Waiting for Gautreaux: A Story of Segregation, Housing, and the Black Ghetto

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Winner of 2006 The American Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award

On his thirty-ninth birthday in 1966, Alexander Polikoff, a volunteer ACLU attorney and partner in a Chicago law firm, met some friends to discuss a pro bono case. Over lunch, the four talked about the Chicago Housing Authority construction program. All the new public housing, it seemed, was going into black neighborhoods. If discrimination was prohibited in public schools, wasn't it...

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Overview

Winner of 2006 The American Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award

On his thirty-ninth birthday in 1966, Alexander Polikoff, a volunteer ACLU attorney and partner in a Chicago law firm, met some friends to discuss a pro bono case. Over lunch, the four talked about the Chicago Housing Authority construction program. All the new public housing, it seemed, was going into black neighborhoods. If discrimination was prohibited in public schools, wasn't it also prohibited in public housing?

And so began Gautreaux v. CHA and HUD, a case that from its rocky beginnings would roll on year after year, decade after decade, carrying Polikoff and his colleagues to the nation's Supreme Court (to face then-solicitor general Robert Bork); establishing precedents for suits against the discriminatory policies of local housing authorities, often abetted by HUD; and setting the stage for a nationwide experiment aimed at ending the concentration—and racialization—of poverty through public housing. Sometimes Kafkaesque, sometimes simply inspiring, and never less than absorbing, the story of Gautreaux, told by its principal lawyer, moves with ease through local and national civil rights history, legal details, political matters, and the personal costs—and rewards—of a commitment to fairness, equality, and justice. Both the memoir of a dedicated lawyer, and the narrative of a tenacious pursuit of equality, this story—itself a critical, still-unfolding chapter in recent American history—urges us to take an essential step in ending the racial inequality that Alexis de Toqueville prophetically named America's "most formidable evil."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is an inspiring and fascinating book. The story of Alex Polikoff and his forty-year crusade to bring the constitutional promise of equality to public housing is dramatic evidence that lawyers—and the law—can still be a force for progress in the United States." —Scott Turow

"Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of the dream of integration. Not Alex Polikoff. In Waiting for Gautreaux he tells the compelling story of his personal quest for fairness and openness in housing. Both moving and informative this is history as it should be. Polikoff is a modern-day hero." —Alex Kotlowitz

 

"With the same thoroughness and tenacity he demonstrated in the lawsuit, Alex Polikoff traces the ups and downs of the Gautreaux litigation. If you want to understand the past, present, and future of public housing in this country, you need to read Waiting for Gautreaux." —Abner J. Mikva, Former Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit

Publishers Weekly
The drama of 20th-century American race relations played itself out, Polikoff contends, in two theaters: in the South through the Civil Rights movement and in the North through the struggle over housing segregation. This text traces almost 40 years of the latter drama through Gautreaux v. CHA and HUD, the landmark Chicago public housing suit brought on behalf of underprivileged black families seeking housing outside of the predominantly black ghetto. Polikoff, who successfully argued the case locally and federally, bookends his memoir with reflections on the history of race relations from Reconstruction to Clinton. But the heart of the book rests with Gautreaux's endless legal maneuvering and policy implications. Polikoff occasionally gets bogged down in legal analysis-even the most dedicated lay reader will probably have a difficult time with the nuances of his climactic Supreme Court victory. Far more often, though, Polikoff provides just enough insight and detail to keep the text fresh and engaging. He moves seamlessly between broad topics-like the phone "lottery" for Gautreaux program housing-and vivid anecdotes, including one woman's joyful, minutes-long laughter upon winning in that lottery. Polikoff animates his story with humanity and intelligence, often transcending memoir to provide an indispensable addition to the history of civil rights in the United States. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810123441
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 1/30/2006
  • Pages: 422
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Alexander Polikoff served for twenty-nine years as executive director of BPI, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, a Chicago public interest law and policy center. He is the author of many articles on urban affairs and of Housing the Poor: The Case for Heroism.  Polikoff  is the recipient of a 2006 The American Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award.  He lives in the Chicago area with his wife, a writer of fiction for young people, and continues to work at BPI. 

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