The Color of Law

A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
Narrated by: Adam Grupper
Length: 9 hrs and 32 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.8 out of 5 stars (2,389 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 of Law incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation - the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments - that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day. 

Through extraordinary revelations and extensive research that Ta-Nehisi Coates has lauded as "brilliant" (The Atlantic), Rothstein comes to chronicle nothing less than an untold story that begins in the 1920s, showing how this process of de jure segregation began with explicit racial zoning, as millions of African Americans moved in a great historical migration from the south to the north. 

As Jane Jacobs established in her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it was the deeply flawed urban planning of the 1950s that created many of the impoverished neighborhoods we know. Now, Rothstein expands our understanding of this history, showing how government policies led to the creation of officially segregated public housing and the demolition of previously integrated neighborhoods. While urban areas rapidly deteriorated, the great American suburbanization of the post-World War II years was spurred on by federal subsidies for builders on the condition that no homes be sold to African Americans. Finally, Rothstein shows how police and prosecutors brutally upheld these standards by supporting violent resistance to Black families in White neighborhoods. 

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited future discrimination but did nothing to reverse residential patterns that had become deeply embedded. Yet recent outbursts of violence in cities like Baltimore, Ferguson, and Minneapolis show us precisely how the legacy of these earlier eras contributes to persistent racial unrest. Rothstein's invaluable examination shows that only by relearning this history can we finally pave the way for the nation to remedy its unconstitutional past. 

©2017 Richard Rothstein (P)2017 Recorded Books

Critic Reviews

"With confidence and clarity, narrator Adam Grupper describes discriminatory laws governing the actions of the Federal Housing Administration, Department of Education, Department of Veterans Affairs, and other government agencies that have shaped African-Americans' ability to gain wealth, health, education, and voting power, not merely in the past but in the present day.... The Color of Law is compelling and convincing - and maybe even essential." (AudioFile)  

What listeners say about The Color of Law

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    4 out of 5 stars

Better suited to print than audio

This book relates the essential, and depressing, history of legal segregation in the US. However the book is structured predominantly of lists with scant connective tissue in between. If you listen to it, you come away with many examples of how the law was used to promote racial segregation. But you don’t get an integrated picture of why this happened or how the legal pieces fit together. If you were reading it in print format, you would skim some of the examples and tarry over the connective segments. I recommend doing this, because the story is one Americans need to know.

116 people found this helpful

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An essential read

Puts the visible, yet seemingly mysterious effects of a long history of segregation into context and perspective. A must read for anyone who's ever wondered why we are so siloed, or why "those people" are the way that they - over there.

24 people found this helpful

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A must read!!

One of the most riveting books I’ve ever read, it was impossible to stop listening. There were moments that brought me nearly to tears and I finished with so many questions on my mind. This should be required reading in order to dispel the myth of de facto segregation.

23 people found this helpful

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These truths are hard on the soul, but are a must.

We live in a society which practices blindness. So many have been bludgeoned for the freedom of the majority but have yet to enjoy the freedom that our Constitution proclaims. We cannot be free or whole until we face out story and havoc it has wreaked upon African Americans.

65 people found this helpful

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Amazing book

This book offers an vivid description of a very real problem in the United States. I rn highly recommend it!

15 people found this helpful

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absolute must read

The only thing more shocking than the information is the fact that this information isn't common knowledge.

11 people found this helpful

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Excellent telling of untold history

Well written, factual discussion and history of the various urban housing and development laws which have directly augmented racial segregation in America. This must be taught and explained to people, especially the youth, in order to continue our march toward racial harmony in this nation.

11 people found this helpful

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A Must Read

Crystallizes American history and law in a riveting narrative. Well researched and explained. Concepts are crucial to moving our country forward.

7 people found this helpful

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Great education of issues not taught in school

Great book covering a topic whitewashed from history. We must preserve history to learn from it, and stop being offended by it. When offensiveness changes history we all lose the facts that support the underlying lessons needed to avoid repeating the same mistakes. While I disagree with some aspects of the book, I highly recommend. As one who works in the affordable housing industry, I found this book fascinating and motivating.

13 people found this helpful

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It is clear that poverty is not an accident.

I hope that a number of educators will read this book and stop perpetuating myth that low-income African-American Children and Families are somehow incapable of overcoming the poverty and blighted conditions that they were born into. With the correct information, attitude and out look hope is possible, progress can only be made on facts not fiction.

31 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-06-20

Worthy reading and tale of caution.

History is well researched and made me quite angry at times for the blatant racism made by the US Government and it impacts today. I do also see it as a warning for all about the abuse of government power and why it should be limited. If it can do this to one select group i.e.African Americans, it can do it to all. If the government had not interfered with housing at all, I doubt African Americans would be in anywhere near the same level of poverty. Also some of the 'fixes' proposed will backfire such as minimum wages (which were created to stop African Americans from getting a job in the first place) which will make it even harder for them to get jobs as some of them will not be able to work at the required level. I would say the Government has done enough, it has to be fixed privately by American citizens and allow Blacks to gather the wealth required to get out. Any Government assistance which involves money to help will only create more injustice that will never be fixed. Anybody who wants to learn American History should add this to their reading list.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-16-20

Must have read

Must have read when it comes to segregation in the USA. Although I’m in the other side of the political spectrum as the author, I must agree this is a well done research. Rothstein knows how to write and tell a story.