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

Book Review

Rothstein, Richard. 2017. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Liveright Publishing.


In The Color of Law (2017), Richard Rothstein takes what once was a familiar narrative of racial segregation in America and turns it decisively on its head.

With bountiful evidence and rigorous detail, Rothstein rejects the prevailing view, upheld to this day by the Supreme Court, that individual decisions create a natural geography of de facto racial segregation in our cities, and argues instead that our government at all levels abetted and sponsored what is in fact de jure segregation. This is the heart of The Color of Law. According to Rothstein, the government has systematically violated the rights it created in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Bill of Rights for black Americans, and his book is essentially a treatise that methodically uncovers this narrative of history.

Each chapter of the book presents a careful yet forceful analysis of historical data, records, and events that uncover this de jure segregation across all facets of our cities. Rothstein demonstrates how public housing, zoning, insurance policies, taxation, labor unions, and police forces all developed and executed racially targeted policies and practices that created widespread discrimination and inequality at the hands of the government.