Skip to main content

Colored Property

State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America

Colored Property

State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America

Northern whites in the post–World War II era began to support the principle of civil rights, so why did many of them continue to oppose racial integration in their communities? Challenging conventional wisdom about the growth, prosperity, and racial exclusivity of American suburbs, David M. P. Freund argues that previous attempts to answer this question have overlooked a change in the racial thinking of whites and the role of suburban politics in effecting this change. In Colored Property, he shows how federal intervention spurred a dramatic shift in the language and logic of residential exclusion—away from invocations of a mythical racial hierarchy and toward talk of markets, property, and citizenship.
Freund begins his exploration by tracing the emergence of a powerful public-private alliance that facilitated postwar suburban growth across the nation with federal programs that significantly favored whites. Then, showing how this national story played out in metropolitan Detroit, he visits zoning board and city council meetings, details the efforts of neighborhood “property improvement” associations, and reconstructs battles over race and housing to demonstrate how whites learned to view discrimination not as an act of racism but as a legitimate response to the needs of the market. Illuminating government’s powerful yet still-hidden role in the segregation of U.S. cities, Colored Property presents a dramatic new vision of metropolitan growth, segregation, and white identity in modern America.

496 pages | 13 halftones, 4 maps, 5 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2007

Historical Studies of Urban America

Geography: Urban Geography

History: American History

Political Science: Race and Politics


“David Freund appears to have ransacked the National Archives and has uncovered a treasure trove of documents that tell an incredible story as they detail behaviors, rationales, and values on the eve of the civil rights revolution. Ultimately, he shows that the American housing market was not simply exploited by racial interests; it was born of—and set up to serve—them.”

Arnold Hirsch, author of Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1

Colored Property is a sophisticated analysis of the political construction of race. In this provocative examination of federal homeownership and finance programs, Freund shows how government intervention in the housing market reinforced racial differences but masked the consequences in the rhetoric of free choice. Richly detailed and rigorous, Colored Property gives the lie to the myth of colorblindness.”

Thomas J. Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality

“If we think of the study of race, residence, and urban policy as having been transformed long ago by Arnold Hirsch’s studies of the ‘second ghetto’ in Chicago, and more recently by Thomas Sugrue’s work on Detroit, Colored Property marks a third remaking of this critically important area of inquiry. Freund’s profound work insistently pursues the stories of white city-leavers into the suburbs and so fully links national trends with rich local examples.”

David Roediger, author of Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Bec

"With evidence drawn from a variety of disciplines, Freund raises the standard for urban studies. . . . The successful balance among the individual decisions, racial bias, and economic policy that Freund achieves embodies the ideals of historical analysis. . . . Colored Property is crucial reading for historians and educators studying the recent past of the metropolitan Midwest. It is also an invaluable work for researchers interested in the expansion of American suburbs in the twentieth century."

Walter D. Greason | Michigan Historical Review

"Freund has produced an important book and one likely to become required reading for all students of urban history and federal public policy."

Charlotte Brooks | Journal of American Ethnic History

"[Freund’s book] unravels the ties that bound (and bind) race and property, and, in the process, shows how that linkage altered white racial ideals and politics in postwar America."

Andrew Wiese | Journal of American History

"Every historian of twentieth-century United States will certainly have to reckon with Colored Property. The study paves the way for new understandings of everything from the evolution of white racial ideology and federal policy after 1910, to the ways in which the politics of race shaped the postwar Democratic Party, to the reasons why the Detroit metropolitan area today has the highest segregation index in the country. That is no small accomplishment."

Heather Ann Thompson | Journal of Southern History

"Beware! Colored Property might very well outrage some readers. Whether or not it does . . . it deserves a key place in the historical and sociological scholarship of metropolitan America. . . . Unquestionably Colored Property is a most compelling volume to read and to contemplate. Its scholarship is prodigious. Its findings are searing. Surely this book is destined to exert enduring influence. It is required reading for a multiplicity of audiences, including historians, social scientists, legal scholars, journalists and policy makers."

Michael H. Ebner | Urban History

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. The New Politics of Race and Property

Part I: The Political Economy of Suburban Development and the Race of Economic Value, 1910-1970

Chapter 2. Local Control and the Rights of Property: The Politics of Incorporation, Zoning, and Race before 1940

Chapter 3. Financing Suburban Growth: Federal Policy and the Birth of a Racialized Market for Homes, 1930-1940

Chapter 4. Putting Private Capital Back to Work: The Logic of Federal Intervention, 1930-1940

Chapter 5. A Free Market for Housing: Policy, Growth, and Exclusion in Suburbia, 1940-1970

Part II: Race and Development in Metropolitan Detroit, 1940-1970

Chapter 6. Defending and Defining the New Neighborhood: The Politics of Exclusion in Royal Oak, 1940-1955

Chapter 7. Saying Race Out Loud: The Politics of Exclusion in Dearborn, 1940-1955

Chapter 8. The National Is Local: Race and Development in an Era of Civil Rights Protest, 1955-1964

Chapter 9. Colored Property and White Backlash

List of Abbreviations




Organization of American Historians: Ellis W. Hawley Prize

Urban History Association: Kenneth Jackson Award

Urban Affairs Association: Urban Affairs Association Best Book Award

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press