Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Federal Controversy in Chicago, A Memorandum (Harold M. Baron, 1965)

Synopsis by Madeleine McQuilling

Sixteen months after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, Hal Baron watched administrators riddle it with loopholes. Without immediate and decisive action, he argued, the U.S. would consign the new act to the same ineffective fate as that of Reconstruction legislation. In this 1965 memo to Chicago Urban League director Bill Berry, Baron voices his fears by detailing two Title VI complaints filed in Chicago––one alleging discrimination in public education and the other, discrimination in public housing. The choice of complaints specifically from Chicago was strategic. As Baron explains: “Since the Chicago complaints were among the first to deal with major types of urban segregation that receive Federal aid, and […] the Office of Public Education’s delay in granting funds to the Chicago public schools became a national issue, we feel that the disposition of the Chicago complaints might unfortunately become national precedent.” Baron continues to outline these complaints and explain the various ways in which their dispositions were unfortunate.

Baron first addresses the complaint on the Chicago public schools, filed July 4, 1965 by the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO). This complaint alleged that the Chicago Board of Education was in violation of Title VI as they are “segregated and unequal because of racial discrimination.” While members of the CCCO acknowledge the probable short term harm that a withdrawal of funding would cause the Chicago public school system, they assert that their complaint will, in the long run, more than compensate for the temporary embarrassment. “We are confident,” the complaint concludes, “that Federal intervention in this matter, through the withholding of funds, will help underline the high fiscal cost, as well as the immeasurable social cost, of segregation to Chicago and to the rest of the nation.” The complaint is addressed to Commissioner Francis Keppel, who put a tremendous amount of effort into investigating the issue and holding the School Board accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, he was thwarted at every turn from people in various governmental positions––all the way up to, and including, president Lyndon B. Johnson. Men such as Superintendent Willis, Mayor Daley, and Congressman Pucinski insisted on maintaining federal funds without desegregating Chicago schools; when the Johnson Administration joins the fray, Baron accuses them of striving to “end the controversy rather than ensuring broad enforcement of Title VI.” Referencing Washington correspondent Joseph Kraft, Baron asserts that Mayor Daley was intentionally inflaming race relations in Chicago as a re-election strategy. “If Commissioner Keppel expected voluntary and informal conciliation,” Baron remarks, “he made a serious error in judgement.” Baron concludes this section by underscoring a presidential responsibility: “Unless there is positive encouragement from the White House itself, it is doubtful that we will see the use of the sanctions of Title VI except in the most flagrant and egregious cases.”

Baron next addresses the complaint on Public Housing Sites filed by the Westside Federation. This complaint alleged that the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), was in violation of Title VI by continuing to build massive public housing projects “in the heart of the Negro ghetto.” “With a high degree of assurance,” Baron paraphrases, “it could be assumed that projects at [these] new sites would become all-Negro.” The Public Housing Administration argued that the CHA was not in violation of Title VI by interpreting it “in the narrowest possible manner.” In essence, if the entity receiving federal funds, such as the CHA, is under the complete power of an entity not receiving federal funds, such as the City Council, then the first entity cannot be held accountable to Title VI if they do not have authorization from their superiors to comply with its provisions; the second entity is exempt from Title VI because they are not a direct recipient of the funds. While the Public Housing Administration felt “that CHA did very well within the bounds placed upon it by the City Council,” Baron considered such an interpretation detrimental to the efficacy of Title VI, and its potential as a force for desegregation. For Baron, this would amount to “a national disaster.”

Throughout this memo, Baron calls for “sweeping and imaginative interpretation of the Title’s provisions” that would allow it to effect positive change, particularly in urban centers. As unlikely as it sounds, Baron managed to set just such a precedent by turning this Westside Federation housing complaint into the celebrated case, Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority.


Public Housing, Chicago Builds a Ghetto (Hal Baron, 1967)

Synopsis by: Briana Gipson

In 1967, Hal Baron delivered “Public Housing, Chicago Builds a Ghetto” as a fiery, anti-colonial speech on the state of Chicago’s public housing system. This speech was delivered to an audience containing Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) leaders and staff at a symposium at the University of Chicago on March 10, 1967. He would use his speech to critique the City of Chicago’s and the CHA’s practices and reveal the negative outcomes they created and forced on Chicago’s Black community. He argued that City transformed its public housing system into a tool that implements and solidifies racism. It essentially became a system that segregated Blacks, decreased their mobility, and altered their community networks and solidarity by social, economic, and political force. He devoted his speech to discussing the federal government’s, Chicago’s and CHA’s role in creating ghettos, or areas with high concentrations of low-income Blacks, through public housing. He organized his discussion into four separate sections.

