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

4.43  ·  Rating details ·  4,436 ratings  ·  773 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 2nd 2017 by Liveright
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Nelson Jovel To quote the NYTimes review of this book "One of the great strengths of Rothstein’s account is the sheer weight of evidence he marshals. A research…moreTo quote the NYTimes review of this book "One of the great strengths of Rothstein’s account is the sheer weight of evidence he marshals. A research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, 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.
Aprilleigh My guess would be very few, only because most never really knew about it in the first place. Most of us know that black families were often confronted…moreMy guess would be very few, only because most never really knew about it in the first place. Most of us know that black families were often confronted with very unwelcoming neighbors, but the only reason we were ever given when we asked why was an oversimplified reference to racial prejudice.

You want to know why most white people don't recognize their privilege? This is why. When we noticed things that didn't make sense it was brushed under the rug because the explanations, even from those who actively worked to change things, were considered less important than letting us grow up thinking things were mostly the same for everyone. Obviously, that either doesn't work, or isn't enough. Looking forward to this book.(less)

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Martha Toll
Could everybody please read this ? It's an essential history of America's state sponsored history of race discrimination in housing.

Here's my take on NPR's 2017 Book Concierge.
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, favorites, kindle
A succinct history of de jure segregation in America, The Color of Law argues that anti-Black governmental policies, not de facto segregation, led to the nation’s racially divided cities and suburbs. In terse prose, Richard Rothstein details the underhanded ways in which Republican and Democratic politicians alike imposed and enforced racial segregation across the U.S. throughout the twentieth century, from explicit racial zoning to state-sponsored violence and blockbusting. Rothstein lucidly co ...more
Feb 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
History of the development of de jure segregation in the United States - that is, the deliberate result of federal laws and local policies. Rothstein demonstrates convincingly that the problem is entrenched within multiple organizations and legal standards. For example, the Federal Housing Administration, part of the New Deal set of domestic programs, required segregation in order to qualify for low-interest financing. The government-sponsored HOLC required private real-estate agents to appraise ...more
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Some years ago, I lived for a time in Oak Park, Illinois. Oak Park has for decades been filled with rich white liberals, who live just across the street from a City of Chicago neighborhood, Austin, that is filled with poor black people. Yet, for some reason the citizens of Oak Park simply can’t fathom, people from Austin almost never move to Oak Park. Who can say why? Well, Richard Rothstein can. His book, “The Color of Law,” shows all the ways in which the racist government of Oak Park, and inn ...more
This was a very powerful book that documents at both the big-picture and individual level how housing segregation policies were imposed across the United States. Other books I’ve read in the past couple of years have taken on pieces of this (and Ta Nahesi Coates’ Atlantic piece on reparations covers the issue at some length as well) but this is the best single book on the topic I’ve read thus far. The core argument, laid out in systematic detail, is that segregation was carried out by government ...more
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a well-researched book that outlines all the ways in which the government has used the long arms of the state to discriminate against blacks. I wish this book had been published when I was writing my book (named The Color of Money coincidentally) because I could have used some of this research. Some of this history was written in Crabgrass Frontier, but this is a book that needed to be written.
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book with just a few difficulties. Some of it is within Rothstein's interpretations (mainly of the amendments) but most of the negative side of the book lies within the fact that it is an extremely difficult law term and concepts of their use "type" of read. And I am not a lawyer, although I do study lawyers' and judges' decisions in minutia word copy when they occur in real time. That's exactly why no Supreme Court judge should be evaluated for that position on one issue of ...more
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This succinct history puts the lie to the idea that people congregate with others of their race mostly out of preference and custom, and that the material side effects thereof (wealth, educational opportunities, etc.) are blameless incidents for which we bear no collective responsibility. In a scant 200ish pages, Rothstein bludgeons you with anecdote after anecdote of federal, state, and local officials or policies that disrupted working and middle class white and black Americans' attempts to li ...more
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Eye opening read.
Matthew Hall
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fuck the FHA (and the New Deal at large), fuck HUD, fuck the VA, fuck federal, state and local housing policies, fuck banks, fuck real estate brokers, fuck developers, fuck churches, universities, hospitals and FUCK homeowners' associations and the police.

