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

This book was a very difficult read. One of the major themes from the racial justice movement from last year and into this year was the history of not only racism, in general, but how that racism effected systemic inequality between whites and basically everyone else. But what are the origins of this inequality? How did it happen? Was it just random, per chance, because of our racist nature or were there larger forces at play? Rothstein makes his case by arguing that there is a distinction and difference between de facto (random) and de jure (government actions, policies, laws) segregation, and the differences between the two did not happen by accident. We created this system, we designed it, we sustained it, we caused it, and we perpetuate it by not having the will to change it on our own. The establishment of redlining and other factors of segregation in America were explicit, never hidden, systematic and, not so long ago, well known by anyone who paid attention to what was going on. It’s a devastating and troubling history, supported by pages and pages of facts and notes that are impossible to ignore. More than any other book of the past few years, this is necessary reading for anyone who is even remotely committed to achieving racial justice in this country.

Abstract and Summary Notes/Thoughts:

  • The Color of Law makes the argument that government actions to create a system of de jure segregation were explicit, never hidden, that they were systematic and, not so long ago, well known by anyone who paid attention.
  • Racially explicit policies of federal, state and local governments defined where whites and blacks should live until the last quarter of the 20th century.
  • This is emblematic of de jure segregation — segregation by law and policy, as opposed to de facto segregation.
  • De facto segregation is a myth that has now been adopted by conventional opinion, liberal and conservative alike.
  • Blacks were unconstitutionally denied the means and the right to integrate in middle class neighborhoods and because this denial was state sponsored the nation is obligated to remedy it.
  • We, as American citizens have a constitutional obligation to remedy the effects of government sponsored segregation, though not of private discrimination.
  • We have created a caste system in this country, with blacks kept exploited and geographically separate by racially explicit government policies. They have never been remedied and their effects endure.
  • We can judge yesterdays leaders by standards that were readily available to them in their own time.
  • Whether from cowardice, expediency, or moral failure, they ignored prominent contrary voices.
  • If we excuse past leaders for rejecting nondiscrimination standards that were held by some, we undermine our constitutional system.
  • When we become Americans, we accept not only citizenship’s privileges that we did not earn but also its responsibilities to correct wrongs that we did not commit.
  • Only blacks have been systematically and unconstitutionally segregated for such a long period, and with such thorough repression, that their condition requires an aggressive constitutional remedy.

NOTES

  • until the last quarter of the 20th century, racially explicit polices of federal, state and local governments defined where whites and blacks should live
  • unhidden public policy that explicitly segregated every metropolitan area in the US
  • effects endure to present time
  • de jure segregation: segregation by law and public policy
  • 1866 Civil Rights Act — but by 1883 court said it did not agree that exclusions from housing markets could be a badge or incident of slavery — civil rights protections were ignored for the next century
  • court in 1968 rejected 1883 decision — Jones v Mayer
  • Fair Housing Act a few months before — although the 1866 law had already determined that housing discrimination was unconstitutional, it gave the government no powers of enforcement
  • Fair Housing Act provided for modest enforcement
  • we lost sight of the fact that housing discrimination did not become unlawful in 1968, it had been so since 1866
  • I reject the widespread view that an action is not unconstitutional until the Supreme Court says so
  • it is up to the people, through our elected representatives, to enforce our Constitution by implementing the remedy
  • desegregation is constitutional as well as a moral obligation that we are required to fulfill
  • racial segregation in housing was a nationwide project of the federal government in the 20th century, designed and implemented by its most liberal leaders
  • de facto segregation is a myth has now been adopted by conventional opinion, liberal and conservative alike
  • by 1974–5–4 vote, majority court reasoned that because government policy in the suburbs had not segregated Detroit’s schools, the suburbs couldn’t be included in the remedy
  • they failed to note that the residential patterns within Detroit were caused by governmental activity
  • Justice Stewart and his colleagues chose to ignore it, denying that such evidence even existed
  • John Roberts 2007 — his opinion prohibited school districts in Louisville and Seattle from accounting for each students race as part of modest school integration plans
  • this book refutes the notion that wrongs committed by the state have little casual link to the residential segregation we see around us