The first section of Baron’s speech is titled “From Crusade to Containment”. He began this section by discussing the three major periods of public housing from the lens of the Chicago Urban League. His main point is public housing was originally organized as a campaign to rid problems associated with urban life such as overcrowding and poverty by the federal government. Then it became a system to support World War II war workers before finally becoming “a virtually Negro institution” Baron says. In other words, Baron claimed that it became a system designed to reinforce the racial biases of those in power. He used CHA statistics to show that their biases resulted in Chicago’s public housing system being 90% Black, in 90% of CHA’s properties. Baron explained how Jim Crow and anti-black legislation in the League’s three public housing periods led to Chicago’s segregated and predominantly Black public housing system in the 1960s.

The next section of Baron’s speech focuses on the influence of federal policies and urban renewal on Chicago’s segregated and Black public housing system. The name of this section is “The Safety Valve for Urban Renewal”. It fundamentally argued that Chicago’s public housing system became segregated and Black because it used its system as a “safety-net” for urban renewal. Baron unpacks this argument by revealing how the federal government’s housing and transportation policies began altering housing supply based on race beginning in the late 1930s. It offered Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veteran Affairs loans to Whites, which contributed to mass suburbanization processes and ultimately increased Whites’ housing supply. Baron indicated that suburbanization expanded at the expense of Black neighborhoods as the federal government subsidized expressways to support migrating Whites. These expressways along with urban renewal would displace thousands of Blacks and decrease their already limited housing supply. Baron asserted that this led to Chicago’s public housing properties becoming relocation settlements or “catch-basins” for Blacks who were uprooted from their homes and livelihoods. He provided evidence showing that CHA transitioned from serving mostly low-income, White neighborhoods prior to 1949 to proposing over 95% of its properties in Black neighborhoods from 1950 to 1955. Baron further supported his main argument that Chicago built a segregated and concentrated low-income Black community by ending this section discussing how the CHA came under fire for proposing a housing project development in a White neighborhood. His example showed how firm the City of Chicago was in creating and maintaining segregation through the CHA.

Baron’s third section describes how CHA began to engage in disparate treatment once its public housing system became predominantly Black. He particularly focused on the CHA’s building designs. He explained that CHA’s building designs followed the Garden City movement when it was created for Whites and war-workers. They were often constructed as single family apartments with green space. However, once CHA began building public housing developments for displaced Blacks, Baron witnessed CHA build dense, high-rise buildings that had larger building coverage ratios. He contended that this building design exacerbated Chicago’s spatial segregation. He supported his claim by explaining that this increased residential segregation within central Chicago strengthened school segregation and furthered separated Blacks from jobs. Jobs were often moving to the periphery of cities as a result of expressway and highway construction, which increased employment segregation. Baron ended this section explaining the negative impact of CHA’s high-rise developments on community networks. He mentioned that it does not allow for Blacks to rebuild the institutions they lost in urban renewal to full capacity. It also weakened community connections and leadership opportunities. Baron’s last sentences showcased that Chicago’s public housing system did not even provide the stability needed for Blacks to rebuild and connect. Blacks lost their public housing vouchers once they made it to a certain income, and Baron foreshadows that this only perpetuates the very racism that led Blacks to Chicago’s public housing system in the first place.

Baron’s last section, “The Powerlessness of Black Tenants”, uncovered how he believed CHA acted as Black colonizers. He began this section describing two differences between the private and public housing market. The differences were that Blacks lacked the alternatives the private market offered and the power to make political decisions. Baron credited these differences to the CHA’s failure to treat Blacks as their clients and accommodate their needs like the FHA did for its mostly White clients. Additionally, Blacks could not significantly influence the ways the CHA operated because it was a public entity that did not often act in Blacks’ interests. They instead provided top-down orders Baron implied. He proclaimed that this made organizations like the CHA paternalistic colonizers that managed the public housing system like wards instead of providing opportunity. Baron ended this section and his raw speech summarizing the main idea he wanted the audience to grasp: CHA’s public housing system segregates and disrespects Blacks. His final words share that Blacks felt “hopeless, helpless, and totally manipulated” by CHA’s disparate and disrespectful public housing system.

