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The Color Of Law: A Forgotten History Of How Our Government Segregated America - Richard Rothstein

Hey everyone! Welcome back!

Hope all is well for the readers out there! I looked back and noticed that I did not provide a story of how the name of the blog was incepted. So, as noted in the first post my birthday is January 26 and I don't know how I made the correlation, but the 26th element on the period table is: IRON. Therefore I concocted the name: Iron Will's Blog lol. However iron is metaphorical for a strong mind, body, soul! Also like to provide some iron solid content to you educate and prompt individuals to do their own research and educating.

Now that's out the way, for this post we have yet another New York Times Bestseller! The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America - by Richard Rothstein. The author of our featured book today is a Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Policy Institute and a Senior Fellow (emeritus) at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Rothstein published this novel in 2017. I was prompted to read this book for the sake of Black History Month, I started it on February 10, 2021 and completed it 10 days later on February 20. Consisting of twelve chapters, followed by an epilogue and appendix containing some FAQs. To which point I finished the book on page 239.

While none of the information presented was truly surprising based on the ugly history of racism in this country, it was enlightening to learn new things that came in to play in the past that created some of this situations and scenarios that carry on to this day. While I think it was greatly researched and presented, I must respectfully add, simply being of Anglo-American heritage there were some tone deaf points in the book. I think that stems from simply not being African-American (which I hate all titles in race) however it's somethings that they just don't encounter that we do. So because of that, I also need my first non "A" rating lol. Therefore we have:

Grade: B+

Rothstein opens the preface pointing to the riots in Ferguson, Charlotte, Milwaukee, and my own place of residence, Baltimore, during the years 2014-2016. Then eludes to the thoughts that one may have about the segregation in these neighborhoods, littered with crime, violence, poverty and anger. One would then go on to take the assumption that they result from de facto segregation, which results from private practices and not from law or government policy. Despite this being cliche: I truly believe history repeats itself.

"Real estate agents steered whites away from black neighborhoods, and blacks away from white ones. Banks discriminated with 'redlining,' refusing to give mortgages to African Americans or extracting unusually severe terms from them with subprime loans. African Americans haven't generally gotten the educations that would enable them to earn sufficient incomes to live in white suburbs, and, as a result, many remain concentrated in urban neighborhoods. Besides, black families prefer to live with one another'" (vii). Redlining is still a thing to be aware of to this day, which they teach as a term to learn in real estate agent classes. Hopefully any one truly conscious in this century can see that African Americans have received the shortest end of stick here in this country. Also, is it just me or is it an example of him being tone deaf on the very first page? lol. Hence the last sentence "Besides, black families prefer to live with one another?" Or is he plainly making an outrageous assumption?

The premise of this book was stated on the following page: "Segregation by intentional government action is not de facto. Rather, it is what the courts call de jure: segregation by law and pubic policy" (viii). Rothstein refers to numerous scenarios throughout the book to back this claim. The plausibility of these ideas are definitely not far fetched in my opinion, I will go on the record believing that it is indeed true. "Today, however, most Americans understand that prejudice toward and mistreatment of African Americans did not develop out of thin air. The stereotypes and attitudes that support racial discrimination have their roots in the system of slavery upon which this nation was founded" (ix). I think some people actually would like to firmly believe this as being false.

In 1866, Congress abolished slavery by passing the Civil Rights Act, which basically made the African American population second class citizens. Seventeen years later, in 1883, there was an amendment to this act, if you will, that excluded the housing markets being a "badge or incident" of slavery. In 1965, Joseph Lee Jones (black) and his wife Barbara Jo Jones (white), sued the Alfred H. Meyer company (a St. Louis developer) who refused to sell the home simply because Joseph was black. The couple's case was the groundworks for the 1968 Fair Housing Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

"Racial segregation in housing was not merely a project of southerners in the former slaveholding Confederacy. It was a nation-wide project of the federal government in the twentieth century, designed and implemented by its more liberal leaders. Our system of official segregation was not the result of a single law that consigned African Americans to designated neighborhoods . Rather, scores of racially explicit laws, regulations, and government practices combined to create a nationwide system of urban ghettos, surrounding by white suburbs. Private discrimination also played a role, but it would have been considerably less effective had it not been embraced and reinforced by government" (xii). Segregation in the school systems has a direct correlation with the discrimination of the peoples in these isolated neighborhoods.

