized form of disenfranchisement could be vast.

Charting a path forward that affirms that dignity is a condition of our humanity, not our work status, will require codifying this value into our laws and policies. We don’t have to start from scratch.

In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. launched the Poor People’s Campaign, a multiracial coalition of farmworkers, tenants, welfare activists, union leaders, and others demanding that Congress take concerted action on poverty, including through an “Economic Bill of Rights.” A key partner in the campaign was the National Welfare Rights Organization, a coalition of thousands of welfare recipients across the country, led by black women, which demanded “decent income as a right“ and emphasized the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work on low-income women. Fifty years later, a revived Poor People’s Campaign is preparing to once again march on D.C. to fight for economic justice and racial equality; meanwhile, the city of Stockton, California, is piloting the first municipal-led basic income, which, importantly, will center community engagement in its design and evaluation—a policy feature likely to strengthen political engagement rather than erode it.

Certainly these ideas are ambitious, but our solutions have to meet the scale of the problem. And in the near term, rejecting the campaign to expand work requirements is a down payment on a future U.S. society that no longer treats the price of our paid labor as a proxy for our value.”

Saloon: White Americans support welfare programs — but only for themselves, says new research

New study shows white Americans love government support programs — that is, if they’re the beneficiaries

“Donald Trump’s administration recently decided to give $12 billion to farmers hurt by the president’s trade war against the European Union, China and various other countries. These monies can be considered a form of welfare for white people in red state America who are among his most loyal supporters. Moreover, the racial disparity is made even clearer by the way that African-American and other nonwhite farmers have been victims of systemic discrimination by the United States Department of Agriculture. In 2010, the USDA and the Justice Department reached a $1.25 billion settlement with black farmers over a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in USDA farm loan programs.

Welfare for white Americans is nothing new. In many ways, the United States was built on white welfare.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, free land was given to European settlers as the intended result of genocide and ethnic cleansing against Native Americans. As part of this same racist project, the stolen labor and lives of black human property is estimated to have been worth trillions of dollars. In essence, black pain and black suffering was a de facto intergenerational welfare payment to White America, one that fueled the country’s rise to global power and created income and other life opportunities for white people, both native- born and immigrants.

African-Americans and other nonwhites were prohibited both by law and social convention from taking advantage of land grants and other opportunities made available by the Homestead Act and related 19th-century legislation which conservative estimates value at hundreds of billions of dollars.

The American middle class (predominantly white by definition) was created after World War II by way of federal programs like the VA, the FHA home programs and the G.I. Bill. This example of white welfare was one of the largest wealth-creation and intergenerational wealth-transfer programs in history. Again, African-Americans and other nonwhites were, for the most part, denied access to those opportunities. Today’s extreme racial wealth gap is the most obvious result.

What economists and other social scientists describe as “the submerged state” —  government programs such as mortgage interest deductions, capital gains and other tax credits and cuts, and financial subsidies for entire industries — is another example of white welfare. Whites are disproportionately overrepresented as beneficiaries of the submerged state. Moreover, the submerged state is a central means through which the racial wealth gap is maintained in so-called “post racial” “colorblind” America.

There is a complication. New research by Robb Willer, professor of sociology at  Stanford University, and Rachel Wetts, a researcher at the University of California, demonstrates that despite all the ways that the government provided welfare programs to help them, white Americans are willing to cut such programs if they believe that African-Americans and other nonwhites may benefit.

This dynamic is made worse when white Americans are made to feel that their place at the top of America’s social hierarchy is challenged. Lyndon Johnson’s insight has been proven true over and over: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

A new article, “Privilege on the Precipice: Perceived Racial Status Threats Lead White Americans to Oppose Welfare Programs,” published in the May 2018 issue of the journal Social Forces, explores this issue, finding that “white Americans’ welfare attitudes are shaped by concerns about the status of their racial group in American society”:

[W]e found that white Americans who saw a demographic report emphasizing the decline of the white majority tended thereafter to voice greater opposition to welfare, and this effect was partially mediated by increased racial resentment. In our final study, we found that information threatening the white economic advantage resulted in increased opposition to welfare programs when whites perceived those programs to primarily benefit minorities, but did not affect support for programs portrayed as benefiting whites. These findings implicate racial status threats as a causal factor shaping whites’ opposition to welfare.

Wetts and Willer conclude with a pessimistic but realistic observation about how white racial resentment and white racism hurts Americans on both sides of the color line and how efforts to create racial equality will continue to spur white backlash as they have throughout American history:

[A]ny progress toward equality may provoke resentment on the part of dominant group members, who may react politically in ways that undermine or even reverse progress to racial equality. In the case of American social welfare programs, this further implies that evidence of increased racial equality could exacerbate overall economic inequality. As whites attempt to undermine racial progress they see as threatening their group’s status, they increase opposition to programs intended to benefit poorer members of all racial groups.

I recently spoke with Rachel Wetts about this new research on white racial resentment, racism, Trumpism and the social safety net. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

The discourse around poverty, “welfare,” and the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor in the United States is highly racialized. It is also gendered. How do these dynamics play out at present? 

Robb Willer and I examine the sources of white Americans’ opposition to welfare. We find evidence that welfare backlash among white Americans is driven in part by feelings that the status of whites in America is under threat. These threats trigger heightened levels of racial resentment among whites, and in turn, heightened opposition to welfare programs that whites tend to perceive as mostly benefiting racial minorities.

This research shows us when and why whites support cuts to social safety net programs that benefit poorer members of all racial groups. While we don’t directly look at the processes that lead whites to perceive welfare programs as primarily benefiting minorities rather than whites, other research discusses how these programs become racialized. For example, through media depictions that disproportionately portray welfare recipients as black (see work by Martin Gilens), or through racialized rhetoric of political elites that connects these policies to negative stereotypes of minorities (examples: Tali Mendelberg or Ian Haney López’s work on “dog whistle politics”).

White Americans on average have much higher incomes, wealth and representation in government than African-Americans, Latinos and other nonwhite groups. Given those facts, why would whites fear their racial group is losing status?

While whites continue to enjoy many of their historical privileges in this country, much public discourse about race — particularly in the period immediately following the election of Barack Obama — emphasized America’s increasing demographic diversity and the declining dominance of white people in this country. Most prominently, after Obama’s election, political commentators were announcing the arrival of a “post-racial” era. In addition, many also highlighted the role of nonwhites in Obama’s election. While it’s true that whites on average continue to have political and economic advantages relative to African-Americans and Latinos, these larger social trends and high-profile events can create the sense that these advantages are potentially precarious or slipping away.

Perceptions don’t always match reality. And members of the media and politicians sometimes frame or highlight social trends and events in ways that might make them seem more threatening to whites’ status than they actually are. For example, research finds that people in many countries, including the United States, strongly overestimate what percentage of the population is made up of immigrants.

What types of perceived threats by white Americans to their status do you examine in your research?  

We find that a variety of forms of perceived threats to the standing of whites in America lead them to withdraw support for welfare programs. These include perceived threats to whites’ political power, majority status and economic advantage. For example, we find that whites’ racial resentment rose in 2008, the same year of the Great Recession and election of Barack Obama, suggesting that perceptions of increased political power among minorities were leading whites to sense a threat to their group’s status. In another study, we found that when whites saw a threat to their economic advantage over minorities, they were more likely to want to cut social safety net programs, but only if those programs were portrayed as primarily benefiting minorities. Not if they were portrayed as benefiting whites.

This can help us understand the current wave of welfare backlash, which paradoxically began in the midst of the Great Recession. Typically you expect, and research typically finds, that Americans are more supportive of government aid to the poor during economic recessions. But economic downturns can also amplify racial-threat effects, and this recession coincided with the election of the first black president. So we present evidence consistent with the theory that this led whites to feel that their racial status was threatened, and this helps explain rising opposition to welfare programs in recent years.

What can this research tell us about the current political moment?

First, the Trump administration has recently made several moves to cut the social safety net, such as cutting housing subsidies and proposing work requirements to receive food stamps. So, in this context, it’s important to understand the dynamics that drive welfare backlash. This research suggests that white voters may be supportive of measures to roll back social safety net programs — even when these programs could benefit them — as a response to feelings of threatened racial status and racial resentment.

Second, there’s been a lot of talk recently about the role of racial threat in shaping the current American political environment, so we wanted to test some of this speculation with research.

You signal to a “welfare backlash” from white conservatives during the Obama years. The Trump election was a type of “white backlash” as well. How do those two dynamics interact?

There were many factors that contributed to Trump’s election, but there’s one in particular that our work can speak to: white racial resentment. While we don’t directly look at Trump support in our research — we conducted these studies before his presidential campaign — his election was part of this historical moment where we find heightened racial resentment among whites, which we argue results from a sense that the status of whites in America is under threat. Other research, such as a new paper by Diana Mutz, ties these feelings of resentment and status loss among whites to support for Donald Trump.

What kind of broader social changes might create this sense of threatened status, leading to heightened racial resentment among whites? In the new paper, we argue that the historical period beginning in 2008 (and leading up to Trump’s election) saw a series of economic and political events that were likely to be perceived as threats to whites’ position in the racial status hierarchy: 1) The election of the first nonwhite president, a high-profile event with a lot of symbolic significance for signaling changing relationships between racial groups; 2) The political power of the steadily growing minority population in the United States, which was felt in the 2008 and 2012 elections to a greater extent than ever before and highlighted by political commentators; and 3) The Great Recession.

Past work finds that economic downturns can exacerbate racial threats by giving whites the sense that they may lose out on more limited economic resources. So we argue that the feeling of threat whites experienced, resulting from Obama’s election and increased salience of the declining white population, were likely amplified because they occurred at this time of national economic insecurity.