The Web of Urban Racism (Harold M. Baron, 1968)

Synopsis by Madeleine McQuilling

In this chapter, Hal Baron spends a few pages on each of his main themes (history, housing, labor, education, politics) and explains how they all represent different aspects of what he terms the “web of urban racism.” The web of urban racism, a phrase Baron uses in his writings from the late 1960s onwards, denotes the network of institutional racism intrinsic to American society (1). Baron explains: 

 The impersonal institutions of the great cities have been woven together into a web of urban racism that entraps Negroes much as the spider’s net holds flies – they can wiggle but they cannot move very far. There is a carefully articulated interrelation of the barriers created by each institution. Whereas the single institutional strand standing alone might not be so strong, together the many strands form a powerful web. But here the analogy breaks down. In contrast to the spider’s prey, the victim of urban racism has fed on stronger stuff and is on the threshold of tearing the web. 

 Written in 1968, Baron’s sympathies for the black power movement surge beneath his calm prose. The “Long, hot summer of 1967” shone a spotlight on the problematic racrelations in America; by its light, the web of urban racism becomes more visible, and thus, more vulnerable. Baron is confident that its victims have “fed on stronger stuff,” and are now capable of “tearing the web.” In order for readers to fully appreciate this anticipated moment of liberation, Baron details how the web of urban racism came about, and how it continues to impact every sphere of daily life.   

 Baron starts his history of urban racism in America with the Civil War, declaring that the “abolition of slavery did not mean the abolition of racism.” To the contrary, the racism decreased only in its visibility, taking “on a new institutional form in which it was still effective in subjugating blacks and politically disarming poor whites.” In other words, the racism starts shifting from de jure to de facto. Baron sees de jure segregation, or legalized segregation, as a largely southern system; in contrast, he considers de facto, or automatic segregation a predominantly northern one But, Baron observes, “as the southern population becomes more demographically similar to the northern population, the nature of racism is beginning to assume greater similarities, especially in metropolitan centers.” The difference between de jure and de facto segregation is the difference between a school that forbids the enrollment of black students, and a school built in such a way that no black students live within its district. The great migration of the early 20th century made it painfully clear that racism survived the Civil War; it was alive and well––northern as well as southern.  

For Baron, the demographic shift represented a “push-pull phenomenon.” “The push,” he argues, “was the displacement of Negroes from southern agriculture, occasioned first by soil exhaustion, then by boll-weevil destruction and crop diversification.” The labor opportunities in the agricultural south were further diminished by the rise of tractors, herbicides, and agricultural machines. The pull of the city,” Baron continues, “has primarily been exerted through wartime labor shortages,” and the demand for unskilled labor that they occasion. The northern cities further appealed to black people because their system of de facto racism was “less obvious than the South’s Jim Crow.” Baron emphasizes that the demographic shift from rural to urban spaces is just as important as the one from south to north. This urbanization is important to Baron, because: “The great racial conflict now so manifest in the city is both generated and restrained by its major institutions.”  “Indeed,” as Baron declares in no uncertain language, “the white suburban noose around the city is drawing tighter.” 

 In this report, Baron advances the thesis that de facto segregation is actually worse than de jure segregation: “As the specific barriers become less distinctive and less absolute, their meshing together into an overriding network compensates so that the combined effect of the whole is greater than the sum of the individual institutions.” Baron clarifies: 

 For examples: the school system uses the neighborhood school policy which combined with residential segregation operates as a surrogate for direct segregation; suburbs in creating very restrictive zoning regulations, or urban renewal developments in setting universally high rents can eliminate all but a very few Negro families on the basis of income; given the racial differentials produced by the school system, an employer, by using his regular personnel tests and criteria, can screen out most Negroes from desirable jobs. 

 This is the web of urban racism. Although these racial controls represent a web from a structural standpoint, “from within the Negro community,” Baron explains, “it tends to appear that there is just a massive white sea that surrounds a black island.” This analogy brings to mind Du Bois’ cave allegory in Dusk of Dawn (or Myrdal’s reference to it in An American Dilemma), while echoing Martin Luther King’s “lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” (2). As though to emphasize this socioeconomic aspect, Baron now moves from a broad discussion of the web of urban racism to its role in the dual labor market specifically.  

 While the education gap between black and white workers had nearly closed by the 1960s, the gap in salary, employment, leadership opportunities, and socioeconomic status has only grown. Baron notes that even “the United States Department of Labor has had to conclude that social and economic conditions are getting worse, not better’” for people trapped in slum sectors. For Baron, this inequality results from a dualism in the labor market that divides job openings along racial lines.  Contrary to other reports at the time, the Chicago Urban League’s “own studies indicate that the Negro job-seeker is quite the rational economic man, and thus the financial discrepancy exists because the black worker faces a very differently structured set of opportunities” than his white counterparts. Baron elaborates:  

In effect, certain jobs have become designated as “Negro” jobs. Negro workers are hired by certain industries, by particular firms within these industries, and in particular jobs within these firms. Within all industries, including government service, there is unmistakable evidence of occupational ceilings for Negroes. Within establishments that hire both Negro and white, the black workers are usually limited to specific job classifications and production units. An accurate rule of thumb is that the lower the pay or the more disagreeable and dirty the job, the greater the chance of finding a high proportion of Negroes. 

