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Below are excerpts from a review-essay in the New York Review of Books about a very disturbing new book called The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein (Liveright, 345 pp., $27.95). The article by Jason DeParle is behind a paywall. I have highlighted some key sentences.
coloroflaw
‘In The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein writes: “Residential segregation was created by state action,” he writes, not merely by amorphous “societal” influences. While private discrimination also deserves some share of the blame, Rothstein shows that “racially explicit policies of federal, state, and local governments…segregated every metropolitan area in the United States.”
‘…Government agencies used public housing to clear mixed neighborhoods and create segregated ones. Governments built highways as buffers to keep the races apart. They used federal mortgage insurance to usher in an era of suburbanization on the condition that developers keep blacks out...
‘The demand for segregation was made plain in workaday documents like the Federal Housing Administration’s Underwriting Manual, which specified that loans should be made in neighborhoods that “continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes” but not in those vulnerable to the influx of “inharmonious racial groups.” A New Deal agency, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, drew color-coded maps with neighborhoods occupied by whites shaded green and approved for loans and black areas marked red and denied credit—the original “redlining.”
‘…The FHA financed Levittown, the emblem of postwar suburbanization, on the condition that none of its 17,500 homes be sold to blacks. The policies on black and white were spelled out in black and white.
‘…De jure segregation is long gone from the books, but its significance is more than historical. The conditions it created endure. American cities remain highly segregated. Schools are highly unequal. Huge gaps in wealth persist between blacks and whites, largely driven by differences in home equity.
‘Among the government’s tools for imposing segregation, few were as powerful as public housing, which both reinforced color lines and drew them where they hadn’t existed. Public housing typically conjures high-rise black ghettos. But it started during the Depression mostly to help working-class whites. The first agency to build public housing was the Public Works Administration, which was launched in 1933…
‘Starting during the New Deal and accelerating in the postwar years, the government transformed American life with a campaign to promote homeownership and suburbanization. But the sale of the American Dream explicitly excluded blacks.
The FHA didn’t segregate America just one loan at a time. By underwriting mass developments, Rothstein writes, it created “entire subdivisions, in many cases entire suburbs, as racially exclusive white suburbs.” None was more celebrated than Levittown, an ingenious solution to the postwar housing shortage—thousands of affordable, mass-produced homes offered to veterans with no down payment. But only the government’s promise to insure the mortgages allowed William Levitt to secure the construction loans. “We are 100 percent dependent on Government,” he said. Among the FHA’s conditions, in Levittown and other mass projects, was that no homes be sold to blacks …
‘Blacks have about 60 percent of the family income of whites, but less than 10 percent of the wealth—a huge gap and one that impedes advancement. Nest eggs finance education; they tame emergencies…
‘The Color of Law ends at the Nixon administration. A lot has changed since then. The growth of the black middle class and better (if not great) fair housing enforcement has reduced segregation, although it remains high. A standard segregation measure, the “dissimilarity index,” peaked in 1970 at 79 (meaning that 79 percent of blacks in a typical metro area would need to move to achieve an even distribution). By 2010 the figure had fallen to 59. Cities are divided in new ethnic and economic ways. Latinos outnumber blacks, and segregation by income has soared—largely from rich families flocking to rich neighborhoods. The changing landscape affects access to opportunity in ways still not fully understood.’