So while our research can’t directly speak to sources of Trump support, it does examine what kinds of social trends can increase whites’ racial resentment, which other research increasingly shows is tied to support for Trump. In particular, there’s been a lot of talk about whether people supported Trump because of racial resentment or because of a sense of being left behind economically. Again, we can’t speak directly to the question of Trump support. But we argue here (based on previous research) that feelings of larger economic decline — on the societal level — can exacerbate racial threats, and these feelings of threat increase whites’ racial resentment. So rather than seeing economic hardship as an alternative reason some whites might support Donald Trump, our research would suggest that national economic decline was a factor contributing to whites’ heightened racial resentment during the historical moment leading up to Trump’s election.

Reading your article, I kept thinking about these ongoing debates on the sophistication and rationality of the American electorate. Considering your findings, is this further proof that white racial animus and the psychological wages of whiteness lead white voters to act “irrationally”? Or could it be that many white Americans are simply using a different calculus that goes beyond basic material self-interest in making political decisions? 

The part of our work that speaks most closely to this is our finding that whites’ racial resentment rose in the midst of the Great Recession, leading them to increase opposition to welfare relative to minorities’ level of welfare support. Research finds that publics typically respond to economic crises “rationally” — with increased support for government action to reduce economic insecurity. In our paper, we find that minorities showed this frequently observed increase in welfare support in 2008, at the onset of a major economic downturn, but whites did not. This pattern can be understood as an across-the-board increase in welfare support in response to economic crisis being offset among whites by their response to racial status threat.

So, our paper suggests, as you say, that the answer isn’t simple. Our paper suggests that both a “rational” response to economic downturn and heightened racial resentment affected whites’ support for welfare programs during the Great Recession, leading to a heightened racial divergence in whites’ and minorities’ attitudes toward welfare.”

The Atlantic: Racial Resentment Can Motivate Opposition to Welfare

In a series of experiments, researchers show that when whites feel threatened, they oppose government assistance.

“It’s a pretty well-known trope at this point: People who rely on government assistance programs are often the ones who oppose welfare most vociferously. Aside from the infamous “keep your government hands off my Medicare” line, examples abound of poor people who hate government assistance for poor people.

A new study explores a surprising psychological motivation that might be underpinning this opposition to welfare, at least among white people: racial resentment.Here’s how it works, according to a paper published in the journal Social Forces: When whites feel their status in the racial hierarchy is threatened, they become more resentful of minorities. That, in turn, translates to a greater opposition toward welfare, because some people think welfare disproportionately benefits minorities. This dynamic, the authors find, might be why opposition to welfare programs increased after 2008—when the economy was in tatters and the nation had elected a black president.For the study, the authors—Rachel Wetts of UC Berkeley and Robb Willer of Stanford University—first analyzed survey data and found that “whites’ racial resentment rose beginning in 2008 and continued rising in 2012.” They note that though whites still had higher incomes, wealth, and representation in government than African Americans and Latinos during that time, “much public discourse about race in this period emphasized America’s increasing demographic diversity and the declining dominance of white Americans.” Some American whites, it seems, felt threatened by this.
Starting in 2008, the study authors found, minorities showed more positive attitudes toward welfare, while whites’ attitudes held steady—even though recessions tend to increase support for government programs. That racial gap in support for welfare among the races persisted in 2012, even though all Americans began to oppose welfare in greater numbers at that time.Willer and Wetts later did a series of experiments meant to test whether these two trends were related. First, they found that when white participants were told that whites continue to be the “largest single ethnic group in the United States,” they proposed cutting $28 million from federal welfare spending. Those told that whites’ population share is “substantially declining” proposed cutting $51 million. The white participants who were told their population share was declining were also more opposed to welfare and had higher levels of racial resentment—and the latter phenomenon helped explain the former, according to the authorsThen, they found whites were less likely to support programs that benefited minorities if they had been told that the gap between white and minority incomes is closing. What’s more, white participants who opposed a welfare program benefiting minorities went on to support a program benefiting whites.There are a few caveats to keep in mind here. Not all the researchers’ tests yielded significant links between threats, welfare opposition, and racial resentment, so they would have to be repeated in order to prove the trends hold up more broadly. And priming, an experimental method that reminds people of something (say, whites’ share of the population) before testing their attitudes, has been criticized as not very reliable.The priming-style measures used in this study could be important, though, because what Americans see in the news influences their support for different types of candidates and policies. “Because public attitudes partially drive developments in anti-poverty policy, these findings suggest that perceptions of rising minority power, declines in whites’ relative socioeconomic status, or other perceived macro-level threats to whites’ racial status may provoke adoption of more restrictive welfare regimes,” the authors write.And status threat, in general, is a very powerful motivator. Earlier, Willer, the author of this study, found that threats to the status of whites increased support for the Tea Party. Studies of white supremacists have found they feel whites are discriminated against. A study a few months ago found that feeling America’s status is threatened motivated support for President Trump.Taken together, the racially driven opposition to welfare could be one reason why Trump has tried to cut various government programs. “The Trump administration has begun allowing states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, and has proposed tripling the rents for the poorest households receiving federal housing assistance,” The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey points out. “The House is also scheduled to vote again next month on a plan to cut $9 billion from food-stamp benefits over 10 years and require most adults to hold a job to receive payments.”
The takeaway from this study is a depressing one: “This further implies that evidence of increased racial equality could exacerbate overall economic inequality,” the authors note. “As whites attempt to undermine racial progress they see as threatening their group’s status, they increase opposition to programs intended to benefit poorer members of all racial groups.”A rising tide could lift all boats, in other words. But some people will still want their boats to be just a little higher than the others.” 

Farm Bills

  • Based upon the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 to help farmers through the Dust Bowl and Great Depression
    • –Renewed every 5 years
  • The farm bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that covers everything from:
    • crop insurance
    • healthy food access for low-income families
    • training support for beginning farmers
    • funding for sustainable agriculture research.

NSAC’s “Racial Equity in the Farm Bill: Context and Foundations

“The farm bill is an immensely powerful package of laws that sets the course of our country’s food and farm systems…In the 1990 Farm Bill, advocates also pushed Congress to create the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program (also known as the “2501 program”). To this day, the 2501 program is the only farm bill program that explicitly addresses the unique needs of farmers and ranchers of color (veterans were added to the program in the 2014 Farm Bill). 2501 provides grants to colleges and universities, nonprofits, and community organizations working with farmers of color. The program’s focus on outreach makes it an effective mechanism through which farmers of color can access federal resources through existing loan, conservation, rural development and other farm programs.

In additional to 2501, there are special incentives and funding set-asides for socially disadvantaged farmers within USDA administered grant programs that have been created thanks to advocacy by NSAC and other farmer-focused organizations. Programs with these incentives and set-asides include, but are not limited to:

Despite the legislative and administrative progress by USDA in better serving socially disadvantaged farmers, there are still many programs that do not adequately meet the needs of these groups. Further complicating the issue is inconsistent administration, outreach and accessibility across USDA programs. Some USDA programs, for example, have conflicting definitions of “socially disadvantaged,” which creates confusion and challenges for farmers interested in those programs. BFRDP is a prime example of this conflict; in this program gender is included in the statutory definition of socially disadvantaged farmer, however, gender is not included as part of the “socially disadvantaged” category in many other programs. Programs also have different types of provisions for socially disadvantaged farmers and ways of setting participation targets. For example, in the case of Direct Farm Ownership Loans, county or reservation demographic data sets “target participation rates”. In contrast, EQIP includes a set-aside of five percent of all funding for socially disadvantaged farmersThere has been progress, however, and the 2018 Farm Bill provides us with an opportunity to move the needle even further. Support for key USDA programs that support socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers will be debated during this farm bill, many of which (like the 2501 Program and the Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program) have been underfunded for years. This farm bill offers a rare opportunity to reverse the trend of disinvestment in resources for underserved producers and food producing communities, and to lay out a plan for a brighter, more prosperous future for all. Recommendations for how we can achieve this goal can be found in detail in our farm bill platform, Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill.

Food Tank, “The Republican Farm Bill is as Broken as our Food System

“…the Republican Farm Bill — scheduled for markup in the House Agriculture Committee today –– puts the environment and public health at risk by continuing to prop up a broken food and agriculture system based on heavily polluting factory farms, genetically engineered mono-crops, processed foods, exploitative labor conditions, and over-dependence on chemical and energy-intensive pesticides and fertilizers.

Trump and the Republicans are promoting highly partisan, regressive, and unjust policies that would expand corporate welfare for mega-farms while slashing conservation programs, eliminating programs that support local, organic, and sustainable farmers and rural economies, and cutting vital nutrition funds for hungry families. It’s Robin Hood in reverse — taking from small-scale farmers and low-income families to further enrich agribusiness, factory farms, and crop insurance companies.

In an ironic and cruel twist, the Republican Farm Bill would require stricter work requirements for food assistance recipients —resulting in a cut of US$9 billion — while eliminating requirements that farm subsidy recipients actually work on their farm. This bill would roll back several other important subsidy reforms —including payment limitations and means testing aimed at leveling the playing field for smaller-scale farms that find it harder to compete with highly capitalized large-scale operators. Limitless subsidies to mega-farms proposed in this bill will drive land costs up, small farmers out, and result in increased concentration in the agricultural sector.”

NY Times: “Which Poor People Shouldn’t Have to Work for Aid?”

“Exhorted by President Trump, federal administrators and many Republican state officials are drafting rules (included in the 2018 GOP farm bill) requiring people to work in exchange for Medicaid, housing aid and food assistance. But what happens when the poor live where work is hard to find?

