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Knocking on the Door:
The Federal Government's Attempt to Desegregate the Suburbs
Christopher Bonastia

Paperback | 2008 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691136196
256 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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Knocking on the Door is the first book-length work to analyze federal involvement in residential segregation from Reconstruction to the present. Providing a particularly detailed analysis of the period 1968 to 1973, the book examines how the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) attempted to forge elementary changes in segregated residential patterns by opening up the suburbs to groups historically excluded for racial or economic reasons. The door did not shut completely on this possibility until President Richard Nixon took the drastic step of freezing all federal housing funds in January 1973. Knocking on the Door assesses this near-miss in political history, exploring how HUD came surprisingly close to implementing rigorous antidiscrimination policies, and why the agency's efforts were derailed by Nixon.

Christopher Bonastia shows how the Nixon years were ripe for federal action to foster residential desegregation. The period was marked by new legislative protections against housing discrimination, unprecedented federal involvement in housing construction, and frequent judicial backing for the actions of civil rights agencies.

By comparing housing desegregation policies to civil rights enforcement in employment and education, Bonastia offers an unrivaled account of why civil rights policies diverge so sharply in their ambition and effectiveness.


"Why have federal efforts at housing desegregation been less successful than struggles against school and job discrimination? In a thoughtful comparison of the responsible federal agencies, Bonastia contends that the 'institutional home' in which a desegregation task was placed is crucial. . . . [Knocking on the Door] clearly lays out choices and the consequences of desegregation efforts. Highly recommended."--S. D. Borchert, Choice

"I found this book to be useful and informative. . . . [It demonstrates] why a results-oriented approach to civil-rights enforcement was not undertaken in housing, as it was, for a time, in education and employment. . . . Bonastia makes a convincing argument that, with a different type of enforcement agency combating housing discrimination, progress could have been greater than it was."--John E. Farley, Contexts

"This book provides a fascinating look at the details and nuances of public policy history during the Civil Rights era and deepens our understanding of the consequences of institutional arrangements for the effectiveness of social policy. The book is thus relevant to scholars of social change, institutions, and racial stratification. . . . This work offers valuable insight into the federal role in perpetuating segregation and the institutional forces limiting social change."--Chenoa Flippen, American Journal of Sociology

Table of Contents:

Preface ix
List of Abbreviations for Frequently Cited Government Agencies and Commissions xiii
Chapter One: Residential Segregation The Forgotten Civil Rights Issue 1
Chapter Two: The Divergence of Civil Rights Policies in Housing, Education, and Employment 25
Chapter Three: The Federal Government and Residential Segregation, 1866-1968 57
Chapter Four: Conviction and Controversy HUD Formulates Its Fair Housing Policies 9
Chapter Five: Indirect Attack A Housing Freeze Kills Civil Rights Efforts 121
Chapter Six: The Recent Past, Present, and Future of Residential Desegregation 144
List of Abbreviations for Notes 167
Notes 169
Works Cited 207
Index 227

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