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Color of Law: Author/historian discusses how the government segregated America

MIKE McGEE | 12/1/2018, 1:25 p.m.
The Civil Rights Movement helped slowly dismantle legal segregation over the years, from restaurants to public transportation, proclaimed Richard Rothstein, ...
Demetria McCain listens during a community forum she presented, as author Richard Rothstein discusses the negative causes and effects of the U.S. government's decades-long redlining practice, Nov. 1. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

The Civil Rights Movement helped slowly dismantle legal segregation over the years, from restaurants to public transportation, proclaimed Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, during a community conversation at the West Dallas Multipurpose Center, Nov. 1.

He maintained, though, that what the movement failed to do was desegregate neighborhoods, even while federal housing laws changed to allow for more home ownership opportunities.

Hosted by Demetria McCain, president of Inclusive Communities Project, the free event was an examination of history and the remaining impact of redlining that began largely with the government’s 1933 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, which for years divided cities around the nation, including Dallas and Fort Worth.

Rothstein, a distinguished fellow of the Economic Policy Institute and a senior fellow emeritus at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, has written numerous books on education and social reform.

In his latest work, the 79-year-old author and historian turned his eye to the roots of unequal housing and proved to the near standing room-only audience to be well-versed in state and federal rulings involving race in housing and the cumulative effect those decisions have had.

“We no longer have segregated lunch counters or water fountains, but every metropolitan area that I’ve ever lived in … had clearly defined areas that were White or almost all White, and clearly defined areas that were Black or almost all Black. How is it that this great Civil Rights Movement left untouched the biggest segregation of all?” he wondered.

“In one sense, it’s not really hard to understand. It’s harder, much harder, to desegregate neighborhoods than it is to desegregate lunch counters. You desegregate a lunch counter, the next day you can sit anywhere you want at a lunch counter. We desegregate neighborhoods, the next day things don’t look much different.”

An oversimplified answer to the cause of separate neighborhoods is money. Wealth accumulation by White families – before and after desegregation – has outpaced that of Black families, Rothstein argued, making it more difficult for Black Americans to simply live wherever they wanted.

Yet to come to that conclusion, the speaker took a deeper dive into the racist past of the nation. The most common and effective form of segregation of the races involved home financing. Redlining was the practice banks and other lenders used in deciding where home loans would be distributed. On a map, banks would pinpoint the White neighborhoods and the Black neighborhoods. Between the two, a red line was often drawn.

For those African Americans seeking to purchase homes in White or other housing developments on the opposite side of the red line, loans were either brimming with exceptions and excessive requirements or were denied outright.

Even when the practice effectively became illegal with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the phenomenon continued unofficially. The results of redlining can still be felt across the city and the U.S. to this day, McCain remarked.