A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home
  • A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home
  • A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home

A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home

by Laura Gottesdiener

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A moving exploration of homeownership, freedom, and the American Dream in light of the ongoing financial crisis and mass foreclosure.
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A moving exploration of homeownership, freedom, and the American Dream in light of the ongoing financial crisis and mass foreclosure.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

The Columbia Journalism Review
"Gottesdiener’s book is a welcome, mortgage-edition proof for Faulkner’s line that the past isn’t dead. It's not even past ... The footnotes alone are worth the price of the book."

Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple
"I’m spreading the word about Laura Gottesdiener’s FINE book wherever I go and wherever I am. [It's] a wonderful book."

Marc Lamont Hill, Huffinton Post Live
"An incredible book…a great set of stories being told here…and more importantly, a powerful narrative about the relationship between black people and ownership"

Johanna Fernandez professor in the Department of History at Baruch College
“From the time of their capture in Africa, through Emancipation and the Great Migration, to the national economic and housing crisis of today, people of African descent in the United States have been defined by their search for home. Using the dreams and aspirations of four families as her point of departure, Laura Gottesdiener narrates a beautifully crafted story about predatory lending, foreclosure abuse, the racial politics of home ownership, and the brave struggles launched by African American communities to keep their dignities and their homes. She demonstrates that amidst the greatest housing crisis the nation has seen, the current struggle among African Americans for economic equality is forcing upon our nation a redefinition of American freedom, one that challenges us to reconsider the fundamental flaw in our national security: the market-driven character of housing. With great humanity and solidarity for those on the front lines of this epic battle, Gottesdiener offers a compelling political analysis, and a way forward in a time of national crisis. A Dream Foreclosed is a powerful, impressive and page-turning testimony that ordinary people can fight back and win.”

Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! and New York Times bestselling author
"It's a really incredible book"

Naomi Klein , author of The Shock Doctrine
"Compelling and lucidly told stories a.... A riveting book."

Ralph Nader
"A Dream Foreclosed is a powerful combination of riveting stories about four defrauded families and their fight back together with the broader documentation of Wall Street's corporate crimes that crashed the economy. Laura Gottesdiener, a veteran of Occupy Wall Street, has the acute eye and pen of a young progressive star with extraordinary talent. Her pages should grip you with motivational indignation."

Russell Mokhiber, Corporate Crime Reporter
"A remarkable book that hits hard against the big Wall Street banks."

Tim Wise, author of many books including Colorblind and Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority
"A brilliant and needed narrative by an insightful and inspiring author."

Noam Chomsky
“The legislation to rescue the perpetrators of the current financial crisis included provisions for limited compensation to their victims. No need to tarry on which part of the bargain has been fulfilled. The bare statistics on foreclosures are shattering enough. But the enormity of the crime strikes home vividly in the heart-rending accounts of those who are brutally thrown out of their modest homes — for African Americans particularly, almost all they have — then survive in the streets, struggle on, and sometimes even regain something of what was stolen from them thanks to the courageous and inspiring work of the home liberation activists, now reinforced by the Occupy movement. All recounted with historical depth and analytic insight in this most valuable study.”

Linn Washington, author of Black Judges on Justice, Perspectives from the Bench
“Americans need the stories in this book: inspiring resistance to the serialized corporate crimes that crush not only ‘Dreams’ but the capacity to thrive beyond subsistence.”

Clarence Lusane, author of The Black History of the White House
“...[a] brilliant discourse on the battle over home and community by African Americans... [w]e owe Gottesdiener a great debt for her research and powerful argument that permeates A Dream Foreclosed. ... Gottesdiener’s effort here is a much needed and welcomed counter-weight. She takes sides in this battle and gives voice to those who are rarely if ever heard.”

"Gottesdiener’s new book, A Dream Foreclosed, is a people’s history of the financial crisis that jolted this country and has never ended. It has been hailed by Naomi Klein as “riveting” and Noam Chomsky as a “most valuable study... with historical depth and analytical insight.”

Mumia Abu-Jamal , Counterpunch
A Dream Foreclosed finds beauty amidst immense pain and suffering—the beauty of people continuing to fight back against rapacious banks, the politicians they buy and the lawyers they hire. It is a work both beautiful and terrible that deserves to be read by many.”

Danny Schechter, Al Jazeera
A new book by Laura Gottesdiener, A Dream Foreclosed offers deeper context in the socio-economic effects of the housing crash. She shows how foreclosures have devastated America's black community while banks profit. Incredulously, nearly every African American has seen their income decrease - all under the watch of our first black president. She offers first person reports on the trauma and tragedies of families who bought homes with deceptive loans offered by hustlers and conmen who knew they would not be able to afford their payments but sold the properties anyway. These are the people who made large fees from subprime loans even when borrowers qualified for lower interest loans. Her reporting from the frontlines of this battle humanises the issues and highlights the injustices that most of the business media glosses over. Her insights conflicts with the president's, most of the media and the banks. "We've already tried policies that benefit Wall Street and massive corporations, and all we've ended up with is more financial consolidation, speculation and criminal activity," she concludes.