In Michigan, the state’s Senate has passed a proposal that would exempt Medicaid recipients from a work requirement partly on the basis of geography — if they live in a county where unemployment exceeds 8.5 percent. Geography may seem a simple way to identify who faces barriers to work, but it’s also a crude one. The lines that policymakers draw risk embedding regional and racial biases about who counts as “left behind.”

Michigan’s approach, critics point out, would mean that poor, mostly white rural counties are exempted, but not the predominantly black, economically troubled cities of Detroit and Flint. Those cities happen to be located within counties with low suburban unemployment, which brings the overall unemployment of the counties below 8.5 percent. There are similar demographic patterns in other states pursuing work requirements, including Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio, where the rural areas most likely to qualify for exemptions tend to be disproportionately white.

“This is trying to thread that needle between ‘are you poor because of structural reasons, where you live,’ or ‘are you poor because of your own choices?’” said Heather Hahn, a senior fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services and Population at the Urban Institute.

The problem, Ms. Hahn and others say, is that geography captures just one kind of barrier to employment. “If you’re taking only the geography as the structure,” Ms. Hahn said, “it’s really overlooking the much more obvious racial structure.” African-Americans who face racial discrimination in the job market are more likely to have a hard time finding work.

And people who can’t afford cars and live where public transit is inadequate have a harder time. So do the poor with criminal records, or those without a high school diploma, or people with problems securing child care.

Policies that exempt high-unemployment places, but not people who face other obstacles to work, selectively acknowledge barriers for only some of the poor. In effect, they suggest that unemployment is a systemic problem in struggling rural communities — but that in poor urban neighborhoods, it’s a matter of individual decisions.”

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The Daily Beast: The FBI’s War on Civil Rights Leaders

“On March 8, 1971 an anti-war activist group, the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania where they discovered a cache of classified documents, many bearing the cryptic code “COINTELPRO.”

They leaked the documents to the press and on March 24, 1971, The Washington Post ran a cover story on the vast program initiated by the FBI in 1956 to neutralize suspicious persons and organizations. Although initially formed to target the Communist Party U.S.A., it was quickly expanded to include a wide range of groups considered “subversive.” No segment had been as central to COINTELPRO operations as civil rights activists. A wider scope of the FBI’s actions, however, was not known until Congressional hearings five years later. What came to light was exceptionally chilling—seeped in its own racism, without any checks or balances, the FBI devoted more resources to harming the Civil Rights movement than any other task in its purview.

Fourteen years before the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed, Dr. T.R.M. Howard founded the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) in Mississippi. An advocate of civil rights, Howard provided resources and assistance for Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old kidnapped and murdered in that state in August 1955. Since Till’s family had received death threats, Howard secured them with a safe haven during the trial. When an all-white jury acquitted two white men, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant in September, Howard denounced the verdict and widespread racial oppression and terror. Howard then traveled to other cities, including Montgomery, Alabama, where he spoke at the church of a 26-year-old new pastor, Dr. Martin L. King Jr. on Nov. 27, 1955. Like at other meetings, Howard detailed the great abuses, corruption and indignities regularly experienced by black people. And Howard openly criticized the FBI for doing nothing to protect black citizens in Mississippi. Local newspapers reported on these speeches and FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, incensed, wrote a rare open letter to Howard in 1956 denouncing him. Hoover also opened a file on Howard, putting him and the RCNL under COINTELPRO surveillance, along with communists groups (Howard was, however, virulently anti-communist). The FBI then recruited local black citizens to spy on Howard and others. One of these included Ernest C. Withers, a celebrated photographer of the black freedom movement who was granted access into intimate meetings and gatherings of civil rights leadership. He dutifully reported his observation back to the Bureau, where it developed schemes for disruption.

Hoover despised T.R.M. Howard, but the director’s contempt for the young minister whom Howard met in Montgomery would far surpass the contempt he held for almost any other public figure. Hoover’s special attention to King has been depicted in numerous movies, documentaries, books, and a wide array of articles—journalistic and scholarly. Hoover infamously claimed that the most prominent civil rights leader was the “most notorious liar in the country.” FBI agents were directed to spy on King’s personal life and professional life and disrupt both. Ultimately, the FBI, over the course of more than a decade, collected hundreds of pages of surveillance on King, hours of secret recordings, and a trove of his public work—writings, and speeches alike. It even attempted to tarnish his reputation months after he was assassinated. Under Hoover’s direction, in the months after the 1963 March on Washington and King’s most famous speech, FBI Assistant Director William Sullivan, head of the Intelligence Division, reported to Hoover that effective exploitation of the information gathered on King, “if handled properly, [could] take him off his pedestal… the Negroes will be left without a national leader of sufficiently compelling personality to steer them in the proper direction.”

King was not alone. Every major advocate for black people in the country had been targeted by the Bureau. In fact, there was little differentiation between ideological lines and black leadership. In a meeting with Lyndon B. Johnson, Hoover said in reference to black nationalist Malcolm X and integrationist King, “we wouldn’t have any problem if we could get those two guys fighting, if we could get them to kill one another off…”

The campaign against King is best understood as a continuum of government policies that pre-date King by decades. The FBI had been, like other American institutions, inextricably tied to the ideology of white supremacy. In the 1930s, everything from the military to restaurants officially discriminated nationwide. Challenges to that archaic and endemic belief were almost always considered subversive. The predecessor to the FBI, the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), targeted the Universal Negro Improvement Association and its leader Marcus Garvey. It also spied on Garvey’s ideological antagonist, W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as the NAACP.

Hoover’s behavior is often viewed as paranoid and even exceptional, but he operated with the full sanction of the wider state. During the civil rights movement, three U.S. presidents: John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon all supported Hoover’s efforts which were codified to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize” targeted organizations. This would be achieved through various and sundry tools, including illegal activities. COINTELPRO used informants, agent provocateurs, infiltrators, legal and illegal wiretaps, break-ins, false correspondence, and “bad-jacketing,” which was the act of making a legitimate member of a group appear to be a collaborator with the state. Psychological warfare included calling the parents of young civil rights activists to inform them that their children had been murdered or kidnapped.

FBI agents worked with journalists to plant stories in order to discredit leadership and organizations. Across the country, the Bureau collaborated with local police to repress targeted groups. Sharing resources and intelligence, activists were arrested, fired from jobs, expelled from schools and lost business contracts. COINTELPRO even used switchboard operators and postal workers to spy on citizens, with or without court order.

Though there was a special interest in civil rights groups, the FBI used its extensive resources to spy on and antagonize a wide range of communities. The Bureau established categories for various targets, which included everything from the anti-war and women’s liberation movements, to socialists, black nationalists, student groups, journalists, intellectuals, non-violent integrations and revolutionary nationalists. They were separated into the “Agitator Index,” the “Rabble Rouser Index,” and the “Security Index.”

After King’s assassination in April 1968, the Black Freedom Movement took a turn toward the more radical permutations of Black Power, and no organization evoked Hoover’s rage and interest more than the Black Panther Party. Five months after the King assassination, Hoover called the Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” In internal memos, he encouraged “hard-hitting” ideas from agents to destroy the Party. The Bureau submitted anti-Panther ghost-written articles to the press, planted false correspondence between the Panthers and other organizations and used a classic “divide and conquer” tactic to foment hostility between the Panthers a black nationalist group, the US Organization, in Los Angeles. This last effort culminated in actual shoot-outs, multiple beatings, at least one bombing, and four Panthers dead in Southern California by 1969. With excitement over the violence, the San Diego FBI office submitted in a report:

“Shootings, beatings, and a, high degree of unrest continues to prevail in the ghetto area of southeast San Diego. Although no specific counterintelligence action can be credited with contributing to this overall situation, it is felt that a substantial amount of the unrest is directly attributable to this program.”

Hundreds of Panthers were stopped, harassed and arrested by the police across the country. Hoover explained that the, “purpose of counterintelligence action is to disrupt the BPP and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge.”

The effectiveness of COINTELPRO was overwhelming. Many organizations were destabilized with arrests, raids, break-ins, and killings. The most famous raid of the Panthers occurred in December 1969 in Chicago when a 14-man police raiding party killed two Panthers, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Several other Panthers were injured in the pre-dawn attack. Nationally, the Panthers insisted that the FBI and local police were involved in a conspiracy to destroy them. Hoover denied it. The magnitude of these coordinated activities, however, were not known until the 1976 congressional hearings.

Analysis of the COINTELPRO documents revealed that the overwhelming majority of targets were not tied to the Soviet Union or any foreign power. They included many non-violent black civil rights groups, but also organizations in other communities, including the Young Lords, the Brown Berets, the American Indian Movement, the National Lawyers Guild, and women’s liberation movement groups…

…The special attention to the Black Freedom movement is sobering. White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan had files, but were significantly outnumbered by files on civil rights groups. There were only two files for right wing groups. For black nationalists, the Panthers represented 233 of 295, (79 percent) of all operations in that category. The Congressional hearings found that the FBI devoted less than 20 percent of its intelligence efforts to disrupt organized crime or to solve crimes related to bank robberies, murders, rapes and interstate theft. By contrast, more than half of all FBI targets were political organizations. The FBI was less concerned with actual criminal enterprises, like mob families, than with organizations and people who dared attempt to realize rights promised them legally.”

