Tom Butt
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  History of Black Exclusion and North Richmond
September 30, 2017

This is a well written story on the history of post-WWII black exclusion in the Bay Area that provides insight into why North Richmond was never incorporated into the City of Richmond.

Other black war workers in North Richmond, not as fortunate as Stevenson, remained in cardboard shacks, barns, tents, or even open fields. Black workers who earned steady wages at war industries could save to buy small plots in unincorporated North Richmond, but because the federal government refused to insure bank loans made to African Americans for housing, standard construction was unaffordable. Some built their own dwellings with orange crates or scrap lumber scoured from the shipyards. By the early 1950s, some 4,000 African Americans in North Richmond were still living in these makeshift homes.

Tom Butt

A HISTORY OF EXCLUSION | How African Americans were blocked from living in most East Bay neighborhoods: an excerpt from the 2017 book The Color of Law. | By Richard Rothstein

Editor's Note: With the current housing shortage in the Bay Area, we thought it would be a good idea to look back at how we got here. As the 2017 book The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute examines in detail, the history of housing in our region and around the nation was marked by racism and exclusion. African Americans, in particular, were banned from living in most East Bay neighborhoods. And while many of the tools that whites used to exclude African Americans from buying or renting homes are no longer legal, the legacy of segregation remains. Rothstein's sweeping book examines the history of racist housing practices throughout the United States, but this excerpt focuses on our backyard.

We think of the San Francisco Bay Area as one of the nation's more liberal and inclusive regions. If the federal, state, and local governments explicitly segregated the population into distinct black and white neighborhoods in the Bay Area, it's a reasonable assumption that our government also segregated metropolitan regions elsewhere and with at least as much determination—which is why I became particularly interested in the government's racial policies in San Francisco and its environs in the 20th century.

Across the bay from San Francisco is Richmond, a city with one of the region's greatest concentrations of African Americans. During World War II, Richmond hosted the most extensive shipbuilding complex in the nation; later it was best known as the site of a large oil refinery. There I met Frank Stevenson in 2013, after reading an oral history that he had recorded for the National Park Service. I called on him at his Richmond home.

One of seven brothers, Stevenson was born in 1924 in Lake Providence, La., a town that Time magazine once called "the poorest place in America." But he was privileged compared to most other black youths in the South at the time. His father, a pastor, owned the land on which his First Baptist Church sat, so unlike many other Southern black men in the early 20th century, he didn't have to sharecrop for white farmers. The Stevensons grew cotton and corn for sale and raised hogs and fowl, hunted, and maintained a vegetable garden for their own sustenance.

After finishing seventh grade, Frank Stevenson followed his older brothers and found work in New Orleans, delivering food to workers in the shipyards. Later, he had jobs that were typically reserved for African Americans: carrying cement, laying rails, and loading or unloading freight, including, once World War II began, dangerous ammunition. He then followed his brother Allen to California, eventually settling at the age of 19 in Richmond.

At first, the shipyards and other war industries attempted to operate only with white men, but as the war dragged on, unable to find a sufficient number to meet their military orders, they were forced to hire white women, then black men, and eventually black women as well. From 1940 to 1945, the influx of war workers resulted in Richmond's population exploding from 24,000 to more than 100,000. Richmond's black population soared from 270 to 14,000.

With such rapid population growth, housing could not be put up quickly enough. The federal government stepped in with public housing. It was officially and explicitly segregated. Located along railroad tracks and close to the shipbuilding area, federally financed housing for African Americans in Richmond was poorly constructed and intended to be temporary. For white defense workers, government housing was built farther inland, closer to white residential areas, and some of it was sturdily constructed and permanent. Because Richmond had been overwhelmingly white before the war, the federal government's decision to segregate public housing established segregated living patterns that persist to this day.

The Richmond police as well as the housing authority pressed the city recreation department to forbid integrated activities, so where projects for whites and projects for blacks shared recreational and sports facilities, the authority designated special hours for African American use. The authority maintained separate social programs for whites and blacks—Boy and Girl Scout troops and movie screenings, for example. A policy of segregation was adopted, explained the authority's director, for the purpose of "keeping social harmony or balance in the whole community." Another housing authority official insisted that "Negroes from the South would rather be by themselves."

Twenty projects with 24,000 units (for both races) built in Richmond during this period barely met the need. For white workers, the federal government created a "war guest" program in which it leased spare rooms from Richmond's white families so workers could move in as tenants. The government also issued low-interest loans for white homeowners to remodel and subdivide their residences.

