Knocking on the Door: The Federal Government's Attempt to Desegregate the Suburbs

Knocking on the Door: The Federal Government's Attempt to Desegregate the Suburbs

Knocking on the Door: The Federal Government's Attempt to Desegregate the Suburbs

Knocking on the Door: The Federal Government's Attempt to Desegregate the Suburbs


Knocking on the Dooris the first book-length work to analyze federal involvement in residential segregation from Reconstruction to the present. Providing a particularly detailed analysis of the period 1968 to 1973, the book examines how the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) attempted to forge elementary changes in segregated residential patterns by opening up the suburbs to groups historically excluded for racial or economic reasons. The door did not shut completely on this possibility until President Richard Nixon took the drastic step of freezing all federal housing funds in January 1973. Knocking on the Doorassesses this near-miss in political history, exploring how HUD came surprisingly close to implementing rigorous antidiscrimination policies, and why the agency's efforts were derailed by Nixon. Christopher Bonastia shows how the Nixon years were ripe for federal action to foster residential desegregation. The period was marked by new legislative protections against housing discrimination, unprecedented federal involvement in housing construction, and frequent judicial backing for the actions of civil rights agencies. By comparing housing desegregation policies to civil rights enforcement in employment and education, Bonastia offers an unrivaled account of why civil rights policies diverge so sharply in their ambition and effectiveness.


Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I was struck by the odd contours of racial segregation that I encountered. in the halls of my high school, you could count the black and Latino students on one hand. When I traveled thirty minutes to explore New York City with friends, fifteen minutes to a rival high school to lose another basketball game, or five minutes to the local mall, I was transported to a markedly more diverse (if not truly integrated) environment. the private schools that my basketball team played against seemed to have more diverse teams and student populations than my public school. I struggled to make sense of this racial landscape.

Years later, when it came time to choose a dissertation topic, I decided to study the small number of suburban towns that had taken it upon themselves to foster diverse, vibrant communities. in the preliminary stages of this study, my advisor asked how we had gotten to the point where the champions of residential integration had dwindled to these self-selected localities and neighborhoods. Intrigued, I expanded my dissertation into an exploration of why we as a nation have made so little progress in the area of residential desegregation. That dissertation mutated and expanded into this book.

In my attempt to explain the failure of residential desegregation policies, I have received help and gained wisdom from a wide array of generous individuals, within and beyond the boundaries of academia. Edwin Amenta supplied many insights on the trajectory of American social policies and on ways in which to study them. He also provided valuable personal and professional guidance, and the opportunity for me to release any displaced frustration by battling him on NYU's steamy basketball courts. Other faculty members at NYU—among them, Jeff Goodwin (another running partner on the basketball court), Dalton Conley, and Ruth Horowitz—also helped me to shape and refine this project. John Skrentny became an indispensable advisor, offering greatly needed guidance about racial politics in America. John's generosity with his time and energy is even more commendable given that he was a “nonresident” member of my dissertation committee, stationed all the way out in San Diego.

It is impossible to survive the marathon of graduate school without the support and good humor of your fellow graduate students. in particular, I would like to thank the Eastern Conference All-Stars dissertation group— Ellen Benoit, Nancy Cauthen, Tina Fetner, and Drew Halfmann—for . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.