 This dual labor market works in tandem with the dual housing market to keep black people financially subordinate.  

 It goes without saying that ghettos are suboptimal places to live. As Baron clarifies: “The ghetto is bad not because it is inhabited by black people, but because it operates as a subjected enclave.” It exists specifically to trap black people, both physically and psychologically. As Baron proves for the Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority case, many black families have little to no choice in their housing arrangements. “Overwhelmingly,” he explains, “real estate brokers refuse to show Negroes properties outside the ghetto or transition neighborhoods. Lending institutions refuse to grant them mortgages for properties beyond these confines.” Furthermore, the CUL found that housing units in the Chicago ghettos cost 10% more than comparable housing in white sectors. This so-called “color tax” extends to retail prices, allowing “merchants operating in the ghetto [to] charge more for goods and credit or sell inferior quality merchandise at regular prices.” When the lower wages and higher cost of living cause black people to depend upon welfare, “the bureaucrat machinery” degrades and infantilizes them, treating them “like wards of the state, rather than responsible adults.” The web of urban racism intentionally erodes black peoples’ power and credibility; the housing market threads are perhaps the most insidious, as physical location dictates one’s political and educational opportunities.  

Neighborhood school districting and gerrymandering systems prevent conditions in the ghetto from improving. As Baron remarks, “educational institutions which provide markedly different [inferior] results for black and white children are key to the structure of urban racism.” Children of black workers are almost always districted to underfunded, overcrowded schools, whose students lag years behind their white peers, thus trapping them in the same unskilled labor market as their parents. “Educational systems have become a major pillar of racism,” Baron observes, “precisely because education has become so important in the total scheme of our society.” That said, Baron is far more concerned about the psychological impact these schools have on their students than he is with reduced academic achievements. For Baron, ghetto schools exist “as extremely efficient training institutions” designed to instill in black children the role of “a subordinate ‘Negro.’” These children grow up surrounded by middle class black teachers and principals who can only maintain their positions of relative power by inculcating their “lower status black charges with the idea that they are unteachable.” This environment “conditions the individual Negro youngster to expect a subordinate position for the rest of his life” and so he is not surprised to find the exact same pattern in the political sphere. Baron describes how black office holders can be elected (in predominantly black districts), but that any effort to improve the lives of their black constituencies represents career suicide. “Even where skillful politicians have risen to the top, as in Harlem with J. Raymond Jones and Adam Clayton Powell,” Baron explains, “they have been cut down or circumscribed basically because they were black.” From this, Baron concludes that people working within urban institutions are unable to dismantle the web of urban racism precisely because they themselves are trapped inside it.  

“The Web of Urban Racism” is one of the last reports Baron wrote for the Chicago Urban League, as he left later that year. This document––which is uncharacteristically radical for the CUL––shows Baron’s shift from the integration model of the civil rights movement to the more radical one of black nationalism. Indeed, Baron argues that the student led black power movements have the greatest chance of tearing through the web. Today, under the slogans of black pride and black consciousness’” Baron observes, we are witnessing a revolution in the role expectations of high school and college students. They are disrupting the whole racist system by categorically refusing both the role of unteachable student, and that of token official. Baron explains that, the development of these new role concepts will bring the black youth into conflict with the racist norms and methods of operation in our major institutions,” and in doing so, places them on the “the threshold of tearing the web.” Baron believes that the success of these youth led movements will “depend upon the social, economic and political strategies” implemented, which is perhaps why he supported Detroit’s League of Revolutionary Black Workers after a short stint as a research associate at Northwestern University.  

In the final section, Baron draws on W.E.B. Du Bois to detail a possible future in which black and white cultures exist symbiotically. He explicitly rejects “the assumption that the dominant white society, which exercises racism’s controls, is the healthy organism into which the sick ghetto should dissolve.” Baron concludes the article with this evocative, prophetic paragraph: 

 White men and black men are locked together in this nation so that they determine one another’s fate. Since the day has come when the darker brother will no longer suffer trustingly like Job, a new destiny awaits them both. Racism’s cancer, disturbed by the resistance, can feed upon itself and bring greater destruction in its wake. Or, the healthy elements in the two cultures can contend and react upon each other, creatively transforming themselves in the process. The one possibility denied to each culture is to operate in isolation as though the other were not there. 