The first chapter begins with the settings of World War II in America, across the bay from San Francisco, in Richmond, California. In this era, the city of Richmond had the most elaborate shipbuilding complex in the nation, then in latter times known as the site of a large oil refinery. Rothstein met Frank Stevenson in Richmond in 2013, after reading an oral history he recorded for the National Park Service. Then, Rothstein begins to delve into Mr. Stevenson's history in the following pages. Frank was born in 1924, in Lake Providence, Louisiana, with six other brothers. According to this text, the Time magazine called it "the poorest place in America". However, gratefully so, he did not grow up similar to other black youths in the south during this time. His father was a pastor and own the land that his church sat on. The Stevensons grew cotton and corn for sale, hunted, and maintained a vegetable garden, therefore, Frank did not have to sharecrop for white farmers.

Frank was taught in a one room school house in the church, through the seventh grade, by a single teacher who resided with the family. If he wanted to continue school, it would be a tough transition and position for him going forward. "'In rural Louisiana in the early 1930s, the school year for African Americans was much shorter than for whites, because children like Frank were expected to hire out when planting or harvesting was to be done. 'Actually,' Mr. Stevenson recalled, 'they didn't care too much if you were going to school or not, if you were black....White school would be continued, but they would turn the black school out because they wanted the kids to go to work on the farm....Lots of times these white guys would...come to my dad and ask him to let us work for them one or two days of the week'" (4). So, for me, this is not surprising for that time era or the spiteful people involved.

This was around the time of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Fair Labor Standards Act. These two basically prohibited child labor and began to establish a minimum wage. In 1938, Roosevelt needed the votes of southern congressmen and senators, to pass such economic legislation and reform, only if it excluded industries in which blacks predominated. Frank followed his brothers to work in New Orleans, then he followed another brother to Richmond, California, where he made that his home. In a five year span of 1940-1945, Richmond's population more than quadrupled in size. The African American population went from 270 to 14,000. With such influx of people, the construction of housing could not match the population in time.

"The federal government stepped in with public housing. It was officially and explicitly segregated. Located along railroad tracks and close to the shipbuilding area, federally financed housing for African Americans in Richmond was poorly constructed and intended to be temporary. For white defense workers, government housing was built farther inland, closer to white residential areas, and some of it was sturdily constructed and permanent. Because Richmond had been overwhelmingly white before the war, the federal government's decision to segregate public housing established segregated living patterns that persist to this day" (5). It would be fair for one to assume that, other areas and departments of everyday life was treated in this manner, such as schools, police departments, boy and girl scouts, etc. The government created a "war guest" program, which leased spare rooms from Richmond's white families, so workers can move in as tenants.

The government supplied the white families with low interest loans to remodel and subdivide their residences. Federal officials then approved bank loans to finance construction, which required that zero of the 700 homes built be sold to African Americans. These type of scenarios creates an overcrowding issue or the lack to get sufficient housing period. "To ensure that no African Americans migrated to Richmond unless they were essential to the war effort, the city's police stopped African American men on the street and then arrested and jailed them if they couldn't prove they were employed" (8). By 1950, black families became the only ones to occupy the Richmond Public housing complexes.

Frank Stevenson swiftly sought for employment to avoid those run ins with the law. In the 1930s, the Ford plant in Richmond didn't want black or Mexican workers. However, in 1944, when Frank migrated they needed all the help they could, as the second World War was coming to an end. Henry Ford was forced into negotiations, because he want to create a contract to fire African American workers once the whites returned from the war. In 1945, the army gave up the plant and the Ford Motor Company began to pmake cars again, and the African American employees remained at their jobs. As expected, the black workers were delegated to the most dangerous and remedial tasks at the job. The Ford plant in Richmond was closed to be expanded and relocated to Milpitas, California. Once the residents and city officials of this area were aware of the move the same cycle was put in place to perpetuate hate and desegregation. This poses a great question, and its from the author himself with the title of said first chapter: If San Francisco, Then Everywhere?

