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

Richard Rothstein (Grading Education) is a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute and the author of numerous books and reports on race, ethnicity and education. In The Color of Law, he brings clarity and firm evidence to a topic that has often been glazed over with omissions and euphemisms.

Rothstein systematically refutes the popular idea that segregated neighborhoods are the de facto result of personal choices. He makes a sound argument that they are a de jure ghetto system built by 20th-century government policies that violated the 13th Amendment. He demonstrates how city ordinances and housing projects, many promoted by the New Deal and the Federal Housing Administration, enforced existing segregation and expanded it to previously integrated areas. These initiatives were often supported by liberal progressives who argued that they would promote racial harmony. He also examines wage suppression for African Americans, industrial rezoning, the segregation efforts of white homeowners, churches and colleges, and the roles of corrupt landlords, realtors, lenders and regulators. All these factors twisted together into a choking net that could trap even the most resourceful and hardworking individuals.

This is everyone's problem, says Rothstein. "As a nation, we have paid an enormous price for avoiding an obligation to remedy the unconstitutional segregation we have allowed to fester." He is not optimistic about the political will for change, but he makes both radical and moderate recommendations, and identifies the many obstacles to reform. The first step is to learn and accept the historical truth. --Sara Catterall

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