  • blacks were unconstutitionally denied the means and the right to integrate in middle class neighborhoods and because this denial was state sponsored the nation is obligated to remedy it
  • constitutional obligation to remedy the effects of government sponsored segregation, though not of private discrimination
  • most segregation does fall into the category of open and explicitly government sponsored segregation
  • we — all of us — bear a collective responsibility to enforce our constitution and to rectify past violations whose effects endure
  • we — all of us — owe this to ourselves
  • we’re all in this together now
  • ghetto — shortage of opportunity with barriers to exit
  • we have created a caste system in this country, with blacks kept exploited in geographically separate by racially explicit government policies
  • they have never been remedied and their effects endure
  • blockbusting — panicking white families into listing their homes for sale
  • Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration refused to insure mortgages for blacks in designated white neighborhoods
  • would not ensure mortgages for whites in a neighborhood where blacks were present (Palo Alto)
  • state regulated insurance companies declared that their policy was not to issue mortgages to whites in integrated neighborhoods (1950’s California)
  • federal, state and local governments purposely created segregation in every metropolitan area of the nation
  • if it could happen in liberal SF, it could happen anywhere
  • government was imposing segregation where it hadn’t previously taken root
  • purposeful use of public housing by federal and local governments to herd blacks into urban ghettos had as big an influence as any in the creation of our de jure system of segregation
  • mid 20th — at that time public housing was mostly for working and lower middle class white families
  • federal government stopped funding high rise public housing in the 70's
  • public housing was not fully subsidized and tenants paid the full cost of operations with there rent
  • public housings original purpose was to give shelter not to those too poor to afford it by to those who could afford decent housing but couldn’t find it because none was available
  • government first developed housing for civilians during WWI, built residences for defense workers near naval shipyards and munitions plants
  • serious housing shortage
  • New Deal — created nations first public housing for civilians who were not engaged in defense work — race determined the program’s design
  • Public Work Administration — Harold Ickes — neighborhood composition rule — federal housing projects should reflect the previous racial composition of their neighborhoods
  • PWA segregated the projects even where there was no previous pattern of segregation
  • increased population density that turned the black neighborhoods into slums
  • PWA imposed segregation on integrated communities
  • 1937 — US Housing Authority — new racially homogenous communities
  • federal governments housing rules pushed cities into a more rigid segregation than otherwise would have existed
  • 1940 — Linham Act — finance housing for workers in defense industries
  • by wars end, Lanham Act had combined with PWA and USHA to create or solidify residential racial segregation in every metropolitan area they had touched
  • Boston — Mission Hill and Mission Hill Extension (white and black)
  • Cambridge 1935 — required segregation in housing projects
  • following the war, Detroit’s politicians mobilized white voters by stirring up fear of integration in public housing
  • late 1940’s — more blacks than white families remained dependent on public housing
  • vacant white units and waiting lists for black units increasingly characterized public housing nationwide
  • Truman — lack of civilian housing had reached a crisis
  • 1949 housing act — permitting local authorities to continue to design separate public housing projects for blacks and whites and to segregate within projects
  • blacks became more removed from mainstream society than ever, community life was impossible and access to jobs and social services, supervision of kids, semblance of community policing was impractical
  • massive segregated high rise projects were constructed nationwide
  • Eisenhower — formally abolished a policy which had never been enforced that blacks and whites receive public housing of equal quality
  • authorities continued to choose segregated sites for new developments but made efforts to segregate existing projects where integration might have been tolerated
  • 1984 — Dallas Morning News investigation — found that nations nearly 10M public housing tenants were almost always segregated by race and that every predominantly white occupied project had facilities that were superiors to what was found in black projects
  • 1960’s — shifted to opposing placement of what had become predominantly black projects
  • federal court decisions or settlements — HUD or local governments had created or perpetuated segregation
  • real estate lobby was successful in restricting public housing to subsidized projects for the poorest families only
  • integrated public housing would never be possible — warehousing system for the poor
  • government required public housing to be made available only to families who needed substantial subsidies, while the same government declined to provide sufficient subsidies to make public housing a decent place to live
