…a powerful and disturbing history of residential segregation in America…One of the great strengths of Rothstein's account is the sheer weight of evidence he marshals…he quite simply demolishes the notion that government played a minor role in creating the racial ghettos that plague our suburbs and inner cities. Going back to the late 19th century, he uncovers a policy of de jure segregation in virtually every presidential administration, including those we normally describe as liberal on domestic issues…Rothstein writes that America has a constitutional obligation to remedy de jure segregation in housing, and that its story must be told. While the road forward is far from clear, there is no better history of this troubled journey than
The Color of Law.
The New York Times Book Review - David Oshinsky
Rothstein’s comprehensive and engrossing book reveals just how the U.S. arrived at the “systematic racial segregation we find in metropolitan areas today,” focusing in particular on the role of government. While remaining cognizant of recent changes in legislation and implementation, Rothstein is keenly alert to the continuing effects of past practices. He leads the reader through Jim Crow laws, sundown towns, restrictive covenants, blockbusting, law enforcement complicity, and subprime loans. The book touches on the Federal Housing Administration and the creation of public housing projects, explaining how these were transformed into a “warehousing system for the poor.” Rothstein also notes the impact of Woodrow Wilson’s racist hiring policies, the New Deal–era Fair Labor Standards that excluded “industries in which African Americans predominated, like agriculture,” and the exclusion of African-American workers from the construction trades, making clear how directly government contributed to segregation in labor. And Rothstein shows exactly why a simplistic North/South polarization lacks substance, using copious examples from both regions. This compassionate and scholarly diagnosis of past policies and prescription for our current racial maladies shines a bright light on some shadowy spaces. 13 illus. (May)
"Masterful…Rothstein documents the deep historical roots and the continuing practices in law and social custom that maintain a profoundly un-American system holding down the nation’s most disadvantaged citizens."
"Through meticulous research and powerful human stories, Rothstein reveals a history of racism hiding in plain sight and compels us to confront the consequences of the intentional, decades-long governmental policies that created a segregated America."
"At once analytical and passionate,
The Color of Law discloses why segregation has persisted, even deepened, in the post–civil rights era, and thoughtfully proposes how remedies might be pursued. A must-read."
"This wonderful, important book could not be more timely…With its clarity and breadth, the book is literally a page-turner."
"Masterful…The Rothstein book gathers meticulous research showing how governments at all levels long employed racially discriminatory policies to deny blacks the opportunity to live in neighborhoods with jobs, good schools and upward mobility."
Washington Post - Jared Bernstein
"Essential…Rothstein persuasively debunks many contemporary myths about racial discrimination….Only when Americans learn a common—and accurate—history of our nation’s racial divisions, he contends, will we then be able to consider steps to fulfill our legal and moral obligations. For the rest of us, still trying to work past 40 years of misinformation, there might not be a better place to start than Rothstein’s book."
"Rothstein’s work should make everyone, all across the political spectrum, reconsider what it is we allow those in power to do in the name of 'social harmony' and 'progress' with more skepticism…
The Color of Law shows what happens when Americans lose their natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or in the case of African-Americans, when there are those still waiting to receive them in full."
American Conservative - Carl Paulus
"Virtually indispensable… I can only implore anyone interested in understanding the depth of the problem to read this necessary book."
Chicago Daily Observer - Don Rose
"One of those rare books that will be discussed and debated for many decades. Based on careful analyses of multiple historical documents, Rothstein has presented what I consider to be the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation."
"A powerful and disturbing history of residential segregation in America . . . One of the great strengths of Rothstein’s account is the sheer weight of evidence he marshals. . . . While the road forward is far from clear, there is no better history of this troubled journey than ‘The Color of Law.’"
New York Times Book Review - David Oshinsky
"Original and insightful…The central premise of [Rothstein’s] argument…is that the Supreme Court has failed for decades to understand the extent to which residential racial segregation in our nation is not the result of private decisions by private individuals, but is the direct product of unconstitutional government action. The implications of his analysis are revolutionary."
The Color of Law should be required reading for every American student… What an amazing accomplishment and what a contribution to restorative justice. Truly a tour de force, and exceptionally moving."
Conventional narratives about segregation in 21st-century America hold that persistent racial disparities are a product of de facto segregation—the summation of individual preferences—rather than de jure segregation enforced (unconstitutionally) by law. Legal scholar Rothstein (NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Univ. of Calif., Berkeley) disabuses us of this "too-comfortable notion" that the state has not incentivised, and in some cases explicitly required, discrimination against African Americans. Rather than being an accident of privately held prejudice, Rothstein's work argues that segregation across the long 20th century was a product of federal, state, and local housing and land-use policies that directly and intentionally led to the suppression of black family wealth and well-being. To support his argument, he draws on extensive historical research that documents government efforts to create and enforce segregation. Each chapter focuses on a particular tactic such as public housing, racial covenants, or state-sanctioned violence. The final section calls on citizens to accept collective responsibility and remedy state wrongs through public policy. VERDICT This indictment of government-sponsored segregation is a timely work that will find broad readership among those asking "How did we arrive here?" and "What next?"—Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Massachusetts Historical Soc.
How government policies have perpetuated the caste system of slavery.Rothstein (Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right, 2008, etc.), a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute and a fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, mounts a hard-hitting argument condemning federal, state, and local governments for devising laws that enforce segregation. Underserved, blighted African-American communities, he argues persuasively, are not the result only of personal prejudice or market forces but of unconstitutional "racially explicit government policies to segregate our metropolitan areas." The author cites cases and decisions regarding public housing, racial zoning, mortgage lending, the enforcement of housing covenants, fearmongering to incite white flight, planning for highways and roads, IRS tax-exemption status for institutions that promote segregation, state-sanctioned violence, and the effects of segregation on schools and income disparity. Although he sometimes refers to particular individuals, his main focus is on law and public policy affecting neighborhoods. In 1949, for example, when a proposed integration amendment to a public housing law threatened to be defeated by Southern Democrats, liberals caved, voting for a program that stipulated segregation rather than giving up the possibility of much-needed public housing. State supreme courts consistently upheld restrictive real estate covenants that forbade sales of homes to African-Americans, claiming that such "private agreements" did not violate the Constitution. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that restrictive covenants did, indeed, violate the 14th Amendment, the Federal Housing Administration continued to deny mortgage insurance to homes in integrated neighborhoods. After World War II, the GI Bill denied African-Americans mortgage subsidies and opportunities for education and training that were available to whites. Rothstein considers the insidious effects of housing segregation on economic mobility, infrastructure, and politics. "Racial polarization," he asserts, bolsters leaders who appeal to white voters' "sense of racial entitlement" and who foster intolerance. An informed, important exposé of the nation's institutionalized racism that would have been even more reader-friendly with the inclusion of more individual case histories.