The Color of Law

The Color of Law

A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Richard Rothstein

One of the most commonly used American history textbooks is The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century. A thousand-page volume, published by Holt McDougal, a division of the publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it lists several well-respected professors as authors and editors. The 2012 edition has this to say about residential segregation in the North: “African Americans found themselves forced into segregated neighborhoods.” That’s it. One passive voice sentence. No suggestion of who might have done the forcing or how it was implemented. The Americans also contains this paragraph: “A number of New Deal programs concerned housing and home mortgage problems. The Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) provided government loans to homeowners who faced foreclosure because they couldn’t meet their loan payments. In addition, the 1934 National Housing Act created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). This agency continues to furnish loans for home mortgages and repairs today.” The authors do not mention that an enduring legacy of the HOLC was to color-code every urban neighborhood by race so that African Americans would have great difficulty getting mortgages. That the FHA suburbanized the entire nation on a whites-only basis is overlooked. The textbook does acknowledge that “a number of” New Deal agencies—the truth is that it was virtually all—paid lower wages to African Americans than to whites but fails to refer to the residential segregation imposed by the government’s public housing projects.

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