Consistent with this policy, the federal government recruited one of the nation's leading mass production developers, David Bohannon, to create Rollingwood, a new Richmond suburb. Federal officials approved bank loans to finance construction, requiring that none of Rollingwood's 700 houses be sold to an African American. The government also specified that each Rollingwood property must have an extra bedroom with a separate entrance to accommodate an additional white war worker.

Although African Americans, with fewer private options, were more dependent on public housing than whites, the Richmond Housing Authority's segregated projects did less to alleviate the housing shortage for African Americans than for white families. Not surprisingly, units for African Americans included many doubled-up families and illegal sublets. By 1947, when Richmond's black population had increased to 26,000, half still lived in temporary war housing. As the government financed whites to abandon these apartments for permanent homes in suburbs like Rollingwood, vacancies in white projects were made available to African Americans. Gradually, black families became almost the only tenants of Richmond public housing, except for three permanent projects of sturdily constructed units that had been assigned to whites, most of whom didn't want to leave. By 1950, the city's ghetto had expanded with more than three-fourths of Richmond's black population living in war projects.

For black workers like Frank Stevenson who couldn't squeeze into the limited number of public housing units, there were no "war guest" or other supplemental government programs. Stevenson, like many African Americans in Richmond who did not get into the segregated public projects, lived in North Richmond, an unincorporated area for which the city provided no services. He boarded with an elderly woman with whom he traded maintenance for rent.

Other black war workers in North Richmond, not as fortunate as Stevenson, remained in cardboard shacks, barns, tents, or even open fields. Black workers who earned steady wages at war industries could save to buy small plots in unincorporated North Richmond, but because the federal government refused to insure bank loans made to African Americans for housing, standard construction was unaffordable. Some built their own dwellings with orange crates or scrap lumber scoured from the shipyards. By the early 1950s, some 4,000 African Americans in North Richmond were still living in these makeshift homes.

During the war, the government also collaborated with private groups to segregate Richmond. The United Services Organization (USO) maintained separate black and white clubs in Richmond for military personnel and also operated separate black and white Travelers Aid services for newly arrived war workers. On one occasion in 1943, the USO proposed a service center for African Americans on property that was available in a white neighborhood. The local newspaper, the Richmond Independent, protested; a petition drive in opposition to the plan ensued, and the city council prevented the plan from going forward. Although the USO was and is a private organization, it was organized by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who held the title of honorary chairman), benefited from the use of government buildings for some of its clubs, coordinated its services with the War Department, and had a congressional charter. Along with the city council's action, this tight federal government nexus rendered the USO's practice of segregation in Richmond (and elsewhere) an aspect of de jure segregation.

To ensure that no African Americans migrated to Richmond unless they were essential to the war effort, the city's police stopped black men on the street and arrested and jailed them if they couldn't prove they were employed. So after joining his older brother Allen in Richmond, Frank Stevenson quickly located a job at a Ford Motor assembly plant that had been taken over by the government for the manufacture of military jeeps and the refurbishing of damaged tanks.

In the 1930s, the Ford plant had a sign in front, "No Mexican or Black Workers Wanted," but when Frank Stevenson arrived in 1944, his services were badly needed. Three years earlier, the United Auto Workers (UAW) had forced Henry Ford to the bargaining table, and at the war's end, a union contract prevented Ford Motor from firing African Americans to make way for returning white veterans or for white workers who had been laid off from military production in places like the shipyards. So in 1945, when the army gave up control of the plant and the Ford Motor Company began to make cars again, black workers who had been hired during the war were able to stay on with secure industrial jobs.

Ford had established the plant in 1931 after Richmond offered the company tax incentives to lure its Northern California assembly operations. The city had a deepwater port—that's why it became a shipbuilding center during the war—and Ford found the site attractive because it was accessible both to ocean freighters and to railroads. The company could inexpensively transport parts from Detroit to Richmond for assembly into cars and light trucks and then ship the completed vehicles from Richmond to dealers in Northern California and Hawaii. The Richmond plant was two stories tall, with conveyor belts moving parts and subassemblies from one floor to the other.

When they were first hired during the war, black workers were assigned only to the lowest and most strenuous job classifications, but the union fought to open more skilled assignments to African Americans. Frank Stevenson seems to have been among the most ambitious and talented, and within a decade of being employed, he was sufficiently skilled to fill in when workers at different workstations were at lunch. "I was smart enough," said Stevenson, who died a few years after our interview, "to go to the other jobs on my break and say, 'Let me see what you do.' That's why they made me a utility man."

