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

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Northwestern University Press, May 11, 2007 - History - 424 pages
Winner, 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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Part Two
Part Three
Chronology of Key Events
Note on Sources
Selected Bibliography

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About the author (2007)

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 (Ballinger, 1977). 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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