Constructing Racial Liberalism: The Divergent Trajectories of Fair Employment and Fair Housing on the Congressional Agenda, 1933-68

Kumar Ramanathan, University of Chicago

Recent scholarship on the 20th century U.S. party realignment on race has focused on the timing and main causes of party position change, but it has left the policy content of the realignment largely unexplored. Why did northern Democrats include some issues and proposals on their agenda as their position on civil rights changed, while excluding others? As part of a larger project on agenda-setting during the realignment period, this paper compares the trajectory of employment discrimination and housing discrimination on the congressional agenda during 1933-68. Fair employment practices bills were broadly supported by northern Democrats soon after their emergence in 1941, while fair housing bills received very little support until 1966. Why were northern Democrats more reluctant to act on the latter, despite the salience of both employment and housing in the demands made by civil rights activists and Black voters? I first trace the divergence in support for the two proposals through an analysis of bill sponsorship, hearings, and floor debates (supplemented with data on state-level legislative developments). Then, I investigate why this divergent pattern emerged, arguing that northern Democrats prioritized fair employment and neglected fair housing in order to balance competing pressures from within their party coalition.

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 Presented in Session 200. The Politics of Race, Sex, and Ethnicity