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James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.

Mount Laurel

New Jersey

Basic Information

Type of Place
Independent City or Town
Metro Area
Politics c. 1860?
Strongly Democratic
Unions, Organized Labor?
Don’t Know

Sundown Town Status

Sundown Town in the Past?
Was there an ordinance?
Don't Know
Don’t Know
Year of Greatest Interest
Still Sundown?
Surely Not

Census Information

The available census data from 1860 to the present
Total White Black Asian Native Hispanic Other BHshld
2000 40221 35034 2785 1529 38 901

Method of Exclusion

  • Zoning
  • Other

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded


From David Kirp, Almost Home (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000)
“Black families had lived in [Mount Laurel, NJ] since late in the seventeenth century, first as slaves and
later as tenant farmers.”

“Quaker families in Mount Laurel, whose ancestry dated back an equally long time, knew the black community very well.” “There had been little overt opposition when, soon after WWII, blacks sought an end to racially separate public schools.” (p. 61-62) 10/1970, mayor speaks to AME Jacob’s Chapel, petitioning to build 36 garden apartments “for poor, mostly local, and
mostly black families.” (p. 60) He said, “If you
people can’t afford to live in our town, then you’ll
just have to leave.”

“The mayor had transformed neighbors and helpmates into insiders and outsiders, those who belonged to ‘our town’ and
those who didn’t.” (p. 62) That led to 15 years of litigation.
Levittown was built a few miles NE. In 1950,
c.2800 people; 1960, 5249; 1980, 17,000; 1990,
34,000. Three industrial parks. (p. 67)”By the
1840s, Mount Laurel had become a haven for freed
blacks, as each new settler was given a quarter of
an acre by the Quakers. It was also a stopping
point on the Underground Railroad.” (p. 71) [Mt.
Laurel is S of Willingboro (Levittown)].
“Until WWII, blacks were obliged to sit in the
last rows of the Moorestown movie theater, and
Riley’s, the local drugstore, wouldn’t let blacks sit at
the soda fountain. Mount Laurel’s schools were
officially segregated until the late 1940s.” Before
the Civil Rights movement, though, this all
changed. (p. 73)
Tenant farmers got dispossessed by highways
and had nowhere to move to, in Mount Laurel,
except “Springville,” a.k.a. “Jewtown.” Abandoned
chicken coops converted into residences. GIs and
migrant workers, black and white, moved into
them. Mount Laurel determined to tear down
Springville. (p. 75) State law required Mount Laurel
to provide replacement housing, so officials waited
until a family moved out, then inspected the shack,
condemned it. (p. 76)
“Most of the people who have moved into the
new, middle-class developments have no sense
that their adopted town has any history %u2014
they would be dumbfounded to learn that free
black families were living in Mount Laurel before
there was a United States of America.” Instead, they
feared poor black outsiders on welfare invading
their town. (p. 80) Southern Burlington County
NAACP et al. v. Township of Mount Laurel, filed
5/1971. Went to NJ Supreme Court several times.
Finally, 1983, “Mount Laurel II” vindicated plaintiffs.
1997, nasty meetings where affluent whites still
opposed the WC homes, although they had lost in
court. (p. 99-102)”The Mount Laurel story has been
told again and again” in other NJ townships, Hidden
Hills an enclave in Los Angeles, etc. (p. 102)