  • condition and then the reputation of public housing collapsed
  • residential integration declined steadily from 1880 to the mid 20th and it has mostly stalled since then
  • Wilson — uncompromising believer in segregation and black inferiority — refused to consider blacks for princeton
  • one official responsible for implementing segregation was the asst. sec of the navy — roosevelt
  • early 20th century government policies to isolate white families in all white urban neighborhoods began at the local level
  • zoning rules decreeing separate living areas for blacks and whites
  • 1917 — court overturned the racial zoning ordinance of Louisville, Buchanan v Warley, “freedom of contract”
  • racial zoning ordinances interfered with the right of a property owner to sell to whomever he pleased
  • many border and southern cities ignored the decision
  • FHA developed amortized mortgage as a way to promote homeownership nationwide, zoning practices rendered blacks ineligible for such mortgages because banks and FHA considered the existence of nearby rooming housing, commercial development or industry to create risk to the property value of single family areas
  • fewer resources for upkeep — homes more likely to deteriorate, reinforcing their neighborhoods slum conditions
  • post 1917 decision, federal official continued to zone and segregate
  • Hoover (sec of commerce) organized a committee on zoning — why every municipality should develop9 a zoning ordinance — race was one basis of zoning advocacy
  • zoning was an effective means of racial exclusion
  • Hoover believed that zoning rules that made no open references to race would be legally sustainable and they were right
  • since a 1926 court ruling numerous white suburbs in towns have adopted exclusionary zoning ordinances to prevent low income families from residing in their midst
  • impossible to disentangle their motives and to prove that the zoning rules violated constitutional prohibitions of racial discrimination
  • 1977 court upheld a zoning ordinance in suburb of Chicago, prohibited multiunit development anywhere but adjacent to an outlying commercial area
  • ordinance ensured that few if any blacks could reside in residential areas
  • too many zoning decision the circumstantial evidence of racial motivation is persuasive
  • 1983 analysis by US General Accounting Office — across nation, commercial waste treatment facilities or uncontrolled waste dumps were more likely to be found near black than white communities
  • only a 1 in 10K chance that was random
  • neighborhoods proposed incinerators had minority population shares that were much higher than the shares in other communities
  • courts have refused to reject toxic siting decisions without proof of explicit stated intent to harm blacks because of their race
  • zoning had two faces — keep blacks out of white neighborhoods, protect white spots from deterioration by ensuring that few industrial or environmentally unsafe businesses could locate in them
  • polluting industry had no option but to locate near black communicties
  • creation of exclusive white suburbs, urban black slums
  • zoning could not keep out middle class blacks
  • govt embarked on a scheme to persuade as many white familes as possible to move from urban apartments to single family suburban homes
  • made it impossible for blacks to follow
  • Wilson admin was terrified by communism, believed it could be defeated in the US by getting as many white americans as possible to become homeowners
  • invetsted in the capitalist system — department of labor created Own Your Own Home campaign
  • each poster had an image of a white couple or family
  • govt’s insistence that blacks be excluded from single family suburbs became more explicit during the new deal
  • federal promotion of homeownership became inseparable from a policy of racial segregation
  • 1933- homeownership remained prohibitively expensive for working families
  • depression made housing crisis worse
  • 1933 — Home Owners Loan Corporation
  • for the first time, people could gradually gain equity while their properties were still mortgaged
  • created color coded maps of every metropolitan area in the US, red color for blacks
  • federal government on record as judging that blacks were poor risks
  • FederalHousing Administration in 1934 — whites only requirement, racial segregation now became an official requirement of federal mortgage insurance program
  • FHA discouraged banks from making any loans at all in urban neighbhorods rather than newly built suburbs
  • concerned with preventing school desegregation
  • no guarantees for mortgages to blacks, or to whites who might lease to blacks, regardless of the applicants creditworthiness
  • FHA had biggest impact on financing of entire subdivisions in many cases entire suburbs, racially exclusive white enclaves
  • mass production builders created entire suburbs with the FHA or VA imposed condition that these suburbs be all white
  • metropolitan areas nationwide were suburbanized by this government policy
  • Detroit builder constructed a half mile concrete wall six feet high and a foot thick separating two neighborhoods, FHA then approved the loan
  • 1973 — commission on civil rights concluded that he housing industry aided and abetted by the government, must bear the primary responsibility for the legacy of segregated housing … government and private industry came together to create a system of residential segregation