Fuck white people.

This book will make you angry.
Canton Winer
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An important read for anyone interested in segregation, racism, and social justice. Lays out a compelling argument for how government action at the federal, state, and local level--and not simply the decisions of individual racists--have resulted in and perpetuated segregation in America.
Svetlana Kurilova
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
5* for the information and 3* for writing style

MUST-read book! Do not ignore what happened, rather learn from these mistakes and do the right thing in the future!

It took me almost two months to finish this book. There is so much resistance in accepting that one race can so strategically with a strong support of the law and government), so purposefully segregate American population for decades leading to pretty much unfixable damage where and creating an enourmous gap between "the whites" and "th
Michael Siliski
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Makes a very convincing case that the racial segregation of American neighborhoods was the result of explicit US government action, rather than an accidental byproduct of people clustering with others like them. The book is structured as a legal argument in reaction to a series of Supreme Court decisions (e.g. 1973, 2007) that found that neighborhood segregation was de facto (by fact) rather than de jure (by law, i.e. government mandated), and therefore not the responsibility of government to fi ...more
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In the "Color of Law", Richard Rothstein shows that the use of discriminatory residential practices in the US, including 'racially' zoned housing areas, restrictive covenants, the creation of fear of loss of property values and at times violence have been in effect from the reconstruction period in the late 19th Century and continued into 21st Century. These practices have disproportionately affected African Americans, keeping their communities poor and leading to the creation of segregated neig ...more
This one is a bonafide Must Read! Highly recommend to everyone! If you’ve read The New Jim Crow or Evicted and felt like you’ve learned a lot, this one will open your eyes even more to the history & complexity of the moment we find ourselves in, how it got this way, and how we might just be able to unravel it if we have the will. This book takes us through how this country was segregated long after it was legal to do so, and how it’s become self perpetuating. I really can not recommend it en ...more
Audacia Ray
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Half a century ago, the truth of de jure segregation was well known, but since then we have suppressed our historical memory and soothed ourselves into believing that it all happened by accident or by misguided private prejudice. Popularized by Supreme Court majorities from the 1970s to the present, the de facto segregation myth has no been adopted by conventional opinion, liberal and conservative alike."