 This message of hope, tempered as it is with Old Testament style warnings, rhetorically places both white and black cultures on equal footing. They are both valid, they are both locked, and both of their fates will be impacted by the other.  





1.Hal Baron uses the phrase “web of urban racism” in the following works––Public Housing: Chicago Builds a Ghetto (1967), Negroes in Policy-Making Positions in Chicago: A Study in Black Powerlessness in Chicago’” (1968), “Report on the Chicago Urban League, Annual Meeting 1968,” The Demand for Black Labor: Historical Notes on the Political Economy of Racism (1971), Building Babylon: A Case of Racial Controls in Public Housing (1971), “Institutional Racism in Modern Metropolis” (1973), Racism Transformed: The Implications of the 1969s (1982).

2.W.E.B Du Bois cave analogy:“It is difficult to let others see the full psychological meaning of caste segregation. It is as though one, looking out from a dark cave in a side of an impending mountain, sees the world passing and speaks to it; speaks courteously and persuasively, showing them how these entombed souls are hindered in their natural movement, expression, and development; and how their loosening from prison would be a matter not simply of courtesy, sympathy, and help to them, but aid to all the world. One talks on evenly and logically in this way, but notices that the passing throng does not even tum its head, or if it does, glances curiously and walks on. It gradually penetrates the minds of the prisoners that the people passing do not hear; that some thick sheet of invisible but horribly tangible plate glass is between them and the world. They get excited; they talk louder; they gesticulate. Some of the passing world stop in curiosity; these gesticulations seem so pointless; they laugh and pass on. They still either do not hear at all, or hear but dimly, and even what they hear, they do not understand. Then the people within may become hysterical. They may scream and hurl themselves against the barriers, hardly realizing in their bewilderment that they are screaming in a vacuum unheard and that their antics may actually seem funny to those outside looking in. They may even, here and there, break through in blood and disfigurement, and find themselves faced by a horrified, implacable, and quite overwhelming mob of people frightened for their own very existence.” W.E.B Du BoisDusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept. Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 66.  

Building Babylon: A Case of Racial Controls in Public Housing (Harold M. Baron, 1971)

Synopsis by Briana Gipson

In 1971, Hal Baron published an incredible study on the relationship between housing policy, urban planning, and racism in 20th century Chicago. This study was titled Building Babylon: A Case of Racial Controls in Public Housing, a study completed by Baron during his time as a Research Associate of the Center of Urban Affairs at Northwestern University.[1] Baron used dozens of first-hand accounts, legal proceedings, and peer-reviewed articles and books to vividly recall the ways government institutions and property owners embodied racism in the development of post-World War II Chicago. His study shed an investigative light on the anti-Black practices committed by government officials, housing authorities, and planning agencies engaging in land use planning, particularly community and economic development planning, in the early to mid-1900s.

His study argues that Chicago and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) created one of the most racist public housing programs using several planning and housing controls. These controls included discriminatory segregation, zoning, and public housing site, tenant and management regulations and procedures. He shows that these governance structures were implemented to expand the power of the mostly white ruling class and further terrorize, suppress, and control Black communities in Chicago. He refers to Chicago’s anti-Black housing program as Babylon, a code name used by federal officials to describe the nature of Chicago’s Housing program in the 1960s.[2] Baron provides a telling story of the ways Chicago’s public housing program perpetuated a regelated status of Blacks in and outside of the City’s public housing developments in seven sections.

Baron begins unpacking his story on the racist nature of Chicago’s housing program with a background section on the complexities and gaps of the federal public housing policy. He particularly introduces readers to the Housing Act of 1937. The Housing Act of 1937 was the first legislation to create large-scale, fully funded public housing programs in the United States during the Great Depression. Baron notes that it was not radical legislation as if often believed with New Deal legislation. The Housing Act of 1937 was designed to improve the built environment and housing stock for powerful, higher income groups rather than the poor. Baron identifies three limitations that showed the latter. But he makes it clear that public housing programs were not stigmatized and subsequently, designed to control groups, especially Blacks, in its infancy. He includes quotes from CHA’s first Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Wood, and the United States Housing Authority (USHA) that showed that public housing programs were initially respected and valued among a wide range of racial, ethnic, and class groups. This pattern of social acceptance would continue well into World War II.