In the 1950s, as the postwar consumer boom created growing demand for automobiles, Ford's Richmond plant had no room to expand. Highways made undeveloped rural areas accessible, and land was cheap, allowing Ford the opportunity to spread out and eliminate the inefficiencies of multistory buildings. So in 1953, the company announced it would close its Richmond plant and re-establish operations in a larger facility 50 miles south, in Milpitas, a suburb of San Jose, rural at the time. Ford purchased a 160-acre site from the Western Pacific Railroad, which had bought 1,700 acres in hopes of attracting industrial facilities for a rail hub.

Union leaders met with Ford executives and negotiated an agreement permitting all 1,400 Richmond plant workers, including the approximately 250 African Americans, to transfer to the new facility. Once Ford's plans became known, Milpitas residents incorporated the town and passed an emergency ordinance permitting the newly installed city council to ban apartment construction and allow only single-family homes. Developers then set to work, creating subdivisions of inexpensive single-family houses for workers not only at Ford but at the other plants that Western Pacific had drawn to the area.

The builders went to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) for approval of their subdivision plans, and then used these approvals to get banks to issue low-interest loans to finance construction. If the houses conformed to its specifications, the federal government then guaranteed mortgages to qualified buyers without a further property appraisal. Although banks would generally make mortgage loans to affluent buyers without government involvement, they usually shied away from making loans to working-class families unless the mortgages were insured. With reduced risk, banks offered lower interest rates, making ownership more affordable to working-class families. For veterans, government approval also usually meant that no down payment was required.

As in Rollingwood 10 years earlier, one of the federal government's specifications for mortgages insured in Milpitas was an openly stated prohibition on sales to African Americans. Because Milpitas had no apartments, and houses in the area were off-limits to black workers—though their incomes and economic circumstances were like those of whites on the assembly line—African Americans at Ford had to choose between giving up their good industrial jobs, moving to apartments in a segregated neighborhood of San Jose, or enduring lengthy commutes between North Richmond and Milpitas.

Frank Stevenson bought a van, recruited eight others to share the costs, and made the drive daily for the next 20 years until he retired. The trip took more than an hour each way.

Of Stevenson and his eight carpoolers, only one was ever able to move farther south, closer to the plant, and he was not able to do so until the late 1960s. He found a home in Hayward, a city about halfway between Richmond and Milpitas that had also previously been closed to African Americans.

As the civilian housing shortage eased after the war and more government-subsidized suburbs like Rollingwood were built for white working-class families, Richmond itself became a predominantly black city. As the black population of North Richmond swelled, African Americans began to break into the south Richmond housing market. Soon, south Richmond as well became part of Richmond's ghetto. In 1970, after his daughters finished high school, Frank Stevenson was finally able to buy his first home in the southern, previously whites-only section of the city.


To solve the inability of middle-class renters to purchase single- family homes for the first time, Congress and President Roosevelt created the Federal Housing Administration in 1934. The FHA insured bank mortgages that covered 80 percent of purchase prices, had terms of 20 years, and were fully amortized. To be eligible for such insurance, the FHA insisted on doing its own appraisal of the property to make certain that the loan had a low risk of default. Because the FHA's appraisal standards included a whites-only requirement, racial segregation now became an official requirement of the federal mortgage insurance program. The FHA judged that properties would probably be too risky for insurance if they were in racially mixed neighborhoods or even in white neighborhoods near black ones that might possibly integrate in the future.

When a bank applied to the FHA for insurance on a prospective loan, the agency conducted a property appraisal, which was also likely performed by a local real estate agent hired by the agency. As the volume of applications increased, the agency hired its own appraisers, usually from the ranks of the private real estate agents who had previously been working as contractors for the FHA. To guide their work, the FHA provided them with an Underwriting Manual. The first, issued in 1935, gave this instruction: "If a neighborhood is to retain stability it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes. A change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and a reduction in values." Appraisers were told to give higher ratings where "[p]rotection against some adverse influences is obtained," and that "[i]mportant among adverse influences ... are infiltration of inharmonious racial or nationality groups." The manual concluded that "[a]ll mortgages on properties protected against [such] unfavorable influences, to the extent such protection is possible, will obtain a high rating."

The FHA discouraged banks from making any loans at all in urban neighborhoods rather than newly built suburbs; according to the Underwriting Manual, "older properties . . . have a tendency to accelerate the rate of transition to lower class occupancy." The FHA favored mortgages in areas where boulevards or highways served to separate African-American families from whites, stating that "[n]atural or artificially established barriers will prove effective in protecting a neighborhood and the locations within it from adverse influences, ... includ[ing] prevention of the infiltration of ... lower class occupancy, and inharmonious racial groups."