"The purposeful use of public housing by federal and local governments to herd African Americans into urban ghettos has as big an influence as any in creation of our de jure system of segregation" (17). One common them throughout the text, is that the whites began to vacate the areas that began to diversify. Essentially, leaving the lesser fortunate families "hand me down" properties or poorly constructed ones that were not cared for consistently. "The federal government first developed housing for civilians -- living quarters on military bases had long been in existence -- during World War I, when it built residences for defense workers near naval shipyards and munitions plants. Eighty-three projects in twenty-six states housed 170,000 white workers and their families. African Americans were excluded, even from projects in northern and western industrial centers where they worked in significant numbers. Federal policy sometimes imposed racial segregation where it hadn't previously been established, forcing African Americans into overpopulated slums. When the war ended, the government sold off its existing projects to private real estate firms and cancelled those that were not complete" (18). Clearly painted picture on the roots of the public housing and overcrowded neighborhoods inception.

Following the Civil War and the presidential election of Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops who had been protecting African Americans in the defeated confederacy. This action eventually incited violence from the whites and created the Jim Crow laws. In July 1876, months before Hayes's victory, there was a massacre of African Americans in Hamburg, South Carolina. Benjamin Tillman led the self proclaimed "Red Shirts" (which actually makes me consider that term in college sports). Sadly, his leading of the massacre forged him into a 24 year career and the biggest racist in the U.S. Senate. All these actions were taken in hopes to prevent African Americans from voting. As of today Tillman's statue is still standing in the state of South Carolina and his name still reigns on a building on Clemson's campus.

In first few years of the 1900s, white people across the nation began to systematically force African Americans out of predominantly white neighborhoods. Public officials began to support and promote this new "racial order". "During this era many towns across the country adopted policies forbidding African Americans from residing or even from being within town borders after dark. Although the policies were rarely formalized in ordinances, police and organized mobs enforced them. Some towns rang bells at sundown to warn African Americans to leave. Others posted signs at the town boundaries warning to not remain after sundown" (42). I like to think, most of these quotes have zero need to be explained or analyzed, considering its egregiousness. When Woodrow Wilson was elected president in 1912 he made certain that his cabinet approved the implementation of segregation in government offices. He even demoted black supervisors to make sure none overseen white employees.

As many families were being driven out of the areas that they used to dominate, we have the birth of racial zoning aka zoning laws which do indeed exist today. Oddly enough, I was born in the city that wrote the first zoning ordinance in Baltimore in1910. This was drawn up by the lawyer Milton Dashiel. The actions that followed this ordinance include evictions of wrong race in the integrated parts of the city. As expected, there was a national following, if you will, of these ordinances. One of the biggest cases that is referenced throughout the text is a 1917 Supreme Court ruling coming from Louisville, Kentucky. Buchanan v. Warley involves an African American's attempt to buy housing on a block with two black and eight white households. The Supreme Court did overturn the racial zoning ordinance in Kentucky, however, the actions that followed by the opposing whites was vengeful. Local governments then found ways to dance around this ruling for years to keep segregation going as long as possible.

The zoning area for the black families were changed from residential to industrial. The long term effects for living in such areas does wreak havoc on an individual's physical and mental health. "Not only were these neighborhoods zoned to permit industry, but the plan commission permitted taverns, liquor stores, nightclubs, and houses of prostitution to open in African American neighborhoods but prohibited these as zoning violations in neighborhoods where whites lived" (50). Personally, I have witnessed the aftermaths of such neighborhoods in cities like New Orleans and Baltimore.