  • before FHA, many urban neighborhoods were already racially exclusive
  • pacts among neighbors that prohibited future resales to blacks
  • court ruled in 1948 that racial clauses in deeds and mutual agreements could not depend on the power of government to enforce them — FHA and other agencies elated and subverted the ruling
  • deed clauses were part of restrictive covenants
  • one commonplace commitment in this long list was a promise never to sell or rent to a black
  • racial covenants took the form of a contract among all owners in a neighborhood
  • community association — membership in it a condition of purchase — whites only
  • throughout the nation, cours ordered blacks evicted from homes they had purchased
  • judges endorsed the view that restrictive covenants did not violate the const. because they were private agreements
  • 1926 — court upheld exclusionary zoning also upheld restrictive covenants, private contracts, not state action
  • 1948 court acknowledged that enforcement by state courts was unconstitutional — Shelley
  • Shelley V Kramer — banned use of federal courts to enforce covenants in federal territory like DC (companion case)
  • government attempted to undermine decisions
  • Marshall pointed out in a memo toTruman that allowing local real estate markets to trump const rights was no different from racial zoning ordinances found unconstitutional. twenty years earlier
  • 1962 — JFK issued an executive order prohibiting use of federal funds to support racial discrimination in housing, only then did the FHA cease financing subdivision developments whose builders openly refused to sell to black buyers
  • 1953 — sort ruled that 14th preclude stater courts not only from evicting blacks from homes purchased in defiance of a restrictive covenant but also from adjudicating suits to recover damages from property owners who made such sales
  • refused to declares that such private contracts were unlawful
  • another 19 years before a federal appeals court ruled that covenants violated the Fair Housing Act, violated 14th
  • three justices recused themselves from the Shelley deicsi9on because their were racial restrictions on the homes where they lived
  • FHA’s never provided or obtained evidence to support its claim that integration undermined property values
  • often racial segregation caused property values to increase
  • wiling to pay prices far above market values
  • since they were wiling to pay higher prices the property values went up when they lived there
  • FHA’s theories were self fulfilling — speculators and agents to collude in blockbusting
  • speculators bought properties, purchased the panicked whites homes for less than their worth
  • contract sales — if a single monthly payment was late, the speculator could evict the would be owners, who had accumulated no equity
  • this created the conditions for neighborhood deterioration
  • blockbusting could only work because FHA made certain that blacks had few alternative neighborhoods where they could purchase homes at fair market values
  • IRS was willing to grant tax emempt status to churches, hospitals — promoted residential segregation
  • complicity of regulatory agencies in the discriminatory actions of the insurance companies and banks they supervised
  • because of slavery’s legal, const. gives blacks a special degree of protection — 13th — 15th amendments were intended to secure that blacks had equal status
  • when government regulations is so intrusive that is blesses systematic racial exclusion, regulators violate their const. responsibilities and contribute to de jure segregation
  • IRS has always had an obligation to withhold tax favoritism from discriminatory organizations but it almost never acted to do so
  • 1983 decision, court upheld the IRS decision and concluded that an institution seeking tax exempt status must serve a public purpose and not be contrary top established public policy
  • insurance companies also participated in segregation
  • state policy makers are frequently involved in plans for any housing projects that insurers propose
  • banks and savings institutions pursued discriminatory policies
  • banks and thrifts were able to refuse service to blacks only because until recently federal and state regulators chose to allow it
  • reverse redlining — excess e marketing of exploitative loans in african american communities
  • important cause of the 2008 collapse — subprime mortgages were bound to go into default
  • federally regulated banks and other lenders created many subprime loans with onerous conditions that were designed to make repayment difficult
  • borrowers were victims of a market that was not transparent — in some cases deliberately not so
  • by failing to curb discrimination that its own data disclosed, Fed violated blacks legal and const rights
  • consequences of racially targeted subprime lending continue to accumulate
  • as the housing bubble collapsed, blacks homeownership rates fell much more than white rates
  • regulators shared responsibility for reverse redlining of black communities
  • national system by which state and local government supplemented federal efforts to maintain the status of blacks as lower caste, with housing segregation preserving the badges and incidents of slavery
  • condemnations of property and manipulation of zoning designations to prevent blacks from building occurred almost routinely in 50’s and 60s