The FHA was particularly concerned with preventing school desegregation. Its manual warned that if children "are compelled to attend school where the majority or a considerable number of the pupils represent a far lower level of society or an incompatible racial element, the neighborhood under consideration will prove far less stable and desirable than if this condition did not exist," and mortgage lending in such neighborhoods would be risky.

Subsequent editions of the Underwriting Manual through the 1940s repeated these guidelines. In 1947, the FHA removed words like "inharmonious racial groups" from the manual but barely pretended that this represented a policy change. The manual still specified lower valuation when "compatibility among the neighborhood occupants" was lacking, and to make sure there was no misunderstanding, the FHA's head told Congress that the agency had no right to require nondiscrimination in its mortgage insurance program. The 1952 Underwriting Manual continued to base property valuations, in part, on whether properties were located in neighborhoods where there was "compatibility among the neighborhood occupants."

In 1958, a white San Francisco schoolteacher, Gerald Cohn, purchased a house with an FHA-guaranteed mortgage in the Elmwood district of Berkeley. By the closing date, Cohn wasn't ready to move in and, while keeping up his mortgage payments, rented the house to a fellow teacher, Alfred Simmons, an African American. The Berkeley chief of police asked the FBI to inquire how Simmons had managed to get into this all-white community. The bureau questioned Cohn's neighbors in San Francisco but failed to find evidence that he had obtained his mortgage under false pretenses—in other words, that he had never intended to occupy his Berkeley home but had always planned to rent to an African American. The FBI referred the case to the U.S. attorney, who refused to prosecute because no law had been broken. The FHA, however, then blacklisted Cohn, advising him that he would be "denied the benefits of participation in the FHA insurance program" and never again be able to obtain a government-backed mortgage.

The director of the San Francisco FHA office wrote to him, "This is to advise you that any application for mortgage insurance under the programs of this Administration submitted by you or any firm in which you have ten per cent interest, will be rejected on the basis of an Unsatisfactory Risk Determination made by this office on April 30, 1959."

In thousands of communities, FHA policy was the same, with very few exceptions: no guarantees for mortgages to African Americans, or to whites who might lease to African Americans, regardless of the applicants' creditworthiness.


When Frank Stevenson and his carpoolers needed housing near the new Ford plant, FHA- and VA-insured subdivisions were rapidly filling the area between Milpitas and the African-American communities of Richmond and Oakland. The most active developer was David Bohannon, who had built the whites-only Rollingwood subdivision just outside Richmond in 1943. The following year, he created the massive whites-only San Lorenzo Village about five miles south of the Oakland border.

With more than 5,000 units and 17,000 residents, San Lorenzo Village was the nation's largest wartime government-insured project, intended for workers at naval shipyards and support factories. Like the homes in Rollingwood, each house included a bedroom with a separate entrance, so the owner could rent it to another war worker.

The development was financed by a $7 million FHA-authorized loan from Bank of America and the American Trust Company. As was the case with other FHA developments, houses were sold at relatively low prices so as to be within reach of war workers, and the deeds included restrictive covenants to prevent future resales to African Americans.

Within easy commuting distance of Milpitas, San Lorenzo Village was an ideal location for Ford workers. Sales brochures in the early to mid-1950s, when Ford workers would have been seeking housing in the area, assured prospective buyers that the village was "a safe investment" because "farsighted protective restrictions ... permanently safeguard your investment."

In 1955, Bohannon began developing Sunnyhills, a project in Milpitas itself. After Western Pacific announced plans to create its new industrial zone, other builders had also obtained FHA guarantees to construct whites-only, single-family subdivisions in the area. One, Milford Village, a development of 1,500 units on unincorporated land just outside the town boundaries, was guaranteed by the Veteran's Administration and required little or no down payment for veterans and low monthly payments.

When it became apparent that no existing Milpitas-area development would sell or rent to black workers, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker group committed to racial integration, offered to assist Ben Gross—the chair of the Ford plant's union housing committee—by finding a developer who would agree to build an interracial subdivision. The AFSC had an existing campaign to press (unsuccessfully) Richmond to desegregate its public housing and find adequate, integrated residences for its African-American population being displaced by the demolition of federal war projects. The group also operated a settlement house in North Richmond with after-school tutoring, dances, and other youth recreational opportunities, a well-baby clinic for mothers, a day care program for children of working parents, a small play- ground for toddlers, and a meeting room for community organizations. Ford workers were involved in all these activities.

