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CSDE Seminar Series

Population Research Discovery Seminars

Patchwork Apartheid: Private Restriction, Racial Segregation, and Urban Inequality

Colin Gordon, History, University of Iowa

Parrington Hall Room 360

To Join By Zoom: Register HERE

Link to meet with Dr. Gordon here on May 3rd

12:30-1:30 PM PT

360 Parrington Hall


Population Health Initiative

Drawing on a unique record of property restrictions excavated from local property records in five Midwestern counties, this research documents the prevalence of private property restriction in the era before zoning and building codes were widely employed and before federal redlining sanctioned the segregation of American cities and suburbs. This record of private restriction—documented and mapped to the parcel level in Greater Minneapolis, Greater St. Louis, and two Iowa counties—reveals the racial segregation process both on the ground, in the strategic deployment of restrictions throughout transitional central city neighborhoods and suburbs, and in the broader social and legal construction of racial categories and racial boundaries. Enforcement of private racial restrictions was held unconstitutional in 1948, and such agreements were prohibited outright in 1968. But their premises and assumptions, and the segregation they had accomplished, were carried forward by an array of private practices and public policies—including local zoning and federal redlining. Private race restriction was thus a key element in the original segregation of American cities and a source of durable inequalities in housing wealth, housing opportunity, and economic mobility.

Colin Gordon is Professor and Chair of History at the University of Iowa, where he has taught since 1994. He is the author of Patchwork Apartheid: Private Restriction, Racial Segregation, and Urban Inequality (Russell Sage Foundation, 2023), Citizen Brown: Race, Democracy, and Inequality in the St. Louis Suburbs (University of Chicago Press, 2019); Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); Dead on Arrival: The Politics of Health in Twentieth Century America (Princeton University Press, 2003), and New Deals: Business, Labor and Politics, 1920-1935 (Cambridge University Press, 1994). His recent research support includes a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (2021-22), a visiting scholar fellowship at the Russell Sage Foundation (2022-23), and (with co-PI Ashley Howard) a Mellon Foundation Higher Learning Grant (2023-26). He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 1990.