In Buchanan v. Warley the Supreme Court found that a Louisville, Kentucky, residential segregation ordinance was unconstitutional because it interfered with the Fourteenth Amendment right to own and dispose of property and could not be justified as a police power measure.' The Buchanan decision came at a crucial juncture in the history of American race relations. Several cities in the southern and border states had recently passed residential segregation ordinances, and other cities were poised to follow suit if the Supreme Court ruled that such ordinances were constitutional. Several northern cities were considering adopting residential segregation laws as well,' and there was considerable agitation in the rural South for de jure segregation.
The spread of residential segregation laws reflected the antipathy the average white American felt toward African-Americans. Most whites, including most white intellectuals, believed that African- Americans were culturally and biologically inferior. Progressive political and intellectual leaders generally shared the racism of the day, and Progressive social scientists promoted pseudo-scientific theories of race differences. Not surprisingly, the idea of coerced segregation resonated with Progressive reformers, who, consistent with their statist outlook, believed in "public control" of the housing market. Some Progressives insisted that capitalism forced unwilling races to live together. Others justified segregation laws as furthering the "public interest" by preventing miscegenation between "superior" whites and "inferior" African-Americans." Progressives argued that segregation laws promoted public safety, protected property values, and helped maintain the public order. National political leaders supported segregation laws as well.
David E. Bernstein,
Philip Sober Controlling Philip Drunk: "Buchanan v. Warley" in Historical Perspective,
51 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol51/iss4/2