It was after World War II Baron notes that resulted in public housing programs becoming stigmatized, racist institutions. Baron unpacks the latter statement by first describing the suburbanization processes that took place following World War II. He hones in on the history of Federal Housing Administration home loans and transportation infrastructure development in the 20th century. He describes that federal home lending and transportation policies along with McCarthyism and the Cold War lead to the weakening of the public housing movement. The movement would be further weakened by the urban renewal of the mid-20th century. Baron notes that federal development policies began to be prioritized over public housing as the public housing movement dwindled. This created the conditions for public housing programs to become subordinate to development pressures and led to public housing being stigmatized as “second-class housing for second-class people.”[3] Baron makes sure to inform readers that public housing projects became predominantly Black and failed due to Blacks’ treatment as second-class citizens.

Baron ends this section noting that public housing critics are recognizing the issues that led to public housing failures. However, he explains that they fail to simply acknowledge that public housing programs are rooted and enmeshed within “the web of urban racism.”[4] This web is made up of interconnected anti-Black urban forms, governance, and institutions that depends upon the repression of Black material conditions to magnify the white bourgeoisie’s power. Baron hints to the fact that the public housing system will remain flawed if critics do not dismantle the web and create social equity. In turn, he shows that his study is significant because it describes and challenges CHA’s position within the web and subsequently fills the gap of public housing critiques. 

Baron would write the next six sections explaining CHA’s inherent and systematic anti-Blackness due to “the web of urban racism.” The first of these six sections was titled “CHA, Creating a Racist Institution.” Baron provides a summary indicting CHA with embodying and enacting racism in this section. Baron used the nation’s most famous public housing desegregation lawsuit, Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority—a case he helped initiate—to justify his indictment. In this case, the Federal District Court of Chicago found CHA responsible for suppressing the rights and opportunities of Black communities and intensifying segregation in Chicago. They particularly instituted discriminatory site and tenant selection schemes to separate and regulate Blacks behavior. These racial controls, as Baron identify, resulted in all Black public housing developments in mostly Black neighborhoods.

Baron emphasizes that the CHA did not create predominantly Black spatial patterns alone in his next section, “CHA, Creating a Racist Institution.” CHA was mandated by four major institutions to carry out an anti-Black agenda and practice Baron shows. The institutions consisted of the political system, the ruling class (ie. non-governmental institutions, corporations, and associations), real estate and finance industries, and CHA’s leadership and resources. Baron explains that these institutions organized and implemented economic and political decisions that were not in favor of and excluded Black communities for the ruling class’ benefit. Baron indicates that these decisions resulted in the CHA becoming and being associated with police and police terror in Black communities.

He picks up his discussion on the ways CHA controlled and terrorized the Black community in his second major section, “The Early Days, In the Spirit of the New Deal.” He begins this section with an introduction to Elizabeth Wood. Wood was CHA’s first Executive Secretary. She served in this position from 1937, the year CHA was established, to 1953, the year she was demoted because of her desegregation work. Baron shares that Wood would lead her administration in the liberal reform tradition. However, he notes that the liberal reform philosophy had race-based flaws that the CHA could not escape. For example, the CHA attempted to implement “color-blind” criteria commonly used by reformers to screen and select public housing tenants.[5] Baron thoroughly explains that the criterion used was racist because of federal segregation policy. One of these segregationist policies was known as the “Neighborhood Composition Rule”. This rule required that public housing authorities admit tenants that were representative of neighborhood’s residential racial composition during the era of Jim Crow.

Baron immediately begins describing the horrible impact of the “Neighborhood Composition Rule” on Blacks. It further restricted the limited supply of affordable housing available to Blacks. This was particularly the case in the Jane Addams Homes on Chicago’s West Side, where only a small share of Blacks displaced by the Home were guaranteed apartments. The “Neighborhood Composition Rule” would also empower the police, Whites, and even the real estate industry to commit physical and psychological violence against Blacks needing housing in majority White neighborhoods due to war-work. Baron would briefly highlight the physical violence that took place at the Ida B. Wells Homes site on the City’s South Side. He provided more depth on the mob-related violence that took place at the City’s Airport and Fernwood housing developments.

