Drawing on confidential documents from leaders of the real estate industry, Gene Slater reveals how realtors systematically created and justified residential segregation.
To defend all-white neighborhoods against the civil rights movement, realtors put the right to discriminate at the center of individual liberty, effectively redefining and weaponizing “freedom” and providing a roadmap for conservatives nationally. This far-reaching strategy reached its peak when realtors successfully campaigned for a California constitutional amendment that would permanently prohibit fair housing. In the process they created the script of color-blind freedom that polarizes America on issue after issue today.
Slater reveals how California and its powerful realtors would shape segregation for years to come. He shows why one of the first all-white neighborhoods was created in Berkeley, why the state was the perfect place for Ronald Reagan’s political ascension, and how Reagan’s early career—drawing on the realtors’ arguments—would lay the groundwork for current conservative narratives.
A landmark history told with supreme narrative skill, Freedom to Discriminate traces the increasingly aggressive ways realtors justified their practices, and how America’s divides and current debates are rooted in the history of segregated neighborhoods. Slater makes a case that shatters preconceptions about American segregation, connecting seemingly disparate features of the nation’s history in a new and galvanizing way.
Gene Slater has served as senior advisor on housing for federal, state, and local agencies for over forty years. He cofounded and chairs CSG Advisors, which has been one of the nation’s leading advisors on affordable housing for decades. He has advised on housing issues in thirty states. His projects have received numerous national awards, and in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009 he helped design the program by which the United States Treasury financed homes for 110,000 first-time buyers. He received degrees from Columbia, MIT, and Stanford, as well as a mid-career fellowship from Harvard. He has lived and worked in New York, Boston, rural Wisconsin, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area, where he currently resides.