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“In the pre-dawn hours of December 4, 1969, Chicago police working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided the Black Panther Party’s local headquarters. 388 Fred Hampton’s personal bodyguard, William O’Neal, was an FBI informant and gave officers a floor plan before the raid. 389 When the smoke cleared, Hampton and Mark Clark were dead and four others had been seriously wounded. 390

During the civil rights era, law enforcement targeted black leaders for arrest, surveillance, propaganda, and violence. Leaders of bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama, and Tallahassee, Florida, in 1956, were harassed, arrested, and fined. 391 That year, the FBI launched COINTELPRO, a counterintelligence program focused on “domestic threats,” including civil rights activists. 392

Black leaders committed to racial justice represented a threat to white supremacy and became targets of law enforcement harassment and attack even when they advocated nonviolence. Beginning in 1963, for example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “was the target of an intensive campaign by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ‘neutralize’ him as an effective civil rights leader” and destroy his image as a “potential messiah” to unify black activists. 393

When a younger generation began to steer the movement in a different direction, law enforcement repression intensified. 394
Malcolm X, who believed “[i]t is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks,” 395 was constantly surveilled by police up until he was assassinated in 1965. 396

In July 1966, 25-year-old SNCC chairman Stokely Carmichael gave a speech invoking Malcolm X’s memory and advocating a self-determination policy of “Black Power.” 397

A few months later, two black men named Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland, California. 398 Spurning the tactics of marches, sit-ins, and boycotts, the Panthers founded youth centers and free breakfast programs and organized legally armed patrols to prevent police brutality. 399 President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly condemned the concept of “Black Power” that the Panthers symbolized. 400

The rise of militant black activism and its rejection by white stakeholders emboldened law enforcement officials to employ controversial — and sometimes deadly — tactics. In August 1967, the FBI officially directed COINTELPRO to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” black nationalist groups. 401 In July 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover named the Black Panther Party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” 402

Federal agents and local police engaged in harassment and raids that led to violent shootouts and the deadly ambush that killed 21-year-old Fred Hampton. An April 1970 poll, however, showed that 75 percent of Americans blamed the Panthers for this police violence. 403

“[M]any of the tactics employed by the FBI were indisputably degrading to a free society,” a Senate committee concluded in 1976, five years after COINTELPRO shut down. 404 The committee reported:

During 1967-1971, FBI headquarters approved 379 proposals for COINTELPRO actions against ‘black nationalists.’ These operations utilized dangerous and unsavory techniques which gave rise to the risk of death and often disregarded the personal rights and dignity of the victims. 405″

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War on Drugs

According to ACLU, “Drug arrests now account for a quarter of the people locked up in America, but drug use rates have remained steady. Over the last 40 years, we have spent trillions of dollars on the failed and ineffective War on Drugs. Drug use has not declined, while millions of people—disproportionately poor people and people of color—have been caged and then branded with criminal records that pose barriers to employment, housing, and stability.”

Drug Policy: A Brief History of the Drug War

Nixon and the Generation Gap

In the 1960s, as drugs became symbols of youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent, the government halted scientific research to evaluate their medical safety and efficacy. In June 1971, President Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” He dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants.

A top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman, later admitted: “You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”Nixon temporarily placed marijuana in Schedule One, the most restrictive category of drugs, pending review by a commission he appointed led by Republican Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer.

In 1972, the commission unanimously recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use. Nixon ignored the report and rejected its recommendations. Between 1973 and 1977, however, eleven states decriminalized marijuana possession. In January 1977, President Jimmy Carter was inaugurated on a campaign platform that included marijuana decriminalization. In October 1977, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use.

Within just a few years, though, the tide had shifted. Proposals to decriminalize marijuana were abandoned as parents became increasingly concerned about high rates of teen marijuana use. Marijuana was ultimately caught up in a broader cultural backlash against the perceived permissiveness of the 1970s.

The 1980s and 90s: Drug Hysteria and Skyrocketing Incarceration Rates

The presidency of Ronald Reagan marked the start of a long period of skyrocketing rates of incarceration, largely thanks to his unprecedented expansion of the drug war. The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997.

Public concern about illicit drug use built throughout the 1980s, largely due to media portrayals of people addicted to the smokeable form of cocaine dubbed “crack.” Soon after Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, his wife, Nancy Reagan, began a highly-publicized anti-drug campaign, coining the slogan “Just Say No.”

This set the stage for the zero tolerance policies implemented in the mid-to-late 1980s. Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, who believed that “casual drug users should be taken out and shot,” founded the DARE drug education program, which was quickly adopted nationwide despite the lack of evidence of its effectiveness. The increasingly harsh drug policies also blocked the expansion of syringe access programs and other harm reduction policies to reduce the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS.

In the late 1980s, a political hysteria about drugs led to the passage of draconian penalties in Congress and state legislatures that rapidly increased the prison population. In 1985, the proportion of Americans polled who saw drug abuse as the nation’s “number one problem” was just 2-6 percent. The figure grew through the remainder of the 1980s until, in September 1989, it reached a remarkable 64 percent – one of the most intense fixations by the American public on any issue in polling history. Within less than a year, however, the figure plummeted to less than 10 percent, as the media lost interest. The draconian policies enacted during the hysteria remained, however, and continued to result in escalating levels of arrests and incarceration.

Although Bill Clinton advocated for treatment instead of incarceration during his 1992 presidential campaign, after his first few months in the White House he reverted to the drug war strategies of his Republican predecessors by continuing to escalate the drug war. Notoriously, Clinton rejected a U.S. Sentencing Commission recommendation to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.

He also rejected, with the encouragement of drug czar General Barry McCaffrey, Health Secretary Donna Shalala’s advice to end the federal ban on funding for syringe access programs. Yet, a month before leaving office, Clinton asserted in a Rolling Stone interview that “we really need a re-examination of our entire policy on imprisonment” of people who use drugs, and said that marijuana use “should be decriminalized.”

At the height of the drug war hysteria in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a movement emerged seeking a new approach to drug policy. In 1987, Arnold Trebach and Kevin Zeese founded the Drug Policy Foundation – describing it as the “loyal opposition to the war on drugs.” Prominent conservatives such as William Buckley and Milton Friedman had long advocated for ending drug prohibition, as had civil libertarians such as longtime ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser. In the late 1980s they were joined by Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Federal Judge Robert Sweet, Princeton professor Ethan Nadelmann, and other activists, scholars and policymakers.

In 1994, Nadelmann founded The Lindesmith Center as the first U.S. project of George Soros’ Open Society Institute. In 2000, the growing Center merged with the Drug Policy Foundation to create the Drug Policy Alliance.

The New Millennium: The Pendulum Shifts – Slowly – Toward Sensible Drug Policy

George W. Bush arrived in the White House as the drug war was running out of steam – yet he allocated more money than ever to it. His drug czar, John Walters, zealously focused on marijuana and launched a major campaign to promote student drug testing. While rates of illicit drug use remained constant, overdose fatalities rose rapidly.

The era of George W. Bush also witnessed the rapid escalation of the militarization of domestic drug law enforcement. By the end of Bush’s term, there were about 40,000 paramilitary-style SWAT raids on Americans every year – mostly for nonviolent drug law offenses, often misdemeanors. While federal reform mostly stalled under Bush, state-level reforms finally began to slow the growth of the drug war.

Politicians now routinely admit to having used marijuana, and even cocaine, when they were younger. When Michael Bloomberg was questioned during his 2001 mayoral campaign about whether he had ever used marijuana, he said, “You bet I did – and I enjoyed it.” Barack Obama also candidly discussed his prior cocaine and marijuana use: “When I was a kid, I inhaled frequently – that was the point.”

Public opinion has shifted dramatically in favor of sensible reforms that expand health-based approaches while reducing the role of criminalization in drug policy.

Marijuana reform has gained unprecedented momentum throughout the Americas. Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington State, and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for adults. In December 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legally regulate marijuana. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans legalize marijuana for adults by 2018.

In response to a worsening overdose epidemic, dozens of U.S. states passed laws to increase access to the overdose antidote, naloxone, as well as “911 Good Samaritan” laws to encourage people to seek medical help in the event of an overdose.

Yet the assault on American citizens and others continues, with 700,000 people still arrested for marijuana offenses each year and almost 500,000 people still behind bars for nothing more than a drug law violation.

President Obama, despite supporting several successful policy changes – such as reducing the crack/powder sentencing disparity, ending the ban on federal funding for syringe access programs, and ending federal interference with state medical marijuana laws – did not shift the majority of drug policy funding to a health-based approach.

Now, the new administration is threatening to take us backward toward a 1980s style drug war. President Trump is calling for a wall to keep drugs out of the country, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear that he does not support the sovereignty of states to legalize marijuana, and believes “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Progress is inevitably slow, and even with an administration hostile to reform there is still unprecedented momentum behind drug policy reform in states and localities across the country. The Drug Policy Alliance and its allies will continue to advocate for health-based reforms such as marijuana legalization, drug decriminalization, safe consumption sites, naloxone access, bail reform, and more.”

Jacobin: How a Democrat Killed Welfare

Bill Clinton gutted welfare and criminalized the poor, all while funneling more money into the carceral state.