The rapid growth of the Milpitas area had resulted in some overbuilding, and several new subdivisions had unsold units that were affordable to Ford workers. Despite this excess inventory, the AFSC was unsuccessful in persuading any existing developer to sell to African Americans.

The first builder recruited by the AFSC selected a plot in an unincorporated area south of Mountain View, a Santa Clara County community about 10 miles west of Milpitas and accessible to other growing industrial areas in Silicon Valley. The AFSC, however, could not find a financial institution in the San Francisco Bay Area willing to provide funds for a development that would permit sales to African Americans. After a few months, an AFSC official flew to New York to meet with a Quaker vice-president of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company who, despite his skepticism about the feasibility of integrated suburban development, agreed to issue a loan for initial construction. Only as a result of this Quaker connection was the AFSC able to obtain a financial commitment.

But when the builder's intent to sell both to blacks and whites became known, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors rezoned the site from residential to industrial use. When he found a second plot, Mountain View officials told him that they would never grant the necessary approvals. He next identified a third tract of land in another town near the Ford plant; when officials discovered that the project would not be segregated, the town adopted a new zoning law increasing the minimum lot size from 6,000 to 8,000 square feet, making the project unfeasible for working-class buyers. After he attempted to develop a fourth site on which he had an option, the seller of the land canceled the option upon learning that the project would be integrated. At that point, the builder gave up.

Ben Gross then recruited another builder who proposed to the union that he create two projects, one integrated and the other all white. Because white buyers would be directed to the all-white project, it was apparent that the plan for a nominally integrated project would result in an all-black one. The builder proposed to construct the white project in a suburban area and the integrated one in a less desirable environment—a plot sandwiched between the Ford plant and two tracts zoned for heavy industry.

Workers at Ford, members of the United Auto Workers (UAW), were divided over whether to accept this proposal, and at the next local union election, candidates who opposed the two-project concept challenged those who were in favor. It was a difficult decision, because the union was faced with choosing between segregated housing and no new housing for any union members, black or white. Although the membership was overwhelmingly white, the union adopted a policy that it would support only developers who would commit to integrated housing.

A San Jose businessman in the meatpacking business, with no previous experience as a developer, obtained a tract adjoining David Bohannon's all-white Sunnyhills project and proposed an all-black development. When the UAW and AFSC became aware of these plans, they persuaded the developer to construct an integrated project instead, and the union promised to promote the project to its white as well as to its African-American members. For six months, the businessman sought financing, but every bank or thrift institution he approached, knowing that FHA backing would be unavailable, either refused to lend money for a project that was open to African Americans or agreed to lend only if he paid higher interest, a premium for integration ranging from an additional 5½ percent to an additional 9 percent. Such a payment would have greatly increased project costs and made the houses unaffordable to union members. The businessman advised the UAW that he would have to drop his plans. The union was able to persuade him to continue only by promising that the union itself would take responsibility for finding a lender. UAW and AFSC representatives again went to New York to ask Metropolitan Life to provide construction financing, which the insurance company agreed to do.

In January 1955, more than a year after Ford notified its Richmond workers that their jobs were going to Milpitas, and only a month and a half before the scheduled transfer of automobile assembly, the UAW was able to advise its black members in Richmond that a nondiscriminatory housing development, called Agua Caliente, was going to be available in the Milpitas area. By this time, many white workers had already found housing in racially restricted Santa Clara County neighborhoods.

David Bohannon's company, however, remained fiercely opposed to an integrated project adjoining Sunnyhills, and after a San Francisco newspaper article revealed the plan to establish "the first sub-division in the Bay Area where Negro families will be sold homes without discrimination," the company began to pressure the newly formed Milpitas City Council to prevent the construction of Agua Caliente by denying it access to sewer lines.

The sanitary district for Milpitas, whose chair was a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and whose other members were the Milpitas mayor and a Milpitas city councilman, had advised the Agua Caliente builder that its fee for sewer access would be $100 an acre, based on the project's anticipated use of about 3 percent of the sewer line's capacity. The union and its builder estimated project costs and set sale prices using this figure; Metropolitan Life had extended its financing based on it. Under pressure from David Bohannon's company, the sanitary district board held an emergency meeting and adopted an ordinance that increased the sewer connection fee by more than 10 times the $100 figure.