This is such a deeply well-researched and unflinching look into the role that federal, stat
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
THE COLOR OF LAW. (2017). Richard Rothstein. ****.
I learned of this book through an interview of the author on NPR. It is an important book, and should be read by anyone with an interest in how America has allocated living conditions according to the color of one’s skin. It seems as if our government through its many agencies managed to set up a system whereby blacks (and Hispanics) were restricted from living where the white folks lived. When you think about it, you will think that this all occ
The American Conservative
Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America doesn’t start off in the Deep South, Detroit, Baltimore, or the multitude of other places in the United States where segregation has often been examined. Instead, the research associate at the Economic Policy Institute begins his exploration in an unlikely place: San Francisco. There readers find Frank Stevenson, a transplant from Louisiana who found work in the booming manufacturing sector during ...more
Katelyn Beaty
To riff off the title of another essential book on race in America, the title of this book could be, "Why are all the black families living together on the other side of town?" Here, Rothstein pulls together historical records, legal research, and a quiet urgency to argue convincingly that most U.S. cities today are segregated not simply because of private decisions (de facto segregation) but largely because of government-mandated housing laws and policies (de jure segregation), by which the fed ...more
Nov 20, 2017 rated it liked it
I wish I thought more of this book, it has received so much attention. This is an extremely important topic, but one that has been talked about before in a more interesting way. This book is basically a thesis paper. The 1st chapter is his thesis and the next 10 chapters he uses to prove his thesis, going over essentially the same things over and over again. He rarely leaves the 50’s decade, it would have been nice if he expanded a bit more. This book would make a great college paper, but the pe ...more
Hayley Stenger
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book, but dense and full of information. I have read something that so clearly displays point blank the illegal, unethical ,and immoral segregation of our country and how is continues till this day. I am more alert to this thank you to this book.
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a keen urbanist, I've been aware of issues like redlining, inequality in mortgage lending, "urban renewal," and replacing minority neighborhoods with highways for a long time. But this book still startled me with how brazen and official it all was. Although many Americans assume that neighborhood segregation and black poverty emerged through gradual processes, sleazy local institutions, or de facto preferences, Rothstein makes clear that they are in fact the result of de jure planning at all ...more
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shocking and just disappointing that this hasn't been laid out so systematically before. I had no idea that government policies were so integral to the foundation and reinforcement of segregation. The author made an excellent choice to focus on the happenings in typically "liberal" enclaves of the north and California to make his point. Shockingly to me personally, my childhood suburb showed up as an anecdote (and Supreme Court case) unknown to me during my youth and my current suburb showed up ...more
Aug 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
A really cogent explanation of how the US government systematically supported segregation of black Americans, not only as facilitators, but as the drivers of that segregation as a policy in the wake of the Great Depression. The arguments made in this book won't be persuasive to everyone, but I think they provide a fascinating way of thinking about how one sector of the American economy (housing) has disproportionate power over the whole of American socio-economic life. Worth a read IMO
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I find it incredibly scary how little I actually knew about the undeniable role the government has played in the segregation of our country before reading this book. Rothstein makes it abundantly clear how dangerous it is to assume that segregation has occurred only/mostly because of our own individual prejudices - that if we accept that, we are also accepting segregation can’t ever be undone until there’s a change in people’s hearts. He offers a huge amount of evidence to support de jure segreg ...more
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an important book. Not only does it document the myriad ways that all levels of government supported segregation, but it brings forward the argument that it is proper that these violations of Constitutional rights be remedied. The writing is a little dry, and it is discouraging to go through chapter after chapter of the wrongs that were done. But those chapter pave the way for the somewhat hopeful chapter "Considering Fixes," the 3 page epilogue that sets out in stunning clarity the pric ...more
Alan Mills
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: civil-rights
Tour de force! Rothstein surveys the history of segregation and discrimination not just winked at by the government, but REQUIRED by the government , in total violation of the 14th Amendment.

Covering the period of roughly 1900 through 1980, Rothstein examines actions by Congress, the President, federal agencies, states, counties, and cities which enforced segregation.

Rothstein’s particular focus is on housing, but he also discusses employment and educational discrimination, with brief examinati
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I cannot recommend this book more. It's premise is that housing segregation has its roots in de jure segregation, and from there he outlines many different examples that support that premise. Then, he discusses ways to remedy this situation. I can't collect quotes from this book without highlighting something on every page. Indeed, this was a forgotten history, and this book needs to be a nonfiction classic to keep this history remembered and rectified.
Cailin Pitt
Jan 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. Everyone should have to read this to learn more about institutional racism and segregation practices of the 20th century, and how even today we as a country suffer from them
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The Color of Law: Week 5 1 3 Nov 05, 2018 02:22PM  
The Color of Law: Week 4 1 1 Oct 30, 2018 02:43PM  
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The Color of Law: Week 2 1 2 Oct 15, 2018 01:35PM  
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The Color of Law: Pre-Club Post #4 1 3 Oct 01, 2018 09:40AM  
The Color of Law: Pre-Club Post #3 1 4 Sep 17, 2018 10:45AM  
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“Today’s residential segregation in the North, South, Midwest, and West is not the unintended consequence of individual choices and of otherwise well-meaning law or regulation but of unhidden public policy that explicitly segregated every metropolitan area in the United States.” 7 likes
“In 1944, the G.I. Bill was adopted to support returning servicemen. The VA not only denied African Americans the mortgage subsidies to which they were entitled but frequently restricted education and training to lower-level jobs for African Americans who were qualified to acquire greater skills.” 5 likes
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