Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” as Want to Read:
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

4.44  ·  Rating details ·  7,001 ratings  ·  1,118 reviews
In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein, a leading authority on housing policy, explodes the myth that Americas cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregationthat is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, The Color of ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 2nd 2017 by Liveright
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Color of Law, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Nelson Jovel To quote the NYTimes review of this book "One of the great strengths of Rothsteins 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)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.44  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,001 ratings  ·  1,118 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
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: favorites, 2018
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 nations 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 ...more
Charles J
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 cant 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 ...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 Ive 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 Ive 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
Matthew Hall
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, fuck universities, fuck hospitals, fuck homeowners' associations and FUCK the police.

Fuck white people.

This book will make you angry.
Conor Ahern
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 ...more
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Eye opening read.
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.
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 ...more
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
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 ...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,
laurel [suspected bibliophile]
A must read (or must-listen) of the government sanctioned segregation of America...even after the supposed "integration" of Black and white communities.

Definitely check this out, particularly if you are white and think that people of color like to live together because of togetherness and that there's no reason that they are universally more impoverished than white Americans.

This book does a great job highlighting the dual poverty roller coasters, and how different races are on different tracks
This one is a bonafide Must Read! Highly recommend to everyone! If youve read The New Jim Crow or Evicted and felt like youve 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 its become self perpetuating. I really can not recommend it ...more
Quin Rich
Feb 04, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is so incredibly frustrating. To be clear, I do not at all dispute the factual account that Rothstein provides, nor do I in anyway disagree that he has clearly documented a state-perpetrated injustice by the US government at federal, state, and local levels towards African-Americans. Although he conducted no original research, the synthesis Rothstein provides here is commendable.

Yet at the same time, I find his thesis unnecessarily narrow in both scope and vision. His focus on
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 ...more
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
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So a thinking person may intuitively know that ghettos are no accident. That no poor person wants to be poor. That Black people are not inherently criminal and that the legal system is the biased tool that fosters criminality upon Black and poor. But here we have a book that divulges the Government's not only complicity but actual planing and enforcement of latter day slavery, segregation, and deprivation on Black people in America through the color of law. The American government enacted laws ...more
Alondra Miller
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
5 Stars

Required reading. Between the years 1865 - 1965, we had legal apartheid in these United States. It was called Jim Crow. After 1965; we had illegal apartheid practices being upheld. If you believe that there is no racism, that we are all one big happy family, then this book is not for you. If you want to learn something; break out of your bubble, then read this book. These are facts. These are laws that are written in the books, to keep black folks right where they are. Too bad, many
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 50s decade, it would have been nice if he expanded a bit more. This book would make a great college paper, but the ...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.
An important book. It covers very thoroughly housing segregation in the US as not de facto, but de juro: it wasnt organic, but dictated and enforced by the government and helped by racist middle class communities. The book didnt address anything new for me, and it was quite dry, but it had a humbling message, especially for anyone who has experienced the white privilege. ...more
The American Conservative
Richard Rothsteins The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America doesnt 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
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
B Sarv
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not too long after I started reading this book I felt like my review could easily turn into a polemic instead of a review. It still might turn out like that. The Color of Law looks like it could be an encyclopedia of white supremacist government policies that were designed to oppress African Americans for the distant but imaginable future. But it isnt an encyclopedia, because it would be impossible for the author to catalog all of the enactments and sins of omission by all the state, local and ...more
Jun 18, 2019 rated it liked it
This is important information but I dont know what the audience is. It is in a wonky style, e.g. citing history textbooks that actively omit the facts of de jure segregation. I dont think this sort of argument will convince any racists/reactionaries. ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
The Color of Law: Week 5 1 7 Nov 05, 2018 02:22PM  
The Color of Law: Week 4 1 4 Oct 30, 2018 02:43PM  
The Color of Law: Week 3 1 5 Oct 22, 2018 04:29PM  
The Color of Law: Week 2 1 8 Oct 15, 2018 01:35PM  
The Color of Law: Week 1 2 33 Oct 12, 2018 06:16AM  
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  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
  • How to Be an Antiracist
  • The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap
  • How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
  • Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
  • Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America
  • Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State
  • When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
  • One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy
  • Why We're Polarized
  • Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America
  • Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World
  • Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time
  • How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States
  • The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
See similar books…

News & Interviews

Some people love books. Some people fall in love. And some people fall in love with books about falling in love. Every month our team sorts thro...
16 likes · 2 comments
“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.” 11 likes
“If federal programs were not, even to this day, reinforcing racial isolation by disproportionately directing low-income African Americans who receive housing assistance into the segregated neighborhoods that government had previously established, we might see many more inclusive communities. Undoing the effects of de jure segregation will be incomparably difficult. To make a start, we will first have to contemplate what we have collectively done and, on behalf of our government, accept responsibility.” 7 likes
More quotes…