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3 Forced Integration The federal government will not impose economic integration. —President Richard M. Nixon, June 11, 1971 The specter ofthe urban crisis loomed large as the backdrop to the presidential race of 1968. Nixon hardly mentioned the omnipresent urban crisis in the long campaign season of 1967 and 1968, despite the fact that the election season had been inaugurated amidst the greatest outbreak of social unrest in the nation’s history. In the words of Rick Perlstein, “Race had always been the best-­ oiled hinge in the strange contraption that was Nixon’s ideology,” suggesting something about how his positions on race and civil rights managed to remain in flux.1 Nixon had supported John F. Kennedy’s civil rights bill but then decried efforts to enforce it. He supported the 1968 Civil Rights Act, featuring fair housing , only after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. made it impossible to oppose. Deep questions still remained over how to end the crisis in the cities— more government programs or more intervention from the private sector? Nixon finally weighed into the debate, sharply, when he secured his party’s nomination for president. In a speech at the Republican Party’s National Convention in 1968, Nixon targeted the social programs of the previous administration: “For the past five years we have been deluged by government programs for the unemployed; programs for the cities; programs for the poor. And we have reaped from these programs an ugly harvest of frustration, violence and failure across the land. And now our opponents will be offering more of the same—more billions for government jobs, government housing, government welfare. I say it is time to 94 Forced Integration quit pouring billions of dollars into programs that have failed in the United States of America.”2 But the question remained: beyond the usual acerbic election-­ year rhetoric, how would the Nixon administration manage the sprawling Johnsonian welfare state given his hostile description of the Great Society as “programs that have failed the United States”? Advocates for low-­income housing were especially concerned by rumors that Nixon would get rid of HUD altogether. Only three years old when Nixon became president, HUD continued to resemble a disorganized amalgam of organizations and interests instead of a coherent government agency. Nixon’s nomination of his former political rival Michigan governor George Romney as the new secretary of HUD came as a surprise. Romney was a moderate Republican known for his support of the civil rights movement who, during his tenure as governor, had championed statewide fair housing legislation. If Nixon hoped to keep his domestic policy agenda under control, Romney was a curious choice. For example, Romney appeared to be genuinely affected by the devastation of the Detroit Rebellion; in its aftermath, he toured Black urban communities around the country. His comments during this tour prefigured his approach as HUD secretary. At one stop he said, Our best and most extensive efforts in the past have been mere palliatives, not cures. They have treated symptoms, not causes. They have failed to come to grips with the structural deficiencies in American society that are the root of the problems. . . . A strategy for a new America requires us to stop looking at the people of the slums as a drag on our society and see them rather as an untapped asset. There is as much talent and leadership in the slums as there is in the suburbs. Its development will create a new America. We must eliminate restrictions on the availability of capital to start and expand ghetto enterprises. As a rule today, the dollar bounces only once in the ghetto. To achieve a multiplier effect, the financial community must be willing to supply working and risk capital to the ghetto entrepreneur.3 Romney’s comments resonated not only with the idea that the private sector was pivotal to the transformation of the inner city but also with the findings of the Kerner Commission, which pointed to structural inequality as an urban impediment . In any case, Romney’s comments indicated that he could be an activist HUD secretary. That activism would become an underlying theme the first two years of his tenure at the helm of HUD. Forced Integration 95 Low-­ income housing policy was deeply impacted by the political transition from Johnson to Nixon and the subsequent transformation of the mission of HUD under Romney. Those political shifts were articulated politically by what Nixon described as “New Federalism,” which...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469653686
Related ISBN
9781469653662
MARC Record
OCLC
1117339519
Pages
368
Launched on MUSE
2019-09-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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