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Fair Housing Act Never Fully Enforced, Walter Mondale Says


Throughout this month, many people have been considering the legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was murdered in Memphis 50 years ago this month. A major part of that legacy is the civil rights legislation that his activism advanced, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act. Now, King had also been pressuring the Lyndon Johnson administration to craft legislation barring discrimination in housing, but it wasn't until after King's death in 1968 when riots broke out across the country that the president and Congress were moved to act. The Fair Housing Act aimed to end segregation and discrimination in mortgage and housing policy and to level the economic playing field.

Walter Mondale was a young senator from Minnesota at the time, and he helped write the law. Mondale, of course, would go on to become vice president of the United States, serving with Jimmy Carter. Recently, he wrote a piece for The New York Times, saying that the Fair Housing Act remains the most contested, most ignored and most misunderstood law. But he says it is as important as it was 50 years ago. And Walter Mondale joins us now from his office in St. Paul, Minn.

Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for speaking with us.

WALTER MONDALE: Thank you and good day here.

MARTIN: First of all, before we dig into the - kind of the history, I wanted to ask why you wanted to write this piece. Is there something that you observed going on now that made you feel it was important to highlight this bill?

MONDALE: The secretary of HUD said that we ought to wait maybe seven years before we enforce the act. And of course, you take an oath to uphold the law. You don't reserve the right to not do it in that way. You know, this has been going on for a long, long time with discrimination against minorities. And we're trying to change that. That's what this law was designed to do. That's what this law requires state and local governments and private realtors and so on to do. And I think that when the new secretary of HUD said what he said about let's wait another seven years, that really ticked me off.

MARTIN: Well, to your end, you point out that the Trump administration has sought to delay enforcement of the HUD integration rules by at least seven years. The secretary of HUD, Dr. Ben Carson, has referred to these rules as mandated social engineering. You know, but what about that point? I mean, their argument is that people should be able to live where they want to live. And after a certain point, if you remove barriers through discrimination, then beyond that, you're forcing people into something that they may not want to do, and that that's not their view of the way America should be.

MONDALE: The view of how America speaks is reflected in our laws. And one of the laws is fair housing. It very clearly prohibits discrimination in the sale and rental of housing in America. It's been a sad fact of American life that the practice in many communities has been quite the opposite. That's why we passed the bill - to make a change. There's a lot of bad consequences that flow from segregation. The kids don't do as well. We live separately. We don't learn about each other. We're all Americans. And yet, we separate based on, basically, race. And I believe it's got to stop.

MARTIN: That is Walter F. Mondale. He was a co-author of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. He later went on to serve as vice president of the United States, serving with Jimmy Carter. And he is the author of an op-ed for The New York Times, "Walter Mondale: The Civil Rights Law We Ignored." He was kind of to speak to us from his office.

Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for speaking to us.

MONDALE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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