THE COLOR OF LAW: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

May 4, 2017

In his book released May 2, 2017, Richard Rothstein writes about the United States’ government programs that segregated our neighborhoods and created much of the economic and educational inequities we experience today.

Rothstein presents a comprehensive explanation of various government programs and how the result of many was the segregation of the poor into areas of a city which then produced a lower tax-base with inadequate funding for education, police and other aspects of life taken for granted by the middle class, primarily white citizens.

He writes;

In 2014, police killed Michael Brown, a young African American man in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis.  Protests followed, some violent, and subsequent investigations uncovered systematic police and government abuse of residents in the city’s African American neighborhoods.  The reporting made me wonder how the St. Louis metropolitan area became so segregated.  It turn out that economic zoning – with a barely disguised racial overlay- played an important role.

To prevent lower-income African Americans from living in neighborhoods where middle-class whites resided, local and federal officials began in the 1910s to promote zoning ordinances to reserve middle-class neighborhoods for single-family homes that lower-income families of all races could not afford.  Certainly an important and perhaps primary motivation of zoning rules that kept apartment buildings out of single-family neighborhoods was a social class elitism that was not itself racially biased.  But there was also enough open racial intent behind exclusionary zoning that it is integral to the story of de jure segregation.  Such economic zoning was rare in the United States before World War 1, but the Buchanan decision provoked urgent interest in zoning as a way to circumvent the ruling….

If government had declined to build racially separate public housing in cities where segregation hadn’t previously taken root, and instead had scattered integrated developments throughout the community, those cities might have developed in a less racially toxic fashion, with fewer desperate ghettos and more diverse suburbs.

If the federal government had not urged suburbs to adopt exclusionary zoning laws, white flight would have been minimized because there would have been fewer racially exclusive suburbs to which frightened homeowners could flee.

I the government had told developers that they could have FHA guarantees only if the homes they built were open to all, integrated working-class suburbs would likely have matured with both African Americans and whites sharing the benefits.

If state courts had not blessed private discrimination by ordering the eviction of African American homeowners in neighborhoods where association rules and restive covenants barred their residence, middle-class African Americans would have been able gradually to integrated previously white communities as they developed the financial means to do so.

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