Vanderbilt Law Review

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Did Buchanan v. Warley' have any practical effect on the economic well-being of black Americans? Michael Klarman argues that it did not, since the enforcement of racial segregation proceeded along other lines, such as regular zoning, racial covenants, informal discrimination, and unofficial violence. David Bernstein disagrees in part with Kiarman's conclusion. He argues that Buchanan v. Warley effectively made more housing available to blacks in urban areas, even if it did not promote racial integration.

I second Bernstein's conclusion by putting Buchanan in the context of the urban-economics theory of housing segregation. Because Buchanan helped blacks gain a foothold, albeit a segregated one, in central cities, it was instrumental in facilitating the Great Migration of blacks from the rural South to urban areas in the North. Had Buchanan v. Warley been decided the other way, the American civil rights movement might have played out differently. Without housing in central city areas of the North, blacks would have been less able to generate political support for the federal civil rights legislation of the 1960s. As KIarman has argued elsewhere, the creation of a northern black urban community greatly facilitated this legislation. Without the urban concentration of blacks facilitated by Buchanan v. Warley, the civil rights movement could have been delayed or have found other channels.

I use the term "apartheid" to describe the system at issue in Buchanan instead of "segregation" because apartheid carries specific connotations of legally enforced residential segregation. Racial segregation exists in American cities, but it is not officially compelled by the law of the land. The law of the land for a long time tolerated and enforced private covenants that had racial exclusion as their objective. And law enforcement officers often looked the other way when private violence excluded blacks from white areas. However, one needs to make a hostile stretch of the English language to characterize the American pattern of segregation since Buchanan v. Warley as apartheid.