When the CHA did challenge the “Neighborhood Composition Rule”, Black families were heavily screened and sometimes selected if they met Whites’ standards Baron explains toward the end of this section. At Cabrini-Green, one of CHA’s most infamous public housing developments, more than 250 Black families endured this screening at a point of time during World War II. Yet, they still were not admitted in the Cabrini-Green homes even though CHA had vacancies. They could only move in if a Black family moved out, which would only worsen Blacks’ lower access to affordable housing. Baron notes that CHA continued controlling the number of Blacks admitted into large majority White housing developments to navigate the rule. He explains this contributed to CHA losing its independency as it became the center of public discourse and treated as a political entity. Baron shares that the elite would certainly make moves to control CHA, particularly through urban renewal processes. Baron ends this section by describing the significance of another racial control, urban renewal, and its impact on Black communities in Chicago. He would use this as a transition to his third major section related to the racist nature of CHA: “The Landed Interests Set Priorities.”

In “The Landed Interests Set Priorities” section, Baron describes CHA’s role in urban renewal. Throughout this section, Baron shows that urban renewal was a racist economic and community development planning process that stole and destroyed a significant and disproportionate amount of Black homes and neighborhoods. He begins unpacking the latter by describing the history of urban renewal in Illinois and Chicago. Readers learn that Illinois Neighborhood Redevelopment Corporation Act of 1941 charted the path of urban renewal in Illinois. It provided private benefit corporations with legal and financial incentives to destroy deteriorated areas Baron identifies as slums in his study. Legal incentives included eminent domain rights, which is a powerful land-acquisition power that planners used to clear areas they zoned slums. He credits the development of the Michael Reese Hospital and Illinois Institute of Technology on Chicago’s South Side as the initiator of a massive urban renewal campaign in Chicago. The movement would expand due to the Illinois Blighted Areas Redevelopment Act of 1947.

Baron starts explaining the connection between urban renewal and public housing with a speech Elizabeth Wood delivered to the American Public Works Association in the mid-1940s. Wood would denounce the urban planning field for prioritizing economic development at the expense of Blacks’ homes and livelihoods. She noted that their work led to the forced removal of Blacks as their homes were often demolished and unreplaced. She argues that CHA could address these issues by supplying public housing. Baron explains that this sentiment gained momentum among planning and public officials in 1948. They wanted to use public housing to house displaced Blacks. This would become known as ‘Negro relocation’.[6] Baron included a quote from a federal housing official describing ‘Negro Relocation’ as ‘Negro Clearance’, a common term used for urban renewal in the mid to late 20th century.[7] Baron made sure to highlight Blacks’ agency in challenging urban renewal processes and outcomes before describing CHA’s role in Blacks displacement with the Michael Reese Hospital agreement.

Baron notes that the CHA agreed to clear parts of a Black neighborhood for the Michael Reese Hospital in the Michael Reese Hospital agreement. Baron explains that the Michael Reese Hospital was a Jewish owned hospital and research center in a dilapidated area of a Black community. The Hospital determined that they wanted to change the neighborhood for profit and cost-related purposes. They worked with the CHA to gain cleared land by requesting the CHA use it eminent domain powers granted by the Illinois Redevelopment Act of 1947. The CHA would use its powers and later build its Dearborn Homes on the South Side to supply housing for displaced households. Baron explains that the Illinois Institute of Technology would join Michael Reese Hospital development efforts with the creation of the South Side Planning Board. He identifies a number of concessions the Hospital and Board made to show that they were not engaging in ‘Negro Clearance’ after Blacks resisted.[8]

Baron would end this section challenging the idea that urban clearance was designed to produce affordable, decent and safe homes. He suggests that the Michael Reese agreement showcases that urban renewal was centered around economic development interests rather than public housing or community development for Blacks. He describes how medical, educational, government, and economic institutions such as the Chicago Plan Commission treated public housing secondary to their economic interests and practices. Baron uses the next section, “The Battle over Sites” to show the power these institutions gained to pursue their interests and deprioritized housing.

“The Battle over Sites” was the fifth section Baron wrote on racist practices within the CHA. He particularly shows that the ruling class used land-use policy to restrict CHA’s influence on tenants’ housing supply and perpetuate racial segregation. Baron credits the Illinois Blighted Areas Redevelopment Act of 1947 as the cause of the latter. This urban renewal act gave Chicago’s City Council Alderman and their White constituents the power to vote on CHA’s public housing development sites. He describes two major battles ensued over this racial control in 1947 and 1950. He showed that the 1947 battle resulted in CHA not being able to develop large developments in profitable, vacant land in White neighborhoods. Instead, the CHA was forced to build nine small developments that would displace Blacks and lower their access to affordable housing.

