The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (Hardcover)

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Rothstein shows how federal, state, and city governments unconstitutionally used housing policy to create and reinforce segregation during the past century, in ways that survive today. He begins with an unflinching look at housing policy in the San Francisco Bay Area, highlighting its impact in Richmond and Palo Alto, before moving on to urban areas more typically associated with segregation. Meticulously researched, fully-considered, includes a 30 page FAQ. --Lilly

— From Staff Picks - Lilly

Rothstein uncovers how local and federal governments used housing policy to create and reinforce segregation in ways that survive today. Beginning with an unflinching look at the Bay Area before moving to urban areas more typically associated with segregation, this meticulously researched investigation makes for a compelling and important read. --Lilly

— From History & Current Affairs

How did neighboring cities East Palo Alto become majority black and Palo Alto majority white?  UC Berkeley researcher RIchard Rothstein delves deep into the local municipal, county, state and federal policy decisions which led to segregation where none existed before.

— From Our Staff's Favorite Books


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 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 Minneapolis 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" (Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund), as Rothstein's invaluable examination shows that only by relearning this history can we finally pave the way for the nation to remedy its unconstitutional past.

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9781631492853
ISBN-10: 1631492853
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication Date: May 2nd, 2017
Pages: 368
Language: English