Last week at In The Past Lane, the history podcast, we focused in the Pilgrims in the early 1600s. This week, we jump ahead 4 centuries to the mid 20th century to look at the history behind the unending problem of racial segregation in American society.
I’ll speak with scholar Richard Rothstein about his book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. As you’ll hear, he lays out in meticulously researched detail, some uncomfortable truths about the history of racial segregation: First, that it was everywhere in 20th century America not just in the Jim Crow South. Second, and here’s the key, most of it was due not to poverty nor the personal preferences of individuals to live with people of their own race. Rather, the single-most important factor driving racial segregation in 20th century America was the federal government. That’s right. It’s largely driven by explicit government policy that mandated the separation of people by race. And third, these pro-segregation policies – perhaps more than anything else – have perpetuated African American poverty and increased the wealth gap between white and black Americans.
It’s not a pretty story, people. But it’s one we need to know if we truly believe in the idea of forming a more perfect union.
Among the many things discussed in this episode:
How government-mandated residential segregation worsened and perpetuated African American poverty and the wealth gap between white and black households.
How the rules of FHA loans promoted residential segregation and excluded African Americans from the American Dream
Why white Americans embrace the myth that residential segregation is the product of personal choices and not explicit government policy.
How federal public housing projects promoted racial segregation in 20th century America.
The role of restrictive covenants barring African Americans from home ownership and the rise of suburban developments like Levittown.
How large non-profit organizations like universities, hospitals, and churches enjoyed tax-exempt status from the IRS while promoting racial segregation.
More about Richard Rothstein – website
Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (Liveright, 2017).
Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul (2016)
Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (1984).
Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (2005)
Beryl Satter, Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America (2009).
Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (1996).
Race: The Power of An Illusion (PBS) – in particular, Episode 3, “The House We Live In”
Music for This Episode
Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (JayGMusic.com)
Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)
PCIII, “Cavalcades” (Free Music Archive)
Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)
The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)
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