Mayor spoke to AME congregation, 10/1970, said if
they could not afford to stay in the suburbanizing
town, “Then you’ll just have to leave.” (David Kirp,
John Dwyer, and Larry Rosenthal, Our Town: Race,
Housing, and the Soul of Suburbia (New Brunswick:
Rutgers UP, 1995), 2.)
This led to Mt. Laurel lawsuits. “New Jersey
judges … in their Mount Laurel opinions” said
suburbs had to make it “realistically possible” for
poor families to find homes there. “The most
important zoning decision since the US Supreme
Court ruled, nearly 3/4 of a century earlier, that
zoning itself was constitutional.” (Our Town, p. 9)
S Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mount
Laurel, 336 A.2d 713 (NJ 1975), “Mount Laurel I”;
same, 92 NJ 158, 456 A.2d 390 (1983), “Mount
Laurel II”.
From Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic (NY:
Knopf, 2003), 236-249
Mt. Laurel: “generated the most far-reaching
condemnation of exclusionary zoning in postwar
America.” “Given its location close to Camden, by
now one of the poorest cities in the US and
primarily black and PRican in pop., Mt. L not only
wanted to keep its tax rate down but its
undesirable neighbors to the west out. By the late
1960s the town’s small but longstanding black
community %u2014 tenant farmers on what had
been white-owned farms %u2014 realized that Mt.
L was headed in a direction that would exclude its
own future generations if no action was taken.”
They asked for rezoning for 36 low-income garden
apartment rental units. The Mayor said no, 1970.
“Mount Laurel I (1975) asserted the illegality of
exclusionary zoning and obligated localities like ML
to ‘plan and provide for an appropriate variety and
choice of housing’ but established no mechanism
for enforcement.” “Mount Laurel II [1983] required
proof that municipalities were meeting their ‘ML
obligation.’…. Developers were required to set
aside a portion of new housing for low- and
moderate-income inhabitants…”(p. 237) Builders
could sue, and did, enforcing it.
“But it wasn’t long before the ‘builder’s
remedy’ inspired an antidote of its own. When a
scared and angry suburbanized electorate voted in
a non-binding state referendum to abolish the
court’s ML decisions, the legislature was finally
goaded into action. The resulting Fair Housing Act
of 1985 accepted ML I and II in principle but
moderated their effects.” Now suburbs could “buy
their way out of up to half their ‘fair share’ housing
responsibility through contributions to other
communities in their region, usually cities already
housing low-income residents.” They did. (p.
237)”By transferring resources for new housing to
poorer cities and suburbs, wealthier communities
have been able to escape relatively unscathed while
urban populations have become reanchored to old
cities.” Moreover, elite suburbs build their
affordable housing as condos, not for rent, “and for
senior citizens rather than for the low income,
carrying the double benefit of less class diversity
and less pressure on the schools.%u201D (p.
238)”Racial segregation in particular persists, as
most of the people moving into ‘fair share’
subsidized housing in the suburbs have been
young, working class, and white.” (p. 238-239)
“State supreme courts in CA, NY, PA, and a few
other states besides NJ have reviewed and
overturned some local zoning practices…” Some
counties, including Montgomery County, MD, have
enacted laws requiring or rewarding affordable
housing in developments. (p. 239)
School tax inequality: “The higher the median
income [within Essex County] … the greater a
community’s per pupil spending on schooling for
its children, and most unfairly, the lower the local
tax rate its residents were assessed to pay for
it.” (p. 240-241)Robinson v. Cahill, 1970, sued to
equalize. “In 1973 the state supreme court ruled
that NJ’s heavy reliance on local property taxes
discriminated against poor districts, and it called
for massive tax reform…” (p. 244) NJ was
contributing <33% of all non-federal school revenues. In 1976, the courts shut down the state's schools for failure to fund more equally, so NJ adopted a small state income tax. But inequities didn't decrease, so 1981, Abbott v. Burke, re students from poor Camden, E Orange, etc. In 1990, NJ Supreme Court found, “the poor the district and the greater the need, the less the money available, and the worse the education.” Princeton, $7,725/pupil; Camden, $3,538. (p. 246) Controversy over how to fund more equal education helped Christine Todd Whitman defeat Democrat Jim Florio for governor. (p. 247) Other states where property-tax-based school finance systems have been ruled unconstitutional include AL, AZ, AR, CA, CT, KY, MA, MT, NH, NJ, NY, OH, RI, TN, TX, VT, WA, WV, WI, and WY. (p. 249) Other states have undergone some state finance reform without court cases.