Eleanor J. Bador, Truthout
"An invaluable introduction to a system that has booted more than 10 million US residents out of their homes since 2007."

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Product Details

Zuccotti Park Press
Publication date:
Occupied Media Pamphlet Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


“The search for justice, opportunity, and liberty that characterized the twentieth century for African Americans can be described as a quest for home. . . . Passion for home ran like a lifeblood through the African American psyche.”
—Valerie Sweeney Prince, Burnin’ Down the House: Home in African American Literature

The police were at the door.

Running footsteps on the stairs, and then—

“Martha Biggs! Ms. Biggs! Open up!” a man shouted.

Nine-year-old Jimmya Biggs remembers the pounding of fists followed by the deliberate thud of a battering ram. She and her seven-year-old sister, Justice, had just finished eating cereal, and they were playing Barbie in the living room of their two-family home on the West Side of Chicago. It was the weekend. Later that afternoon, Jimmya her two sisters planned to pick up their progress report cards from Salazar Elementary. Jimmya was a smart and well-behaved student, and she was excited to read her teachers’ comments.

The pounding grew louder. The girls’ older sister, Jajuanna, was still asleep on the middle level of the triple-layer bunk bed that the sisters shared. Jimmya peered out the window. Nearly a half dozen police cars were parked below. Their lights were flashing. The girls’ mother, Martha Biggs, woke to the commotion and rushed to the door. She opened it, only to see seven police officers, a blinding flashlight, and her dreams exploding once again. It was 2010—the year that, for the first time in U.S. history, banks seized more than one million homes, evicting nearly three thousand families every single day.

Martha yelled at the girls to get dressed. Jimmya and Justice flew into the bathroom together (“I was so scared?so, so, so, so scared!” Jimmya confided later). Martha and Jajuanna grabbed bags of clothes and flew down the stairs, shoving them into the family minivan. Martha had suspected that her landlord was in foreclosure when he’d stopped making repairs, and she’d already packed up some of their things. A female police officer knelt down to remind Jimmya to put on a coat and shoes. Martha roused her only son, three-year-old Davion, and coaxed him into the car. The family fit, but it was tight: Martha and Jajuanna in the front seat, Jimmya, Justice, and Davion crowded between clothes and coats in the back. As Martha drove away from the house that had been their home and headed to Salazar Elementary School (the girls’ report cards were good, as they’d hoped), Martha knew that this eviction was not only part of the 2008 housing crisis. It was part of a much longer story, one that stretched back to Martha’s own childhood and even further, all the way back to the founding of the United States—a story of housing, race and freedom that weaves through the nation’s history like the crisscross stitches on the fabric of a quilt.

Home. A place to live. The importance of this universal human need reverberates and ripples across the physical landscape of the United States and across the imagination of American society. To nineteenth-century author Anna Julia Cooper, who had been enslaved as a child and became one of the nation’s leading intellectuals, a place to live is “not merely a house to shelter the body, but a home to sustain and freshen the mind.”

Home is an emotional place of promise and dreams. Getting there has been the subject of song, literature and myth dating back to the dawn of civilization. In the United States, the significance of a home has been central to notions of who we are and who we want to be. The living embodiment of the American Dream is to own a simple house with a white picket fence. “It’s just a plain little old house—but it’s made good and solid—and it will be ours,” is how Mama explains the dream home in A Raisin in the Sun.
An indecent place to live is a crowded space where dreams wither. As Gwendolyn Brooks writes in “Kitchenette Building,” a poem about the subdivided apartments in 1960s African American neighborhoods:

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

But could a dream sent up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms,

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

And being without a place to live is one of the most traumatizing experiences in contemporary American society. As Jimmya explained two years after her family’s eviction from her home on the West Side of Chicago: “When I was homeless, it wasn’t like I was dirty, because my mom made sure I wasn’t. But then I was going to school with everything on my mind of what happened the other night—that yesterday I got a house, but what about today? I might have to sleep in the car today. I might get a good meal today. But will I get a meal? Will something go wrong? What will happen? How will I get home today?”

