The Color of Law

The Color of Law

A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Book - 2017
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In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein, a leading authority on housing policy, explodes the myth that America's cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation--that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, The Color of Law incontrovertibly makes it clear that it was de jure segregation--the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments--that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day. Through extraordinary revelations and extensive research that Ta-Nehisi Coates has lauded as "brilliant" (The Atlantic), Rothstein comes to chronicle nothing less than an untold story that begins in the 1920s, showing how this process of de jure segregation began with explicit racial zoning, as millions of African Americans moved in a great historical migration from the South to the North.As Jane Jacobs established in her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it was the deeply flawed urban planning of the 1950s that created many of the impoverished neighborhoods we know. Now, Rothstein expands our understanding of this history, showing how government policies led to the creation of officially segregated public housing and the demolition of previously integrated neighborhoods. While urban areas rapidly deteriorated, the great American suburbanization of the post-World War II years was spurred on by federal subsidies for builders on the condition that no homes be sold to African Americans. Finally, Rothstein shows how police and prosecutors brutally upheld these standards by supporting violent resistance to black families in white neighborhoods. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited future discrimination but did nothing to reverse residential patterns that had become deeply embedded. Yet recent outbursts of violence in cities like Baltimore, Ferguson, and Milwaukee show us precisely how the legacy of these earlier eras contributes to persistent racial unrest. "The American landscape will never look the same to readers of this important book," comments Sherrilyn A. Ifill. Indeed, Rothstein's invaluable examination demonstrates that only by relearning American urban history can we finally pave the way for the nation to remedy its unconstitutional past. -- Inside jacket flaps.
Publisher: New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, [2017]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9781631492853
Characteristics: xvii, 345 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

"Richard Rothstein’s book explains clearly how government policies, not individual choices, intentionally promoted residential racial segregation. Rothstein dismantles many of the current myths about racial discrimination, such as black homeowners causing white homeowners property values to... Read More »

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Apr 05, 2019

An essential read.

Aug 08, 2018

I thought this was going to be dull at first with fact after fact. However I'm glad I stuck with the book. It really goes into why areas / cities are mapped out in certain demographics today. Many of the stories in this book are disheartening but it's also good that they're finally being brought to light. I advise others to read to get a better glance at the obstacles some were placed with and against still affecting many to this day.

Jul 15, 2018

A well-documented history of the myriad ways in which laws and policies at all levels of government intentionally created segregation in America well into the the 1960's, and in some instances even more recently. The author clearly explains the ways in which present-day segregation and racial inequality are in large part the result of these laws and policies. He also outlines some potential remedies, but his goal is first and foremost to educate all Americans about our "forgotten history." An important book.

Apr 16, 2018

Richard Rothstein highlights policies along with anecdotes that demonstrate the racism and alienation of African Americans from the mainstream of society. With the inability to successfully integrate with policies that benefited their white counterparts, African Americans were designated to less affluent neighborhoods that didn't provide the best accommodations. While we can be proud as a country of the progress that has been made, their is still so much to go regarding equal opportunity for POC. While I don't believe this current administration has any interest in remedying or at least acknowledging it the problem, this book should emphasize the policies or cases needed to improve our country for everyone!

Apr 15, 2018

I'd recommend this book to be on every US citizen's reading list. It's a sad, disgraceful yet extremely enlightening book. I had no idea how poorly African Americans have been treated in the 20th century by almost every sector of the US government, state and local Governments. Discrimination of African Americans continues in many polices and policing to this day. Segregation is something we should all work actively to end esp those in positions of power and have the ability to influence the masses. This information in this book should be included in the history of every classroom in America. Perhaps it would help create increased tolerance and empathy which seems like what we need now.

Nov 26, 2017

This 2017 book explores the policies of the American government at the federal, state, and local levels by law (de Jure) have denied to African-Americans mortgages, equal wages, equal public educational opportunities. American history books studied in our educational systems have been written to suggest that all of the listed opportunities do not exist or if they do exist are not that important and exist not by government policy but just by accident (de facto). The book demolishes this mythology that discrimination is no longer that important or that African-Americans just do not work as hard as whites, etc. etc. Each page documents the rampant injustice to African-Americans that is perpetrated by government every day.

Jul 15, 2017

While it's easy to depict racism in this country as accidental or because simply because people back then didn't know better, racism is systemic and more often than not the result of policy, but public and unofficial. Richard Rothstein's book focuses on housing discrimination and how it was deliberate and sanctione; from real estate agents to white home owners to government officials, all are complicit. Though somewhat dryly written (Rothstein is both a fellow and a research associate), this is an essential and shocking history of what we all too conveniently forget when talking about housing policy, gentrification, and the "ghetto." If you're already feeling pessimistic about race relations in the Trump era, well, this won't make you feel any better. A few other recent books on housing policy: "What a City is For" and "Evicted."

May 18, 2017

I knew some of this but not the extent that was sanctioned by US government. Horrible!
Author of interviewed on NPR,

May 04, 2017

This is a brilliantly researched and brilliantly written book, exhibiting the high-level legal reasoning so seldom seen today in the era of pure Fake News [and I was ranting about that before what's-his-face appeared on the political scene]. Please pay close attention to pp. 226 to 227, such perfect reasoning you will probably never see ever again! [White privilege is seldom explained well - - because it usually falls into the category of white/class privilege as exemplified by Jackie Robinson, the great baseball player who was a US Army officer during WWII, which he qualified for, whereas Richard Holbrooke [declared to be a // great man \\ by Fake Newsy, John Hockenberry] couldn't qualify for OCS, having flunked the test, and couldn't qualify for Foreign Service Officer, since he flunked that test - - but due to family connections to Dean Rusk, he was hired on at the State Department! Having lost not a few jobs to inferior white women/Hispanic women from more economically advantaged backgrounds - - under affirmative action programs - - which were supposed to have been aimed at Black-American employment - - I can readily attest to the misdirection of said programs! When President Kennedy first coined the term // affirmative action \\ and pushed programs in that direction, they were aimed at remedying massive past barriers agasinst Black-Americans, not to give any extra benefits to Hispanic males and females from some of the bloodiest dictatorial regimes in existence, which has happened repeatedly later on! Check out present and past membership at Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, Brookings Institution, et cetera.]
Mr. Rothstein clearly shows that the existing economic or asset disparity between whites and blacks directly attributable to home ownership in which most Black-Americans were excluded thanks to housing policies of the FHA. In the 20th century, Black-Americans were purposely excluded from the housing market in America; today many of us are excluded due to the globalization of housing: exorbitant and rising prices due foreign purchasers; real estate firms listing local houses in not only locally and nationally, but in 89 foreign countries, et cetera, et cetera!


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