Excerpted From: Elaine Gross, Denial of Housing to African Americans: Post-slavery Reflections from a Civil Rights Advocate, 38 Touro Law Review 589 (2022) (230 Footnotes) (Full Document)


ElaineGrossAs founder and president of ERASE Racism, I have spent the past 20 years working to end racial discrimination in housing and education in Long Island, one of the nation's 10 most racially segregated metropolitan regions in the nation. We have had notable successes during those two decades. I have learned valuable lessons that I believe can inform the work of social justice advocates, including attorneys. However, structural racism, which underpins the fundamental problems of housing and school inequity, has remained intact.

Needless to say, I have no illusion that I and my staff alone could successfully unravel structural racism in a mere two decades. However, I thought it would be instructive to explore the post-slavery history of our nation when, supposedly, those who were formerly enslaved were now free; even citizens of the United States. This contradiction of free yet not free, and citizen but not a citizen will be explored in this Article.

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There were strong, organized, trained voices of dissent during the 1950s and 1960s, but our voices are more muted today. There were clear, often coherent visions of freedom and equality then, but our visions, when we have them, are frequently fragmented and blurrier today. There was thoughtful, strategic leadership then, which sometimes made mistakes, but, on the whole, was effective and fearless. Today, there are more demagogues than leaders, and we have clearly not coalesced into a fearsome force for change.

I close with an optimistic hope, however, that as individuals increasingly understand the sheer power of the white supremacy ideology, there will be a collective movement to unravel it and create a new narrative for Long Island and the nation that is rooted in a vision of racial equity and inclusion. We will create the laws, policies and culture that will underpin that narrative. Ultimately, that is what we, as a nation, need to do to radically alter the continuation of race-based discrimination and segregation of African Americans.

Elaine Gross, MSW draws on her experience as the Founder and President of ERASE Racism in writing this article.