Home is one of the most complicated words in the English language. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word home has six definitions, including:

The house in which one lives with his family

One’s native land

A place of refuge and rest; the native and eternal dwelling place of the soul

Home originates from the Anglo-Saxon word ham, which means “a village or town, an estate or possession.” Home continues to carry this dual meaning, signifying both community (village) and commodity (estate). The word house, often used as synonym for home, also carries these multiple definitions. “A house is, in all its figurings, always thing, domain, and meaning—home, dwelling, and property; shelter, lodging, and equity; roof, protection, and aspiration,” write scholars Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva. While it is a small, humble word, the power of home is nearly unrivaled. It is the prize of epic heroes. It is where children are born and adults die. It is nearly synonymous with the idea of equality, upward mobility, and freedom. But it is also a word that, when misused, can unleash great destruction—including the worst financial collapse since the 1930s. As law professor Anita Hill writes, “At the heart of the crisis is the ideological disconnect between home as a basic element of the American Dream and pathway to equality, and home as a market product.”

The definition of home has legal, political, and economic consequences. Property (the estate) and personhood (the individual and her rights) have been interconnected since the dawn of the Western tradition. According to John Locke—called by one scholar the “ultimate Founding Father” —even a person’s connection to her or his own body is defined by property relations. “[E]very man has a property in his own person,” Locke wrote in The Second Treatise on Civil Government. This relation between property ownership and full personhood served as the legal foundation for the early U.S. Constitution, which granted only white, male property-holding individuals the right to political participation. Home and landownership gave one access to the original American Dream: democracy. As nineteenth-century philosopher G.W.F. Hegel wrote, “Property is the first embodiment of freedom.”

Property has also embodied the very opposite of freedom for a large number of people throughout the history of the United States. In the early U.S., many communities suffered at the hands of the United States’ particular version of property law, which hinged on rights of exclusion—I own this; therefore, you have no right to it—that were recognized only when the owner was a white man. This selective right to exclude was used by whites to control and disenfranchise Native Americans, African Americans, and Mexicans, who were rendered immigrants in their own lands by U.S. expansion. But the racism in U.S. property law did more than prohibit many from being owners. It determined who, in the eyes of the law and society, was considered a person. As law professor Margalynne J. Armstrong writes, “African Americans have a historical relationship to property that differs from that of other Americans. Our introduction to this country was as a form of property [and] contemporary relationships between African Americans and property are still impaired” (emphasis mine).

The collapse of home—and home ownership—that began surfacing in late 2007 has created not only an economic disaster but a crisis in national identity. On the surface, this catastrophe is about the price of our houses. But more fundamentally, this ongoing crisis challenges the very foundation of American democracy. It is prompting us to question what it means to live in a society in which ownership is not only the dream but the underlying basis of full personhood. And it is forcing millions of new Americans to experience how it feels to be on the wrong side of the property line.

The true scale of the crisis, which is still far from over, has not yet been fully understood. In human terms, an estimated ten million people have been forced out of their homes through foreclosure and bank eviction from 2007 to 2013. Ten million. That is more than thirty times the number of people who rushed to California in pursuit of gold in the 1850s. It is four times the number of people who fled the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Even the Great Migration—the eighty-year march of Southern-born African Americans to Northern and Western cities during the twentieth century—involved only six million people. As a contemporary comparison, ten million is more than the number of people who currently live in all of Michigan, one of the most highly populated states in the union. In other words, it’s as if bankers have evicted and repossessed the homes of every man, woman, and child in the Great Lakes state.

In purely financial terms, the ongoing crisis and subsequent economic restructuring have cost unknown trillions of dollars. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, it has destroyed $19.2 trillion in U.S. household wealth, dragging millions deeper into debt and poverty. The nation’s primary economic engine of the last half century—the housing market—simply imploded. Multiple cities have declared bankruptcy. Homelessness among children under the age of seventeen in Florida has nearly doubled. And, according to the Center for Responsible Lending, “We are not even halfway through the foreclosure crisis.”

In the spring and summer of 2012, I drove across the country to study families and neighborhoods that were trying to stop foreclosure and displacement. As I witnessed inspiring stories and actions, I began observing something that took the project in an entirely unexpected direction. Through hundreds of interviews with families experiencing housing instability, I noticed that perceptions of the crisis were often influenced by race. White Americans often spoke about foreclosure as a singular, shocking event. Many blamed relatively recent changes in the U.S. economic structure, such as lending deregulation, the stagnation of middle-class wages or the development of the securitization process, which mortgage-pushing companies and Wall Street used to cash in on predatory, often unpayable loans. In contrast, African Americans rarely spoke about foreclosure as if it were something new and unprecedented, or even something that only affected mortgage-holding families. Instead, they tied today’s housing crisis to a longer fight for home—one that encompasses hundreds of years and includes everyone from families who pay mortgages to people who live in public housing. Most strikingly, they often proposed far more visionary economic and social solutions, sometimes even questioning the very fundamental structure of housing in America.

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