We’re kicking off Giving Tuesday early this year! Your donation today will be matched up to $10K, doubling your impact! If you donate $50 today, the Reader will receive $100.

The Reader is now a community-funded nonprofit newsroom. Can we count on your support to help keep us publishing?

  • Richard A. Chapman/Chicago Sun-Times
  • President Obama at McCormick Place on election night

Presidents have played a key role in our country’s shameful racial segregation. The role they’ve played has been maintaining it.

“Stop this one,” Richard Nixon wrote in 1968, on a memo authored by one of his aides. What Nixon wanted stopped was an effort aimed at desegregating metropolitan areas.

The aide was informing Nixon of a plan by George Romney, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. As Nikole Hannah-Jones relates in her recent, Pulitzer-worthy ProPublica examination of the failure to enforce the 1968 Fair Housing Act, Romney wanted federal officials to do what the Act required of them: to not only prevent discrimination in housing rentals and sales, but to “affirmatively further” fair housing. Courts have repeatedly interpreted that phrase as meaning that government, having fostered segregation for decades before the Fair Housing Act, is obliged to try to undo the damage.