The Color of Law

The Color of Law

A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Richard Rothstein

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 whether 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.” During this time, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, first with industry codes and then with the Fair Labor Standards Act, prohibited child labor and established minimum wages of about twelve dollars a week in the South, rising to twenty-five cents an hour in 1938. But to pass such economic legislation, Roosevelt needed the votes of southern congressmen and senators, who agreed to support economic reform only if it excluded industries in which African Americans predominated, like agriculture. The Stevenson brothers were each paid only fifty cents a day to work in white farmers’ fields.

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