Waiting for Gautreaux - A Story of Segregation, Housing, and the Black Ghetto

On his thirty-ninth birthday in 1966, Alexander Polikoff, a volunteer ACLU attorney and partner in a Chicago law firm, met some friends to discuss a pro bono case. Over lunch, the four talked about the Chicago Housing Authority construction program. All the new public housing, it seemed, was going into black neighborhoods. If discrimination was prohibited in public schools, wasn't it also prohibited in public housing?

And so began Gautreaux v. CHA and HUD, a case that from its rocky beginnings would roll on year after year, decade after decade, carrying Polikoff and his colleagues to the nation's Supreme Court (to face then-solicitor general Robert Bork); establishing precedents for suits against the discriminatory policies of local housing authorities, often abetted by HUD; and setting the stage for a nationwide experiment aimed at ending the concentration--and racialization--of poverty through public housing. Sometimes Kafkaesque, sometimes simply inspiring, and never less than absorbing, the story of Gautreaux, told by its principal lawyer, moves with ease through local and national civil rights history, legal details, political matters, and the personal costs--and rewards--of a commitment to fairness, equality, and justice. Both the memoir of a dedicated lawyer, and the narrative of a tenacious pursuit of equality, this story--itself a critical, still-unfolding chapter in recent American history--urges us to take an essential step in ending the racial inequality that Alexis de Toqueville prophetically named America's "most formidable evil."

"In Waiting for Gautreaux, attorney Alexander Polikoff has a thrilling story to tell." --The Washington Monthly

"This is an inspiring and fascinating book. The story of Alex Polikoff and his forty-year crusade to bring the constitutional promise of equality to public housing is dramatic evidence that lawyers--and the law--can still be a force for progress in the United States." --Scott Turow

"A must-read! The best survey of race relations I’ve seen. Alex Polikoff eloquently captures the devastating impact of the black ghetto on the entire fabric of our nation. Anyone who wants to truly comprehend America's tortured race relations--and know what to do about it--would do well to read this book." --Sheryll Cashin, author of The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining the American Dream