“Bill Clinton’s 1992 election was meant to be a turning point in American politics. Liberals breathed a sigh of relief, believing him to be a much-needed break from the Reagan-Bush era of “small government” and social welfare cuts.But the optimism surrounding Clinton’s election — and favorable assessments of his time in office since — ignore the destruction his administration brought to poor and working people, especially African Americans, and mask not only the continuation but intensification of anti-poor policies. Rather than offering a reprieve from punitive austerity, Clinton took the Reagan-Bush agenda a step further. If his administration was a turning point, it turned us in the wrong direction.In 1994, Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the largest crime bill in history, which allocated $10 billion for prison construction, expanded the death penalty, and eliminated federal funding for inmate education. The act intensified police surveillance and racial profiling, and locked up millions for nonviolent offenses such as drug possession. It helped usher in the era of mass incarceration that devastated communities of color (for which Clinton himself has recently apologized).Clinton’s simultaneous expansion of federal law enforcement and shrinking of the federal workforce to its lowest level in thirty years reallocated taxpayer dollars from employing people in social service jobs to putting more cops on the streets.The starkest example of the many racist and anti-poor measures directed at African Americans and passed during his administration was the 1996 welfare reform bill, which transformed welfare from an exclusive and unequal cash assistance system that stigmatized its recipients into one that actually criminalized them.The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act ended traditional welfare by turning a federal entitlement, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), into block grants, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). TANF established tougher mandates on poor single mothers and gave states more flexibility in how they spent welfare dollars (opening the door for increased discrimination against minorities).It prohibits anyone from receiving assistance for more than two consecutive years or for more than five years over the course of their life. The act also requires aid recipients to be employed, in most cases, at least thirty hours a week to get their welfare checks, amounting to an hourly wage well below the legal minimum.Once recipients reach their program time limit, TANF forces them even further into the labor market with little consideration of how they could ensure their children are properly cared for or whether paid employment will earn them an adequate wage. Many more are not even able to find work. A 2012 report by the Urban Institute concluded that for recipients with barriers to employment, TANF did little to help them find jobs.Sweeping in scope, TANF contains clauses to bolster marriage, mandate job training, and offer parenting classes. The “flexibility” that was a hallmark of the welfare reform bill enabled states to shift welfare funds away from direct cash assistance toward child care programs or subsidies for companies hiring welfare recipients, meaning that a greater portion of public welfare dollars went to the private sector.States were pressured to reduce welfare rolls — now the singular quantitative measure of success for the program — and used multiple strategies to deter the needy from applying for aid. They implemented complicated and demeaning application procedures and relied on fingerprinting and drug testing to weed out the “criminal element” — even though there was little evidence of widespread criminal activity among recipients.The net result was that all recipients and applicants were assumed to be potential criminals. Surveillance of low-income women punished black women in disproportionate numbers, resulting in more black children in foster care and black women in prison. Today, welfare and law enforcement work together to closely monitor the parenting of poor mothers.These punitive policies were not new, but rather an extension of a long, racialized attack on welfare. AFDC was not controversial when it was instituted in the 1930s. Many people subscribed to traditional ideas about gender roles, believing that poor single mothers without a male breadwinner should be supported by the state in order to enable them to stay home and care for their children.The overwhelming majority of recipients at the time, however, were white women. Women of color were considered less deserving of assistance. State and local social administrators of AFDC, especially in the South, systematically excluded African Americans and Mexican Americans from welfare receipt through “suitable home clauses” and “employable mother laws,” which denied assistance to mothers who didn’t keep “proper” homes or who it was believed could get a job and become self-supporting.As black migration to the North intensified, more women of color applied for assistance, resulting in opposition to the welfare program. Journalists wrote about welfare fraud and the “problem” of black migration, and there were growing calls to get people off the rolls. In 1967, the Johnson administration instituted a Work Incentive Program (WIN), the first-ever mandatory federal employment rule for AFDC, requiring states to direct a portion of their welfare population to employment programs.This landmark legislation shifted the role of welfare away from support for single mothers toward one of requiring those mothers to take paid employment outside the home. Although symbolically important because it signaled a new direction in federal policy, WIN was never adequately funded nor effectively enforced. The welfare rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s opposed the mandatory work rules and fought for higher monthly benefits, tempering some of these regressive policies. But only temporarily.

The punitive approach to addressing poverty was a result of the way race and poverty had become intertwined in the national debate. In the 1960s, urban social disorder, black demands for economic equality, and federal anti-poverty initiatives drew the nation’s attention to the persistent problem of black poverty. But the dominant liberal approach explained poverty as a product of black culture, reinforcing the notion that certain poor people were responsible for their own poverty.

Most notoriously articulated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” the culture of poverty argument suggested that a dysfunctional family structure — in particular single-parent families — was a primary reason for persistent African-American inequality.

The solution became one of attempting to instill proper values of work and marriage in black men and women. Poor black women were demonized as “welfare queens,” a trope popularized by Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s, which implied that black women chose welfare over work and milked the system for all it was worth. This rhetoric was used to justify sweeping cuts in welfare spending.

Likewise, Clinton’s welfare reform bill was rooted in a culture of poverty argument, evidenced by his racially coded language of dependency and people taking advantage of the system. Stereotypes about women were the foundation of the 1996 welfare reform debate.

Clinton alluded to the fear of black street crime, drug use, crack babies, the breakdown of the family, and the drain on public dollars. His primary goal in dismantling AFDC, as he put it, was to end the “cycle of dependence” and “achieve a national welfare reform bill that will make work and responsibility the law of the land.”

Clinton did not offer a departure from either earlier liberal policies that blamed the poor for their poverty or neoliberal economics. Instead, he turned what had been a few piecemeal reforms into a systematic overhaul of federal policy that led to the criminalization of the welfare poor. He redirected state resources away from financial support for the needy and toward surveillance and criminalization.

In an era of market worship, those who couldn’t demonstrate self-reliance or independence were identified not only as unworthy of assistance, but as a potential threat to the core institutions of American society.

Clinton’s dismantling of welfare, couched in a language of personal responsibility and public policy correction, was the culmination of a trend among both Democrats and Republicans to deter and discourage poor women of color from applying for assistance. In this regard, there was little new about the “New Democrat.””

The Atlantic: Jeff Sessions Reinvigorates the Drug War

“Democratic and Republican officials alike took up the banner of criminal-justice reform over the past five years, hoping to reduce the nation’s unprecedented prison population and scale back the harshest punishments of the tough-on-crime era. Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a major step toward rolling back their efforts.In a memo released Friday, Sessions instructed federal prosecutors nationwide to seek the strongest possible charges and sentences against defendants they target. “It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” he wrote. “This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us. By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory-minimum sentences.”Friday’s policy change effectively rescinds Obama-era guidelines for federal prosecutors that were designed to curtail the harshest sentences for defendants charged with low-level drug offenses. The previous memo, first promulgated by then-Attorney General Eric Holder in 2013, reserved the most severe options in the federal sentencing guidelines for “serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers” instead of defendants charged with lower-level offenses.Holder’s changes addressed longstanding criticisms of the federal posture toward drug crimes. “In some cases, mandatory-minimum and recidivist-enhancement statutes have resulted in unduly harsh sentences and perceived or actual disparities that do not reflect our Principles of Federal Prosecution,” he wrote at the time. “Long sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenses do not promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation.”
To that end, he instructed prosecutors not to list the quantity of drugs seized when charging a defendant unless he or she was “an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others within a criminal organization,” had used violence, or had a lengthy criminal history. Prosecutors should also consider, he said, if their charges “would create a gross sentencing disparity” compared with other defendants.Sessions’s new memo effectively rejects that stance, insisting on seeking the maximum punishments lawfully possible. “Prosecutors must disclose to the sentencing court all facts that impact the sentencing guidelines or mandatory-minimum sentences, and should in all cases seek a reasonable sentence under the factors” prescribed by federal drug laws, he wrote. Any deviations from the policy require “supervisory approval” from the Justice Department…
…Rolling back Justice Department policies to a more draconian era wouldn’t be a surprising move for the former Alabama senator. As policing and justice issues rose to the forefront of the national conversation in recent years, Sessions became a frequent critic of reform efforts, including federal oversight of local law enforcement. He also played a prominent role in scuttling a bipartisan sentencing-reform bill in the Senate last year that had the support of figures ranging from Barack Obama to the Koch brothers.Framing the attorney general’s policy change is a one-year uptick in national crime rates after almost two decades of precipitous decline. “My fear is that this surge in violent crime is not a ‘blip,’ but the start of a dangerous new trend,” he said during a speech in Richmond in March. “I worry that we risk losing the hard-won gains that have made America a safer and more prosperous place.” An immigration hardliner, Sessions has also tried to draw connections between immigrants and crime while criticizing sanctuary cities like New York City and San Francisco that don’t cooperate with federal immigration policy.
Sessions isn’t the administration’s only voice for a harsher criminal-justice stance. Trump has also cast the possible threat of higher crime in dramatic terms, portraying himself as its only solution. “I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police: When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country,” he said in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last year. During his inaugural address in January, he told the crowd that drugs, gangs, and crime “have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he added.Proponents of criminal-justice reform haven’t let the Trump administration’s portrayal of crime in American life go unchallenged. In a report analyzing crime trends from 1990 to 2016 published last month, the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice concluded that the nationwide murder rate rose an estimated 7.8 percent last year. (A complete assessment of crime in 2016 won’t be available until the FBI releases its annual statistical report later this year.) But the Brennan Center noted that a large share of the increase could be attributed to a spike in homicides in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., instead of a nationwide surge.What’s behind the increase in homicides in those cities is also unclear. Chicago’s steady increase in gun violence has drawn the most scrutiny, including from Trump himself, who threatened to “send in the Feds” if necessary. (It’s unclear what that would entail.) Researchers studying the homicide rate in Chicago haven’t discerned any specific cause for the rise, even among factors usually blamed for rising crime.Friday’s memo is expected to be the first of many breaks the attorney general makes with Obama-era policies on high-profile criminal-justice matters. Sessions previously ordered a comprehensive review of the Justice Department’s consent decrees with local police departments. Those agreements were among the Obama Justice Department’s most valued tools in reforming troubled law-enforcement agencies. Sessions, however, has been a frequent critic of the decrees in general, describing them as unnecessary federal intrusion into the local policing practices.”

Jay Z – The War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush

Jezebel: Nixon Policy Advisor Admits He Invented War On Drugs to Suppress ‘Anti-War Left and Black People’

“Dan Baum, writing in support of drug legalization at Harper’s, has unleashed a frank 1994 quote from former Nixon policy advisor John Ehrlichman, and as inadvertently salient an argument for legalizing drugs as any I’ve ever seen:

At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

I must have looked shocked. Ehrlichman just shrugged. Then he looked at his watch, handed me a signed copy of his steamy spy novel, The Company, and led me to the door.

