The Color of Law

The Color of Law

A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Richard Rothstein

One slum clearance tool was the construction of the federal interstate highway system. In many cases, state and local governments, with federal acquiescence, designed interstate highway routes to destroy urban African American communities. Highway planners did not hide their racial motivations.* The story of such highway planning begins in 1938, when the federal government first considered aid for interstate highways. Secretary of Agriculture (and subsequently Vice President) Henry Wallace proposed to President Roosevelt that highways routed through cities could also accomplish “the elimination of unsightly and unsanitary districts.” Over the next two decades, the linkage between highway construction and removal of American Americans was a frequent theme of those who stood to profit from a federal road-building program. They found that an effective way to argue a case for highway spending was to stress the capacity of road construction to make business districts and their environs white. Mayors and other urban political leaders joined in, seizing on highway construction as a way to overcome the constitutional prohibition on zoning African Americans away from white neighborhoods near downtowns.

Link · 1997