For my write-up today on Dean Kotlowski’s Nixon’s Civil Rights, I’ll using as my starting point something Kotlowski says on pages 68-69:
“Nixon, Ford, and Carter all confused ethnicity with race. Preserving the ethnic purity of neighborhoods signaled more than a nostalgic effort to retain the social composition of Chicago’s Greek-populated Halstead Street, San Francisco’s Chinatown, or the largely Polish-American community of Cheektowaga, New York, a suburb of Buffalo. It meant that blacks would remain concentrated in inner cities while suburbs, with their mixture of European stock, stayed overwhelmingly white. Nevertheless, the rhetoric of celebrating diversity reappeared in later presidential campaigns. And Nixon’s other civil rights policies, such as supporting minority businesses, black colleges, and Native American self-determination, acknowledged the vitality of distinct cultures. With integration fading as a political issue and a national goal, Nixon’s successors continued his policy of fighting housing bias through litigation. At first none of them matched Nixon’s average, between 1971 and 1974, of thirty-five fair housing lawsuits per year.”
In my last couple of posts on Nixon’s Civil Rights, I have talked some about the difference of opinion between Nixon and his Housing and Urban Development Secretary George Romney (Mitt’s father) on integration. Romney wanted for low-income housing to be built in suburbs, and for African-Americans to move into them from the cities. But, for a variety of reasons, Nixon disagreed. Nixon thought that such a policy would be self-defeating because it would encourage “white flight”, as whites left the suburbs because they feared a decline of their property values and an increase in crime. Nixon also did not care for federal housing projects on account of their poor quality, and he sought (unsuccessfully) to pursue an alternative route: rather than having the government construct housing complexes, Nixon favored helping the poor to leave such buildings by boosting their income through the Family Assistance Plan, and he also “proposed direct housing allowances for the poor” (page 67). (As Kotlowski notes, President Ronald Reagan years later followed Nixon’s views by cutting funding for federal housing, but Reagan did not grant “the kind of cash payments that Nixon had proposed”).
Nixon also wanted for neighborhoods to feel free to preserve their own ethnic identity, and, according to Kotlowski, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter essentially agreed with him. At the same time, Nixon wanted for African-Americans to be able to live anywhere they desired, provided they could afford it. Consequently, Nixon pursued a policy of prosecuting communities for racial discrimination in housing, but not of integrating low-income people into suburbs. Kowlowski says that such a policy was “absurd” because many of the poor were minorities, and yet Kotlowski states on page 60 that Nixon sought to uplift minorities economically: “To enable minorities to purchase homes in the suburbs, Nixon wanted to ‘upgrade blacks economically’ and assure them ‘freedom of movement.'” In practice, however, there were some times when Nixon appeared to follow Romney’s strategy. When residents of Black Jack, Missouri attempted to prevent the construction of a “federally assisted housing complex” through an ordinance than banned “multifamily rental housing”, Attorney General John Mitchell (with Nixon’s blessing) sued Black Jack for racial discrimination (pages 69-70).