Bold mine.

That drugs have been used as a tactic to marginalize and imprison peoples who are inconvenient, so to speak, for conservatives and neo-cons doesn’t really come as a surprise—and not just because Nixon was a noted racist. The War on Drugs was a Nixon invention but, as Baum explains, it’s been useful for every president thereafter, and its function as a suppressive tool didn’t exactly wane—recall the way it defined Reagan’s crack era, which was funneled into black neighborhoods by the CIA and then used to decimate an entire generation. Or the way relatively minor drug offenses are the main contributor to the current mass incarceration crisis, which disproportionately affects young black and brown men.

Adjacent to this, Baum lays out a clear and logical argument for the way legalization could work, using Portugal and the Netherlands as precedents, and advocating for it to remain in the control of the state—a “state-run monopoly”—rather than free markets, lest addiction become a market incentive the way it has with alcohol and cigarettes. (Of course, the deeper problem of racial prejudice remains strong in this scenario too—the legal weed market has already locked out people of color to a dramatic and unfair degree, and black people are much more likely to be arrested for pot-related offenses even in states where it’s legal.) Baum cites the way marijuana is regulated in his home state of Colorado (of course this dude is from Boulder), but also makes the case that weed is the path to killing the drug war, in its capacity as an admitted racist and antiliberal Nixonian tool:

The citizens of the U.S. jurisdictions that legalized marijuana may have set in motion more machinery than most of them had imagined. “Without marijuana prohibition, the government can’t sustain the drug war,” Ira Glasser, who ran the American Civil Liberties Union from 1978 to 2001, told me. “Without marijuana, the use of drugs is negligible, and you can’t justify the law-enforcement and prison spending on the other drugs. Their use is vanishingly small. I always thought that if you could cut the marijuana head off the beast, the drug war couldn’t be sustained.”

War of Drugs Stats

  • Blacks are less than 13% of the U.S. population, and they make up only 14% of regular drug users, but they are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 56% of those in state prisons for drug offenses.
  • Black kids are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white kids —even though white kids are more likely to abuse drugs
  • What the War on Drugs has done is trap millions of people, especially black men, in poverty, and push them toward a life of crime. With black boys arrested 10 times more frequently than white boys, for a non-violent crime that they commit less frequently than white boys, black men are funneled into the criminal justice system from a young age. With felonies on their records, it is incredibly difficult for black men to get work. As a result, they are trapped in low-paying jobs, or worse, turning to crime. Finally, once they have a felony on their record, most states prohibit them from voting.

Source: The New Progressive: The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics & Data Post

  • In our federal prisons, 46% are incarcerated because of drug offenses. Yet a 2013 government survey of 67,500 people revealed that White and Black Americans use drugs at similar rates (9.5% and 10.5%, respectively).
    • Isolate heroin use, and the picture shifts dramatically. The New York Times reports that “nearly 90% of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were White.”

Source: Everyday Feminism: Here’s Your Proof That White Americans Don’t Face Systemic Racism

Opioid Vs. Crack Addiction: A Racial Double Standard?

Prison (Mass Incarceration)

  • 1 in every 15 black men (and 1 in every 36 Latino men) are currently incarcerated, while for white men the statistic is 1 in 106.
  • Minorities are less than 28% of the U.S. population, but they are nearly 60% of the prison population. Blacks in specific are less than 13% of the U.S. population, but they are 38% of the American prison population.
  • Black boys are five times as likely to go to jail as white boys; Latino boys are 3 times as likely.

Source: The New Progressive: The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics & Data Post

  • Blacks make up 13% of the population, they represent about 40% of the prison population.

Mass Incarceration, Visualized

Criminal Justice/Courts

  • Blacks are 21% more likely to receive mandatory minimum sentences.
  • Blacks are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison than whites.
  • Once convicted, black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes.

Source: The New Progressive: The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics & Data Post

  • A black person and a white person each commit a crime, the black person has a better chance of being arrested. Once arrested, black people are convicted more often than white people. And for many years, laws assigned much harsher sentences for using or possessing crack, for example, compared to cocaine. Finally, when black people are convicted, they are more likely to be sent to jail. And their sentences tend to be both harsher and longer than those for whites who were convicted of similar crimes. And as we know, a felony conviction means, in many states, that you lose your right to vote. Right now in America, as many as 13% of black men are not allowed to vote.

Source: 7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real

Source: 7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real


Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Enduring Myth of Black Criminality


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Subprime Loans

“Subprime loans are designed for those with blemished or non-existing credit histories, and they offer less favorable terms for borrowers than prime loans. Because they carry more risk to lenders, subprime loans typically cost the borrower more.” Melinda Hill Sineriz 

City Lab: The Dramatic Racial Bias of Subprime Lending During the Housing Boom

Blacks and Latinos were more than twice as likely as comparable whites to receive such high-cost loans.

“Through a strange kind of logic – the sort that makes sense if you’re a large bank at the height of the housing boom – high-income black households were actually the perfect customers for subprime loans. Black communities had long been ignored by banks, creating a void in the market for anyone pedaling these relatively new financial products. And subprime loans, while risky, were tremendously profitable (for the banks) when the homeowners didn’t foreclose, thanks to their higher fees and interest rates.

Give a black family that could probably qualify for a prime loan a subprime one instead, and the lender likely wins.In the wake of the housing crash (and even before), banks have been widely accused of doing just this, and the practice has even become the subject of some damning discrimination lawsuits. But here is some data on exactly how skewed things really were: In 2006, at the height of the boom, black and Hispanic families making more than $200,000 a year were more likely on average to be given a subprime loan than a white family making less than $30,000 a year.

“To me, I see that information and I kind of scratch my head,” says Jacob Faber, a PhD Candidate in New York University’s Department of Sociology who uncovered that gaping disparity studying nationwide mortgage data from that period. One explanation suggests that minority borrowers, particularly those living in communities where bank branches had long refused to go, were simply not financially sophisticated enough to know these loans were wrong for them. “I’m thinking, so for this financial literacy argument to really work, we also have to say that incredibly wealthy blacks and Latinos are less financially savvy than arguably pretty poor white households.”

That is probably not the full story here. In research that Faber recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, he analyzed Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data on 3,819,923 loan applications from 2006. About 1.5 million of them were denied. A little over 2 million were approved at a prime rate, and about 200,000 (or 5.4 percent) at a subprime rate.

Relative to comparable white applicants, and controlling for geographic factors, blacks were 2.8 times more likely to be denied for a loan, and Latinos were two times more likely. When they were approved, blacks and Latinos were 2.4 times more likely to receive a subprime loan than white applicants. The higher up the income ladder you compare white applicants and minorities, the wider this subprime disparity grows.So what was going on here? Intentional malice? Perhaps lenders were convinced that minority borrowers even with high incomes would still pose greater risk over the life of mortgage?”Certainly we can’t rule out personal bias on behalf of lenders,” Faber says. But that’s not all of it, either. “There’s a larger part of the story that the financial institutions responsible saw these profitable communities and targeted them specifically because they weren’t risky.”Over the sweep of history, this sounds ironic: Banks that once ignored minority communities were targeting them now to make money, a practice that’s been bitterly referred to as “reverse-redlining.” But Faber puts it another way: “I think it’s tragic,” he says. And this data offers another illustration that middle-class blacks have often not been able to leverage their income status for the same benefits as middle-class whites.Faber was intentionally studying a slice of this mortgage data from the housing peak, when many of these practices were likely at their most pervasive.”Some people might think that 2006 is a long time ago,” he says. “But the consequences of these huge disparities in subprime lending – and then subsequent foreclosures – are going to have really powerful lasting impacts.”

Individual families that have lost much of their wealth will struggle to pay for college or manage emergencies. Whole neighborhoods suffering from epidemics of foreclosures will suffer from declining property values and related problems. And even cities that have lost their tax base will struggle to fund schools and police and services. “We might not be able to measure that impact for another five, 10, 20 years,” Faber says of this last group of implications. “We might now know what the fallout is.”

In These Times: Wells Fargo Shows Exactly How Structural Racism Works

“At a Senate Banking Committee hearing this week, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf argued that the company’s troubles didn’t reflect a culture of corruption but were caused by some 5,000 rogue “team members.” Stumpf was trying to explain why his company’s employees had created more than 2 million fake accounts for customers. He told a mostly unsympathetic audience, which included Sen. Elizabeth Warren, that “wrongful sales practice behavior goes entirely against our values, ethics and culture.” Warren accused him of “gutless leadership” and urged him to resign.

Wells Fargo is a curious case. Often overshadowed by banks like Chase and Citigroup, it was, until it took a hit from the recent uproar, the biggest bank in the world by market capitalization. It was also once “viewed as one of the good guys,” as Bloomberg put it, because its “conservative lending policies had helped it weather the worst of the housing bust” in 2008. On the “Vision and Values” page of its website, Stumpf claims that “everything we do is built on trust. It doesn’t happen with one transaction, in one day on the job or in one quarter. It’s earned relationship by relationship.”

Despite its good-guy reputation in some quarters and its professed commitment to building trust, however, Wells Fargo was a central player in the lending practices that contributed to the housing crisis of the late 2000s. And it is still dealing with the fallout from lawsuits dating back to that era—notably, a case to be heard by the Supreme Court in its coming term. The case involves a suit brought by Miami for the financial burden imposed on it by the lending practices of Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The Court’s ruling in that case could determine whether similar suits in other cities, including Chicago, can move forward. Either way, the company’s recent history offers a clear glimpse into the gears of structural racism in the United States and the broader culture of corruption within the banking industry.

