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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

4.47  ·  Rating details ·  10,743 ratings  ·  1,704 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 as…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 Anne 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
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
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 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
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.
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.
K. Elizabeth
Incredibly eye-opening. I didn't know 50% of the stuff in here and I'm shocked schools don't teach more about this content.

Although it reads more like a textbook, because it's all factual, I didn't mind it. That said, if you're not in the mood for a strictly nonfiction book, I'd hold off on this one - but I would definitely still add it to your TBR list.
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
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
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 li ...more
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.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Eye opening read.
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
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
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 debunki
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 enough ...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 bucke
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is a very informative book about a piece of American history that many of us don’t fully understand, even if we think we do: specifically, how we arrived at a place of extensive residential segregation, and how the government was way more involved in creating it than most Americans believe. The text is compact (217 pages, followed by 20 pages of FAQs and then extensive notes and bibliography) and a little bit dense, but it is accessible even if not quite as entertaining as much of the nonfi ...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
Jun 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is, without a doubt, the single most important book of non-fiction I have ever read. I have felt, over the last ten days, alternately despondent, furious, embarrassed,ashamed, ignorant—both willfully and unconsciously—and, ultimately, broken-hearted. What I have learned about the systematic racism in this country goes far beyond what I thought I knew. And, for my ignorance, I am sorrier than I can ever say.
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
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
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
An important book. It covers very thoroughly housing segregation in the US as not de facto, but de juro: it wasn’t organic, but dictated and enforced by the government and helped by racist middle class communities. The book didn’t 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.
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Everything I thought I knew about America and race and segregation in the 20th (and 21st) century was wishful thinking. I am absolutely astounded and very much concerned that we did not learn anything about this in high school. This book makes a powerful and persuasive argument for de jure (sanctioned by the government) segregation. The ramifications of this are appalling. Everyone in the US—particularly white folk who live in the suburbs and think their success due to hard work and merit—should ...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 t ...more
Alexandra Gründ
Jun 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I want to shove this book in the hands of every single person who has said “slavery was x amount of years ago, get over it” or “just because I’m white doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard to get where I’m at today”. This book was dense and there were several sections I had to reread in order to really digest the information provided but it’s worth it. It also reads like a textbook for the most part. This is the American history we should be learning in school but we need to take it upon ourselves to ...more
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
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In these strange days of quarantine and isolation, books can be a mode of transport. We may have to stay home and stay still, but through t...
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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.” 12 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.” 7 likes
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