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Seton Hall University

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Government Segregated America  

Picture of Color of Law book coverSeton Hall Law School in partnership with Monarch Housing Associates, the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General will present Professor Richard Rothstein, author of the acclaimed new book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Government Segregated America, on Wednesday, May 16th, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in the Larson Auditorium, Seton Hall Law School.

After a presentation of the research underlying The Color of Law by Professor Rothstein, Paula Franzese, the Peter W. Rodino Professor of Law at Seton Hall, will moderate a panel discussion with he and a number of leading housing advocates.

Professor Franzese, whose scholarship on tenants' rights has fueled a number of recent changes and pending legislation on both a state and federal level, said "I am honored to moderate this panel and to help bring to light the startling facts about housing segregation in America that Richard Rothstein has so skillfully uncovered and presented. It is only when we understand the extent to which actual laws and policies ordained housing discrimination and exclusion that we become more fully equipped to remediate the legacy of that injustice."

Picture of Richard RothsteinRothstein is a former columnist for The New York Times and is a Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Policy Institute and a Senior Fellow, emeritus, at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and of the Haas Institute at the University of California (Berkeley). His most recent book, The Color of Law, was one of ten finalists on the National Book Awards' list for the best nonfiction book of 2017.

In a recent interview with NPR's "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross, Rothstein details some of the ways in which housing segregation was codified in America, noting, by way of example that "the Federal Housing Administration, which was established in 1934, furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods — a policy known as "redlining." At the same time, the FHA was subsidizing builders who were mass-producing entire subdivisions for whites — with the requirement that none of the homes be sold to African-Americans."

In addition to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), redlining was practiced by the Home Owners Loan Corp. and adopted by the Veterans Administration. Thus, the practice of refusing mortgage guarantees to African-Americans coupled with the practice of excluding them from white developments that were guaranteed, effectively precluded blacks from meaningful participation in one of the largest expansions of home ownership in American history.

The impact of that loss of equity?

Rothstein explains:

Today African-American incomes on average are about 60 percent of average white incomes. But African-American wealth is about 5 percent of white wealth. Most middle-class families in this country gain their wealth from the equity they have in their homes. So this enormous difference between a 60 percent income ratio and a 5 percent wealth ratio is almost entirely attributable to federal housing policy implemented through the 20th century.

African-American families that were prohibited from buying homes in the suburbs in the 1940s and '50s and even into the '60s, by the Federal Housing Administration, gained none of the equity appreciation that whites gained. So ... the Daly City development south of San Francisco or Levittown or any of the others in between across the country, those homes in the late 1940s and 1950s sold for about twice national median income. They were affordable to working-class families with an FHA or VA mortgage. African-Americans were equally able to afford those homes as whites but were prohibited from buying them. Today those homes sell for $300,000 [or] $400,000 at the minimum, six, eight times national median income....

So in 1968 we passed the Fair Housing Act that said, in effect, "OK, African-Americans, you're now free to buy homes in Daly City or Levittown" ... but it's an empty promise because those homes are no longer affordable to the families that could've afforded them when whites were buying into those suburbs and gaining the equity and the wealth that followed from that.

Registration is free but seats are limited. The online link to register is:

Additional details can be found at:

Categories: Nation and World

For more information, please contact:

  • Michael Ricciardelli
  • (973) 378-9845
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