The new charge caused the builder to suspend work. He attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate a compromise with the sanitary district and the Bohannon organization, whose representatives acknowledged that the purpose of the ordinance was to prevent minorities from living close to Sunnyhills. The mayor of Milpitas, however, denied that his motive in voting to increase the sewer fee was discriminatory but added that he did not think it would be a great loss if the subdivision never got developed because, he asserted, the Ford workers' tract would depress property values in Milpitas. A real estate agent himself, the mayor claimed that Negroes inquiring about housing had told him that they did not want to go where they weren't wanted. He was only deferring to these customers' wishes, he said, in declining to show them properties in the city.

Problems persisted even after the UAW's builder indicated he would proceed with the Agua Caliente project, despite the higher sewer connection fees. The Bohannon group next filed suit to prevent the project from using a drainage ditch alongside its tract. This was purely a nuisance suit because the drainage ditch belonged to the county, not to Bohannon. The UAW then mounted a public campaign against the Sunnyhills project. Not only did union members refrain from purchasing the houses, but they flooded open houses to disrupt sales to white buyers. Meanwhile the UAW and the AFSC contacted California Attorney General Edmund C. (Pat) Brown, who sent an assistant to Milpitas to investigate the sewer fee controversy. Brown promised help "in overcoming any racial discrimination by governmental units which might be disclosed."

The Agua Caliente builder could no longer sustain the delays; nor could he afford the legal bills that would be incurred if he persisted. The Bohannon company, perhaps influenced by the attorney general's implicit threat, also tired of the fight. The union's boycott had been responsible, or partly responsible, for the company's being stuck with finished but unsold homes. In November 1955, both the Agua Caliente builder and Bohannon sold out to a new developer recruited by the UAW, making the sewer connection controversy moot, and a combined project was finally constructed.

The combined development took the name of the original Bohannon project, Sunnyhills. California banks and thrift institutions continued to refuse, without an exorbitant interest rate surcharge, to issue individual mortgages, without FHA insurance, to borrowers living in an integrated project. At first, the UAW's own pension fund offered to guarantee the African-American workers' loan repayments. Eventually, the FHA agreed to guarantee mortgages with a favorable rate only if the subdivision were converted to a cooperative, in which the owners would possess shares of the overall project rather than their individual houses. The union and its member-buyers agreed, and on this basis 20 of the project's first 500 units were sold to African-American families.

By this time, however, the Milpitas Ford plant had been operational for nearly a year, and almost all white workers who wanted to move to the area had done so. The delays, legal fees, and financing problems had raised the cost of the combined Sunnyhills project to a level that was unaffordable to all but the most highly skilled and highly paid Ford workers. Many of the African-American workers had become so discouraged about housing opportunities in the Milpitas area that, like Frank Stevenson, they had formed carpools to share the 100-mile daily round trip from Richmond. As a last alternative, the UAW and other area unions pressed for a public authority to create rental housing, but the idea was met with strong resistance from the local finance and real estate industry—the local association of savings and loan institutions called it "dangerous to our American way of life"—and the county refused to act.

In the ensuing years, African-American residence in Milpitas continued to be confined to Sunnyhills and a relatively undesirable project, built in the 1960s between two freeways and a heavily trafficked main shopping thoroughfare. The Ford plant closed in 1984. Milpitas is no longer all white—it now has many Hispanic and Asian families—but the effects of its earlier segregation remain visible: African Americans make up only 2 percent of the population.

As the Milpitas area developed, other plants transferred there from the Oakland-Richmond corridor. One was a Trailmobile factory that relocated from Berkeley in 1955. Soon after, the plant manager announced a change in hiring policy: the company would accept only new workers who lived in the vicinity, and they, of course, were almost exclusively white. Black workers, he said, attempting to commute from the Oakland area, were too likely to have car accidents from the long drives, leading to excessive absenteeism. Before Trailmobile moved from Berkeley, its workforce was 16 percent African American. By 1967, it had dropped to 6 percent, mostly carryovers from before the new hiring policy was adopted.

Author's Postscript: Nationwide every metropolitan area is residentially segregated, but we are hobbled in our ability to reverse it by the myth of the de facto segregation, the idea that this all happened by accident. Only by recognizing that the federal, state, and local governments, as in the East Bay, pursued unconstitutional policies designed to segregate the nation by race can we develop the remedies necessary to demolish the racial boundaries we've inherited.


The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein (Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W. W. Norton & Company, 2017, 345 pp., 27.95.)


Richard Rothstein is a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute and a fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and at the Haas Institute at UC Berkeley. He's formerly a national education columnist for The New York Times.