In 1966, Alexander Polikoff, a thirty-nine-year old volunteer ACLU attorney and a partner in a Chicago law firm, met three friends to discuss a pro bo case. Over lunch, they 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 would roll on year after year, decade after decade, carrying Polikoff and his intrepid colleagues to the nation's Supreme Court. Despite legal roadblocks and political constraints, the case would set the stage for a nationwide experiment aimed at ending the concentration - and racialization - of poverty through public housing. Inspiring and absorbing, the narrative of Gautreaux as told by its principal lawyer moves with ease through local and national civil rights history. Ultimately, this story - itself a critical, still-unfolding chapter in recent American history - urges us to take an essential step toward ending racial inequality, which Alexis de Tocqueville prophetically named America's most formidable evil.
Alexander Polikoff served for twenty-nine years as executive director of BPI, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, a Chicago public interest law and policy center. He is the author of many articles on urban affairs and of Housing the Poor: The Case for Heroism (Ballinger, 1977). Polikoff is the recipient of a 2006 The American Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife, a writer of fiction for young people, and continues to work at BPI. Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist and a member of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board. He appears frequently on television and has won many journalism awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.