In 1950, the CHA would lose its battle to develop 20,000 housing units on vacant and deteriorated sites using funds from the Housing Act of 1949. Baron describes the dramatic steps City Council members took to show their disproval of the sites CHA selected including touring the City and selecting “absurd” alternative sites.[9] In the end, City Council leaders and Mayor Kenelley forced CHA to expand racial segregation by only approving 9,000 sites in Black neighborhoods. This would further reduce Blacks access to affordable housing and displaced 7,000 households. Baron thoroughly explains that the City’s housing shortage and mass displacement approval reflected the dying public housing movement that was taking place at all political levels. He particular used anecdotes and quotes from Chicago’s real estate, mortgage, and housing leaders like Elizabeth Wood to show the latter and close out this section.

In Baron’s fifth major section, “Tightening the Bonds”, he describes the havoc urban renewal, public housing developments, and the CHA inflicted on Blacks. He notes that land clearance and redevelopment practices displaced well over 33,000 Black households and destroyed over 25% of Blacks’ housing stock between 1948 and 1965. He particularly highlights CHA impact on Blacks’ displacement and housing stock by describing the significant amount of hardship the Michael Reese agreement created for Blacks. He provides statistics showing that the land CHA cleared for the Michael Reese Hospital resulted in substantial portions of Black families paying more in rent. He includes a table showing that Blacks were often paying more for lower-quality residential units when forced to move. Although those who moved to public housing often paid less and received larger and better-quality homes, Baron mentions that multiple studies have found that the number of Blacks paying high rents increased by 50%.

Baron connects the impacts of the Michael Reese Hospital to public housing data. This development along with others’ contribution to displacement and higher rents resulted in Blacks public housing demand ranging between 65% and 95%. Baron shows that public housing did not often meet the demands of displaced Blacks due to racism. He makes it clear that the CHA restricted Blacks housing by deeming a high rate of Blacks ineligible or imposing longer apartment wait times. Baron explains that the CHA tried to increase Blacks access through integrated projects. However, racial disparities still existed as Whites were given priority to certain units through a race-based coding scheme. In all White public housing developments, Commissioners had to authorized Blacks admittance. Barons end this section with a description of a violent accidental desegregation effort that took place at a White public housing development known as the Trumbull Park Homes in 1953. He used this incident to explain that urban renewal was a less subtle form of the White mob violence that took place at the Trumbull Park Homes.

He would dedicate the sixth major section, “Reservations in the City”, to describing the systematic violence the CHA employed against Blacks in public housing developments. First, he describes how Blacks became segregated. He mainly describes the Kean-Murphy agreement, an informal segregation agreement made between CHA’s Executive Director, General W.B. Kean, and Aldermen William Murphy, chairman of Chicago’s Housing and Planning Committee. It gave the Chicago’s Housing and Planning Committee and Alderman the right to veto CHA housing development sites. It also prompted the CHA to double the number of proposed sites in Black neighborhoods. Baron shows that this agreement led to Chicago’s City Council expanding segregation as 99.4% of approved CHA developments were in Black neighborhoods. This certainly would contribute to Blacks becoming CHA’s largest public housing tenant group Baron shows.

Baron provides a powerful description of the ways CHA constrained its Black tenant base. He highlights unjust housing transfer policies that showed that Blacks were often “stuck in place” in CHA’s housing developments. They could not move between housing developments unless extraordinary circumstances existed. He describes CHA’s failure to maintain their housing developments due to inefficient bureaucratic procedures and the role it played in the death of a three-year-old Black girl. Baron would note that terror would not end there. He describes the ways CHA policed the Black community through eviction, social service elimination threats, tenant council leaders, and inadequate facility design.

Baron discussion of the CHA’s leadership role in carrying out this violence against Blacks suggests that this led to the CHA being charged with racism in the Gautreaux lawsuit he discussed in the beginning of this study. He notes that the lawsuit forced CHA to build more housing units in White neighborhoods and subsequently desegregate. However, Baron ends this section indicating that desegregation will not occur if the racial controls he described in this study are not removed. In turn, he implies that CHA’s racism cannot be undone until the “web of urban racism” is undone. He shows that it is more financially feasible to destroy the web than maintain it a short data analysis that followed this section.

[1] Harold M. Baron, Building Babylon: A Case of Study of Racial Controls in Public Housing (Evanston: Northwestern University, 1971), 1-76.

[2] Baron, Building Babylon, 1.

[3] Baron, Building Babylon, 9.

[4] Baron, Building Babylon, 12.

[5] Baron, Building Babylon, 16.

[6] Baron, Building Babylon, 38.

[7] Baron, Building Babylon, 39.

[8] Baron, Building Babylon, 42.

[9] Baron, Building Babylon, 50.