  • public officials also shifted black populations away from downtown business districts so that white commuters shoppers and business elites would not be exposed to black people
  • slum clearance — reinforced spatial segregation of blacks as well as their impoverishment
  • led to further segregation
  • federal interstate high way system
  • urban renewal means Negro removal
  • highway construction as a way to overcome the const. prohibition on zoning blacks away from white neighborhoods near downtown
  • Alfred Johnson — director of american association of state highway officials in the 60;s “get rid of the local niggertown”
  • highways buttressed segregation in cities across the country
  • program did not impose even a nominal obligation on federal or state governments to assist those whose residences were being demolished
  • placing the only schools that served blacks children in designated black neighborhoods and providing no transportation for black students who lived elsewhere
  • law enforcement officers conspired to violate civil rights — conspiracy of government authorities contributed to de jure segregation of the communities for whose welfare they were responsible
  • police tolerated and promotion of cross burnings, vandalism, arson, and other violent acts to maintain residential segregation was systematic and nationwide
  • blacks who were victimized by such mob action often ad higher occupational and social status than white neighbors who assaulted them
  • frequent attacks on blacks attempting to leave predominantly black areas continued into the 80's
  • during the mid century, local police and FBI went to lengths to disrupt and infiltrate liberal and left wing political groups as well as organized crime syndicates — didn’t help blacks though
  • state sponsored violence was a means along with man others by which all levels of government maintained segregation in louisville and elsewhere
  • cannot understand income and wealth gap that persists without examining governmental policies that purposely kept black incomes low throughout the century
  • economic differences became self perpetuating
  • federal and state labor market policies with undisguised racial intent, depressed black wages
  • neighborhood segregation itself imposed higher expenses on blacks than on white families, smaller disposable incomes and fewer savings
  • when blacks who left the south entered a northern labor market, federal state and local governments collaborated with private employers to ensure that they were paid less and treated worse
  • new deal — SS, minimum wage protection and recognition of labor unions all excluded from coverage occupations in which blacks predominantly worked — agriculture and domestic service
  • 1935, roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations act — government protected the bargaining rights of unions that denied blacks the privileges of membership or that segregated them into janitorial and other lower paid jobs
  • government participation in blocking blacks wage earning opportunities had its most devastating effect during WWII
  • federal agencies continued to recognize segregated unions within the government itself until 1962
  • executive order prohibiting racial discrimination by unions and management in government controlled war industries (roosevelt) — while some firms complied, the policy was toothless
  • GI Bill — 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 blacks who were qualified to acquire greater skills
  • at the end of the war, dishonorable discharged were issued to blacks at nearly twice the rate as white soldiers
  • even today blacks continue to have lesser rights in NLRB certified unions
  • discriminatory property assessments left them with less disposable income than whites with similar earnings
  • an assessor can undermine tax fairness busing different percentages of market value in different communities
  • city and county governments extracted excessive taxes from blacks
  • overassessing properties in black neighborhoods and under assessing them in white ones
  • 1962 assessment practices in Boston, Roxbury were 68 percent of marketing values while West Roxubyr was 41 percent
  • researchers could not find a nonracial explanation for the difference
  • higher property taxes — deterioration of neigbhorjoods
  • direct consequence of county assessors contempt for 14th amendment responsibilities — de jure
  • residence in a community where economic disadvanatge is concentrated itself despresses disposable income, which makes departure more difficult
  • higher rents and home prices in black neighbhorods than for similar accommodations in predominantly white ones
  • higher commuting costs from segregated neighborhoods to jobs that were now found in the suburbs
  • racial policy in which govt was involved created income disparities that ensure residential segregation to this day
  • Fair Housing Act that prohibited private discrimination in housing and rental sales
  • public policies of yesterday still shape the racial landscape of today
  • schools are more segregated today than they were 40 years ago
  • because neighborhoods in which schools are located are so segregated
  • were housing segregation not pervasive, school desegregation would have been more successful
  • residential segregation is hard to undo — depressed incomes, wealth differences between races, unaffordable homes, tax codes, no corresponding tax benefit for renters, programs have reinforced residential segregation