Wells Fargo has always denied that it engages in racial discrimination. But in 2012, staring down the barrel of a lawsuit by the state of Illinois and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, it agreed to a settlement in which it paid more than $175 million. According to a Department of Justice statement, “Wells Fargo was aware the fees and interest rates it was charging discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers, but the actions it took were insufficient and ineffective in stopping it.”

In Cook County, Illinois, between 2004 and 2007, Wells Fargo originated more than 61,000 mortgage loans, more than 25,000 of which were made to minorities, or some 41 percent. Of the 61,000 total loans, at least 10,000 were high-cost loans, of which more than 6,500—or 65 percent—were made to minorities. (Cook County includes Chicago.) Wells Fargo’s record was even worse at the national level, according to a judge in a case involving the company, who noted that it gave three times more subprime loans to African-Americans than “similarly situated white borrowers” from 2004 to 2008.

What’s at stake in the Supreme Court case is whether cities like Chicago have legal standing to sue banks for the damages incurred by predatory lending. The focus, in other words, is on the havoc created by what The Chicago Reporter called a “vacancy epidemic.” Cities are interested in recouping lost revenue from property taxes and the costs they incur in dealing with vacant properties.

But there are costs that will never be quantified or recovered in court. As the attorney general of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, said in 2012, “there’s an entire generation of wealth in minority communities that’s been taken away.” The impact of foreclosed homes isn’t limited to the former homeowners. The effects multiply and spread out, depressing property values in entire communities, which make them less attractive to homebuyers, which hurts the quality of schools and other public institutions, which depresses home values further and destroys local economies—in a reinforcing cycle of dysfunction.

This week, in response to Wells Fargo’s latest scandal, Hillary Clinton published a statement saying “there is simply no place for this kind of outrageous behavior in America,” and that she has a plan to address it. The three-point plan includes protecting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from Republican attacks, imposing “real consequences” for Wall Street firms that break the law and creating new safeguards to “address the risks that the big banks continue to pose to our system. And if any bank can’t be managed effectively, it should be broken up.”

The last point was, of course, a major source of tension between Bernie Sanders and Clinton during the Democratic primary campaign, in which Clinton shied away from talk of breaking up big banks and imposing fundamental reforms. Her latest statement gestures toward a more aggressive stance. But it seems curious that it was provoked by a scandal involving fake accounts. Egregious as that behavior is, it pales next to the devastation wrought by several decades of structural racism in the housing market. If Clinton isn’t yet convinced by the evidence that the culprits in that crisis “can’t be managed effectively,” it seems doubtful she ever will be. ”

The Atlantic: The Case For Reparations

“In 2010, Jacob S. Rugh, then a doctoral candidate at Princeton, and the sociologist Douglas S. Massey published a study of the recent foreclosure crisis. Among its drivers, they found an old foe: segregation. Black home buyers—even after controlling for factors like creditworthiness—were still more likely than white home buyers to be steered toward subprime loans. Decades of racist housing policies by the American government, along with decades of racist housing practices by American businesses, had conspired to concentrate African Americans in the same neighborhoods. As in North Lawndale half a century earlier, these neighborhoods were filled with people who had been cut off from mainstream financial institutions. When subprime lenders went looking for prey, they found black people waiting like ducks in a pen.

“Wells Fargo mortgage had an emerging-markets unit that specifically targeted black churches.”

“High levels of segregation create a natural market for subprime lending,” Rugh and Massey write, “and cause riskier mortgages, and thus foreclosures, to accumulate disproportionately in racially segregated cities’ minority neighborhoods.”

Plunder in the past made plunder in the present efficient. The banks of America understood this. In 2005, Wells Fargo promoted a series of Wealth Building Strategies seminars. Dubbing itself “the nation’s leading originator of home loans to ethnic minority customers,” the bank enrolled black public figures in an ostensible effort to educate blacks on building “generational wealth.” But the “wealth building” seminars were a front for wealth theft. In 2010, the Justice Department filed a discrimination suit against Wells Fargo alleging that the bank had shunted blacks into predatory loans regardless of their creditworthiness. This was not magic or coincidence or misfortune. It was racism reifying itself. According to The New York Times, affidavits found loan officers referring to their black customers as “mud people” and to their subprime products as “ghetto loans.”

“We just went right after them,” Beth Jacobson, a former Wells Fargo loan officer, told The Times. “Wells Fargo mortgage had an emerging-markets unit that specifically targeted black churches because it figured church leaders had a lot of influence and could convince congregants to take out subprime loans.”

In 2011, Bank of America agreed to pay $355 million to settle charges of discrimination against its Countrywide unit. The following year, Wells Fargo settled its discrimination suit for more than $175 million. But the damage had been done. In 2009, half the properties in Baltimore whose owners had been granted loans by Wells Fargo between 2005 and 2008 were vacant; 71 percent of these properties were in predominantly black neighborhoods.”

The 1960s Race Riots, the Kerner Report and 50 Years After

According to History Matters:

“President Lyndon Johnson formed an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in July 1967 to explain the riots that plagued cities each summer since 1964 and to provide recommendations for the future. The Commission’s 1968 report, informally known as the Kerner Report, concluded that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

Unless conditions were remedied, the Commission warned, the country faced a “system of ’apartheid’” in its major cities. The Kerner report delivered an indictment of “white society” for isolating and neglecting African Americans and urged legislation to promote racial integration and to enrich slums—primarily through the creation of jobs, job training programs, and decent housing. President Johnson, however, rejected the recommendations.  In April 1968, one month after the release of the Kerner report, rioting broke out in more than 100 cities following the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1998, 30 years after the issuance of the Report, former Senator and Commission member Fred R. Harris co-authored a study that found the racial divide had grown in the ensuing years with inner-city unemployment at crisis levels…

…Although specific grievances varied from city to city, at least 12 deeply held grievances can be identified and ranked into three levels of relative intensity:

First Level of Intensity

1. Police practices

2. Unemployment and underemployment

3. Inadequate housing

Second Level of Intensity

4. Inadequate education

5. Poor recreation facilities and programs

6. Ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms.

Third Level of Intensity

7. Disrespectful white attitudes

8. Discriminatory administration of justice

9. Inadequacy of federal programs

10. Inadequacy of municipal services

11. Discriminatory consumer and credit practices

12. Inadequate welfare programs

The results of a three-city survey of various federal programs—manpower, education, housing, welfare and community action—indicate that, despite substantial expenditures, the number of persons assisted constituted only a fraction of those in need. The background of disorder is often as complex and difficult to analyze as the disorder itself. But we find that certain general conclusions can be drawn:

Social and economic conditions in the riot cities constituted a clear pattern of severe disadvantage for Negroes compared with whites, whether the Negroes lived in the area where the riot took place or outside it. Negroes had completed fewer years of education and fewer had attended high school. Negroes were twice as likely to be unemployed and three times as likely to be in unskilled and service jobs. Negroes averaged 70 percent of the income earned by whites and were more than twice as likely to be living in poverty. Although housing cost Negroes relatively more, they had worse housing—three times as likely to be overcrowded and substandard. When compared to white suburbs, the relative disadvantage is even more pronounced.

A study of the aftermath of disorder leads to disturbing conclusions. We find that, despite the institution of some post-riot programs: Little basic change in the conditions underlying the outbreak of disorder has taken place. Actions to ameliorate Negro grievances have been limited and sporadic; with but few exceptions, they have not significantly reduced tensions.

In several cities, the principal official response has been to train and equip the police with more sophisticated weapons. In several cities, increasing polarization is evident, with continuing breakdown of inter-racial communication, and growth of white segregationist or black separatist groups…

…In addressing the question “Why did it happen?” we shift our focus from the local to the national scene, from the particular events of the summer of 1967 to the factors within the society at large that created a mood of violence among many urban Negroes. These factors are complex and interacting; they vary significantly in their effect from city to city and from year to year; and the consequences of one disorder, generating new grievances and new demands, become the causes of the next. Thus was created the “thicket of tension, conflicting evidence and extreme opinions” cited by the President.

Despite these complexities, certain fundamental matters are clear. Of these, the most fundamental is the racial attitude and behavior of white Americans toward black Americans. Race prejudice has shaped our history decisively; it now threatens to affect our future. White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II. Among the ingredients of this mixture are:

Pervasive discrimination and segregation in employment, education and housing, which have resulted in the continuing exclusion of great numbers of Negroes from the benefits of economic progress.

Black in-migration and white exodus, which have produced the massive and growing concentrations of impoverished Negroes in our major cities, creating a growing crisis of deteriorating facilities and services and unmet human needs.

The black ghettos where segregation and poverty converge on the young to destroy opportunity and enforce failure. Crime, drug addiction, dependency on welfare, and bitterness and resentment against society in general and white society in particular are the result.

At the same time, most whites and some Negroes outside the ghetto have prospered to a degree unparalleled in the history of civilization. Through television and other media, this affluence has been flaunted before the eyes of the Negro poor and the jobless ghetto youth. Yet these facts alone cannot be said to have caused the disorders. Recently, other powerful ingredients have begun to catalyze the mixture:

Frustrated hopes are the residue of the unfulfilled expectations aroused by the great judicial and legislative victories of the Civil Rights Movement and the dramatic struggle for equal rights in the South.

A climate that tends toward approval and encouragement of violence as a form of protest has been created by white terrorism directed against nonviolent protest; by the open defiance of law and federal authority by state and local officials resisting desegregation; and by some protest groups engaging in civil disobedience who turn their backs on nonviolence, go beyond the constitutionally protected rights of petition and free assembly, and resort to violence to attempt to compel alteration of laws and policies with which they disagree.