In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, and his administration created the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC). This entity purchased existing mortgages that were subject to imminent foreclosure and then created new mortgages that had repayment schedules of up to 15 years. Then it was later extended to 25 years. HOLC mortgages were amortized which included interest and principle payments over the life of the loan that aided in paying the house off full and clear. However, HOLC ultimately benefited the white communities more than any other. "The HOLC hired local real estate agents to make the appraisals on which refinancing decisions could be based. With these agents required by their national ethics code to maintain segregation, it's not surprising that in gauging risk HOLC considered the racial composition of neighborhoods. The HOLC created color-coded maps of every metropolitan area in the nation, with the safest neighborhoods colored green and the riskiest colored red. A neighborhood earned a red color if African Americans lived in it, even it was a solid middle class neighborhood of single-family homes" (64). Basically, during this time, if you were black the government ruled your area as unworthy.

In the following year, FDR and Congress created the Federal Housing Administration, in 1934. The FHA's purpose was to insure bank mortgages that covered 80 percent of purchase prices, had twenty year terms, and were fully amortized. Here we have another agency created for racist purposes that still operates today. "To be eligible for such insurance, the FHA insisted on doing its own appraisal of the property to make certain that the loan had a low risk of default. Because the FHA's appraisal standards included a whites-only requirement, racial segregation now became an official requirement of the federal mortgage insurance program. The FHA judged that properties would be too risky for insurance if they were in racially mixed neighborhoods or even in white neighborhoods near black ones that might possibly integrate in the future" (64-65). I have essentially eluded to the idea that this is deeply historical pattern of this nation's past.

Before the FHA, there was already white only sponsored suburbanization in early and mid-twentieth century America. The creation of deed clauses were created to evade the Buchanan ruling. "The deed clauses were part of what are commonly termed 'restrictive covenants,' lists of obligations that purchasers of property must assume. The obligations included (and still do include) such matters as what color the owner promises to paint the outside window trim and what kind of trees the owner commits to plant in front'" (78). As one should safely assume, that these deeds did also apply to race. As a studying real estate student, there are portions of the lessons on deed restrictions and covenants. The government, on all levels, became involved in promoting and enforcing these restrictive covenants. In many cases, judges denied that this violated the Constitution because they were private agreements. One time they don't want to stick they nose in shit right?

Being black causes one to have the most shallow opportunities of good housing and good jobs, which creates economical issues and the idea of never "getting ahead". With the banks, realtors, and government entities on the side of the oppressors, the African American neighborhoods remain low income and poverty stricken. With little to no chances at good jobs and schools, the black communities are unable to get good education and save enough to make it to a neighborhood better than their current one. Property tax calculations were also manipulated to the benefit of white land and real estate owners. After taxes, some families had little to no fund left for maintenance and some invited more family members to help pay property taxes. "Because de jure policies of segregation ensured that whites would more likely be owners and African Americans more likely to be renters, the tax code contributes to making African Americans and whites less equal, despite the code's purportedly nonracial provisions" (180).

Unbeknownst to my knowledge the St. Louis Gateway Arch was constructed in 1947 on land that was cleared for construction, with its inhabitants being black as they were forced into areas like Ferguson, Missouri. The land mass looks amazingly spacious from an areal view. Real estate developers look to capitalize economically on tax codes with these facts in mind. "Developers themselves also prefer tp use tax credits in low-income neighborhoods because land is cheaper, it is easier to market new apartments to renters in the immediate vicinity, and there is less political opposition to additional housing for minorities and lower-income families. These conditions ensure that tax credit projects will have a disparate impact on African Americans, reinforcing neighborhood segregation. An analysis of all tax credit units nation-wide, completed through 2005, found that about three-fourths were placed in neighborhoods where poverty rates were at least 20 percent" (190).

There are myriad situations and cities that I did not mention that fall under de jure segregation in the book. However, I am comfortable with the information offered in today's post. The final chapter is titled: Considering Fixes, where he makes great points on ways to combat this dark history of our nation. Go check this book out! You will not be disappointed with a bunch of eye opening information!


Thanks for checking me out!


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