  • WWII util about 1972, blacks experienced biggest growth toward the end of that period
  • 1973 to present, real wages of working and middle class americans of all races and ethnicities have been mostly stagnant
  • single family home prices began to soar
  • de unionization, decline in real minimum wage adjusted for inflation, industrial jobs were frequently unionized and service jobs were not
  • window of opportunity for a integrated nation has mostly closed
  • more black families remain renters, no equity
  • Fair Housing Act — prohibited discrimination but kept blacks out of mostly white suburbs was unaffordability
  • US has less mobility than many other industrialized nations
  • blacks have even less mobility
  • median white household wealth is 134K, to black at 11K
  • equity that families have in their homes is the main source of wealth for middle class blacks
  • intergenerational wealth mobility is even less than intergenerational income mobility
  • blacks are also less mobile in wealth than whites
  • low income blacks are more likely to be stuck for multiple generations in poor neighborhoods
  • few adult role models, violence, less summer job opportunities, libraries and bookstores are less accesilbe, fewer docs, fresh food, pollutants, special attention for kids in class, unemployment, overcrowded, less adequate health care
  • discriminatory national transportation system
  • invested little in buses, subways, light rail, invested in highways rather than subways, disparate impact on blacks
  • programs such as Low Income Housing Tax Credit and Section 8 deepen segregation — subsidizes rental payments
  • racial polarization stemming from our separateness has corrupted our policies, permitting leaders who ignore the interests of white working class voters to mobilize them with racial appeals
  • segregation can give whites an unrealistic belief in their own superiority
  • segregation perpetuates itself, and its continued existence makes it even harder to reverse
  • need full employment policy, minimum wages, transportation infrastructure
  • young people need to be taught an accurate account of how we came to this
  • nothing unwritten about governments policy to segregate in the north
  • textbook after textbook adopts the same methodology, false history
  • public needs to be disabused of the de facto myth
  • americans are unaware of de jure segregation history
  • federal subsides for middle class blacks to purchase homes in the suburbs
  • exclusionary zoning needs to be banned , amend the tax code to deny the mortgage interest deduction to property owners in suburbs that do not have or are not aware or not taking aggressive steps to attract their fair share of low and moderate income housing
  • inclusionary zoning — fair share requirements based on income, not on race
  • measurably higher achievement of low income black kids who live and attend schools in the country’s wealthiest suburbs
  • John BOger, UNC professor Fair Share Act idea, ensure that each of its suburban or municipal jurisdictions houses a rep share of black as well as low and moderate income population in its metropolitan region
  • would give citizens a powerful economic incentive if there was a threat of a penalty
  • Section 8 voucher program is not an entitlement — many more eligible families don’t receive vouchers than do
  • housing subsidy that the federal government gives to middle class (mostly white) homeowners is an entitlement
  • all too often gentrification that follows does not include strict enforcement of inclusionary zoning principles
  • where segregation is the product of state action, it has const. implications and requires a remedy
  • we can judge yesterdays leaders by standards that were readily available to them in their own time
  • whether from cowardice, expediency, or moral failure, they ignored prominent contrary voices
  • if we excuse past leaders for rejecting nondiscrimination standards that were held by some, we undermine our constitutional system
  • when we become americans, we accept not only citizenship’s privileges that we did not earn but also its responsibilities to correct wrongs that we did not commit
  • the idea that blacks themselves don’t want to integrate is mostly white conceit
  • Kennedy’s election, perhaps more than Obama’s, shattered the white protestant elite’s near monopoly hold on political power
  • young blacks men are less likely to use or sell drugs than young white men, but hey are more likely to be arrested for drug use or sale
  • single parenthood as a reason to resist integration is an afterthought, a rationalization for inaction
  • shortage of marriage partners for young adult black women
  • middle class whites aren’t perfect caregivers either, but for their children to succeed, the mothers only have to be half as good
  • only blacks have been systematically and unconstitutionally segregated for such a long period, and with such thorough repression, that their condition requires an aggressive constitutional remedy
  • inclusionary zoning should also be required of presently exclusionary suburbs
  • remedies is the term to reparations because they also include policies that do not involve payments
  • The Color of Law makes the argument that government actions to create a system of de jure segregation were explicit, never hidden, that they were systematic and, not so long ago, well known by anyone who paid attention