The frustrations of powerlessness have led some Negroes to the conviction that there is no effective alternative to violence as a means of achieving redress of grievances, and of “moving the system.” These frustrations are reflected in alienation and hostility toward the institutions of law and government and the white society which controls them, and in the reach toward racial consciousness and solidarity reflected in the slogan “Black Power.”

A new mood has sprung up among Negroes, particularly among the young, in which self-esteem and enhanced racial pride are replacing apathy and submission to “the system.”

The police are not merely a “spark” factor. To some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and in a “double standard” of justice and protection—one for Negroes and one for whites.

To this point, we have attempted to identify the prime components of the “explosive mixture.” In the chapters that follow we seek to analyze them in the perspective of history. Their meaning, however, is clear: In the summer of 1967, we have seen in our cities a chain reaction of racial violence. If we are heedless, none of us shall escape the consequences.”

Economic Policy Institute: 50 years after the Kerner Commission African Americans are better off in many ways but are still disadvantaged by racial inequality

“The year 1968 was a watershed in American history and black America’s ongoing fight for equality. In April of that year, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis and riots broke out in cities around the country. Rising against this tragedy, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 outlawing housing discrimination was signed into law. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a black power salute as they received their medals at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Arthur Ashe became the first African American to win the U.S. Open singles title, and Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives.

The same year, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, delivered a report to President Johnson examining the causes of civil unrest in African American communities. The report named “white racism”—leading to “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing”—as the culprit, and the report’s authors called for a commitment to “the realization of common opportunities for all within a single [racially undivided] society.”1 The Kerner Commission report pulled together a comprehensive array of data to assess the specific economic and social inequities confronting African Americans in 1968.

Where do we stand as a society today? In this brief report, we compare the state of black workers and their families in 1968 with the circumstances of their descendants today, 50 years after the Kerner report was released. We find both good news and bad news. While African Americans are in many ways better off in absolute terms than they were in 1968, they are still disadvantaged in important ways relative to whites. In several important respects, African Americans have actually lost ground relative to whites, and, in a few cases, even relative to African Americans in 1968.

Following are some of the key findings:

  • African Americans today are much better educated than they were in 1968 but still lag behind whites in overall educational attainment. More than 90 percent of younger African Americans (ages 25 to 29) have graduated from high school, compared with just over half in 1968—which means they’ve nearly closed the gap with white high school graduation rates. They are also more than twice as likely to have a college degree as in 1968 but are still half as likely as young whites to have a college degree.
  • The substantial progress in educational attainment of African Americans has been accompanied by significant absolute improvements in wages, incomes, wealth, and health since 1968. But black workers still make only 82.5 cents on every dollar earned by white workers, African Americans are 2.5 times as likely to be in poverty as whites, and the median white family has almost 10 times as much wealth as the median black family.
  • With respect to homeownership, unemployment, and incarceration, America has failed to deliver any progress for African Americans over the last five decades. In these areas, their situation has either failed to improve relative to whites or has worsened. In 2017 the black unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 1968, and is still roughly twice the white unemployment rate. In 2015, the black homeownership rate was just over 40 percent, virtually unchanged since 1968, and trailing a full 30 points behind the white homeownership rate, which saw modest gains over the same period. And the share of African Americans in prison or jail almost tripled between 1968 and 2016 and is currently more than six times the white incarceration rate.

Educational attainment

The most important development since 1968 is that African Americans today are much better educated than they were in 1968. These absolute improvements in educational attainment—including substantial increases in both high school and college completion rates—have opened important doors for black workers compared with their counterparts 50 years ago. In relative terms, African Americans today are almost as likely as whites to have completed high school. But even though the share of younger African Americans with a college degree has more than doubled, African Americans today are still only about half as likely to have a college degree as whites of the same age.

High school graduation rates

Over the last five decades, African Americans have seen substantial gains in high school completion rates. In 1968, just over half (54.4 percent) of 25- to 29-year-old African Americans had a high school diploma. Today, more than nine out of 10 African Americans (92.3 percent) in the same age range had a high school diploma. (See Table 1 for all data presented in this report.)

The large increase in high school completion rates helped to close the gap relative to whites. In 1968, African Americans trailed whites by more than 20 percentage points (75.0 percent of whites had completed high school, compared with 54.4 percent of blacks). In the most recent data, the gap is just 3.3 percentage points (95.6 percent for whites versus 92.3 percent for African Americans).

College graduation rates

College graduation rates have also improved for African Americans. Among 25- to 29-year-olds, less than one in 10 (9.1 percent) had a college degree in 1968, a figure that has climbed to almost one in four (22.8 percent) today.

Over the same period, however, college completion expanded for whites at a similar pace, rising from 16.2 percent in 1968 to 42.1 percent today, leaving the relative situation of African Americans basically unchanged: in 1968 blacks were just over half (56.0 percent) as likely as whites to have a college degree, a situation that is essentially the same today (54.2 percent).2

We would expect that these kinds of increases in the absolute levels of formal education would translate into large improvements in economic and related outcomes for African Americans. The rest of our indicators test the validity of this assumption.


The unemployment rate for African Americans in 2017 (the last full year of data) was 7.5 percent, 0.8 percentage points higher than it was in 1968 (6.7 percent). The unemployment rate for whites was 3.8 percent in 2017 and 3.2 percent in 1968.3

The unemployment data for these two years, almost 50 years apart, demonstrate a longstanding and unfortunate economic regularity: the unemployment rate for black workers is consistently about twice as high as it is for white workers.

Wages and income

Hourly wages. The inflation-adjusted hourly wage of the typical black worker rose 30.5 percent between 1968 and 2016, or about 0.6 percent per year. This slow rate of growth is particularly disappointing given the large increase in educational attainment among African Americans over these decades.

Even slower real wage growth (about 0.2 percent per year) for the typical white worker—albeit starting from a higher initial wage—meant that African Americans did modestly close the racial wage gap over the last five decades. But, in 2016, by the hourly wage measure used here, the typical black worker still only made 82.5 cents on every dollar earned by the typical white worker.4

Household income. The inflation-adjusted annual income of the typical African American household increased 42.8 percent between 1968 and 2016, slightly outpacing income growth for the typical white household (36.7 percent). But the typical black household today still receives only 61.6 percent of the annual income received by the typical white household.5

Poverty rates. The share of African Americans living in poverty has declined substantially in the last five decades. Using the official federal poverty measure as a benchmark, over one-third (34.7 percent) of African Americans were in poverty in 1968. Today, the share in poverty is just over one in five (21.4 percent). For whites, the decline in the poverty rate was much smaller, from 10.0 percent in 1968 to 8.8 percent in 2016. In the most recent data, African Americans are about 2.5 times as likely to be in poverty as whites. (In 1968, they were 3.5 times as likely to be in poverty.)6

Family wealth

The typical black family had almost no wealth in 1968 ($2,467; data refer to 19637). Today, that figure is about six times larger ($17,409), but it is still not that far from zero when you consider that families typically draw on their wealth for larger expenses, such as meeting basic needs over the course of retirement, paying for their children’s college education, putting a down payment on a house, or coping with a job loss or medical crisis.

Over the same period, the wealth of the typical white family almost tripled, from a much higher initial level. In 2016, the median African American family had only 10.2 percent of the wealth of the median white family ($17,409 versus $171,000).8

Homeownership. One of the most important forms of wealth for working and middle-class families is home equity. Yet, the share of black households that owned their own home remained virtually unchanged between 1968 (41.1 percent) and today (41.2 percent). Over the same period, homeownership for white households increased 5.2 percentage points to 71.1 percent, about 30 percentage points higher than the ownership rate for black households.9


Infant mortality. Over the last five decades, African Americans have experienced enormous improvements in infant mortality rates. The number of deaths per 1,000 live births has fallen from 34.9 in 1968 to 11.4 in the most recent data. Over the same period, whites have also seen dramatic reductions in infant mortality, with rates falling from 18.8 to 4.9 by the same measure.

In relative terms, however, African Americans have fallen behind. In 1968, black infants were about 1.9 times as likely to die as white infants. Today, the rate is 2.3 times higher for African Americans.10

Life expectancy. African Americans’ life expectancy at birth has also increased substantially (up 11.5 years) between 1968 and today, outpacing the increase for whites (up 7.5 years). But an African American born today can, on average, still expect to live about 3.5 fewer years than a white person born on the same day.11


The share of African Americans in prison or jail almost tripled between 1968 (604 of every 100,000 in the total population) and 2016 (1,730 per 100,000).

The share of whites in prison or jail has also increased dramatically, but from a much lower base. In 1968, about 111 of every 100,000 whites were incarcerated. In the most recent data, the share has increased to 270 per 100,000.

In 1968, African Americans were about 5.4 times as likely as whites to be in prison or jail. Today, African Americans are 6.4 times as likely as whites to be incarcerated, which is especially troubling given that whites are also much more likely to be incarcerated now than they were in 1968.

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Learn More

Time: How Christian Slaveholders Used the Bible to Justify Slavery

Atlanta Black Star: 8 Times the U.S. Government Gave White People Handouts to Get Ahead

The Atlantic: The Racist Housing Policy That Made Your Neighborhood

NY Times: The Cost of Slavery

History Channel:  Sharecropping

The Atlantic: The Case for Reparations

The Case Against Slave Reparations

Forbes:  Unspeakable Realities Block Universal Health Coverage In America

Commentary: Labor Unions and the Negro:The Record of Discrimination

The Root: Labor Day black history lesson

PBS: When labor laws left farm workers behind — and vulnerable to abuse



Follow Campaign

Zinn Education Project

Social Justice Eduction Guides for Teachers

The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston

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