WOW discusses ‘Color of the Law’

By Rama K. Ramaswamy

The World of Wellesley (WOW) and the Wellesley Community Center (WCC) sponsored their third Annual Community Book Discussion on "The Color of the Law - A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America" by Richard Rothstein. Weeks prior to the community conversation, which was lead by Rothstein and special guest moderator Chuck Collins, WOW invited community organizers and neighborhood book groups to band together, read and support this book discussion.

“The goal was for organizations and book groups to discuss Rothsteins’ book in their own settings over a few months and weeks, and then gather for a community presentation and conversation with author Richard Rothstein at the Wellesley Community Center,” said Michelle Chalmers, president of WOW.

And that was just what the community did.

Attendees flooded in from local book groups, schools such as Wellesley Pubic and Dana Hall, and neighboring communities such as Needham, Newton and Natick. Overall, the Henderson Room at the WCC filled with over 120 people. Following an introduction by Collins, Rothstein spoke about his work and the research he'd done for the book, as well as some of the implications and multigenerational impact resulting from politically motivated, pro-segregation-based home-ownership discrimination.

Rothstein was a former columnist for the New York Times and a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, as well as a Fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He has spent years documenting the evidence that government "not merely ignored discriminatory practices in the residential sphere, but promoted them.”

According to Liveright Publishing, "to scholars and social critics, racism in our neighborhoods has long been viewed as a manifestation of unscrupulous real estate agents, unethical mortgage lenders, and exclusionary covenants working outside the law. This is what is commonly known as 'de facto segregated,’ practices that were the outcome of private, not legal or public policy, means. Yet, as Rothstein breaks down in case after case, until the last quarter of the twentieth century de facto paled in comparison to de jure (government-sponsored) segregation. The impact has been devastating for generations of African-Americans who were denied the right to live where they wanted to live, and raise and school their children where they thought best.”

Furthermore, according to Rothstein's publisher, "while the Fair Housing Act in 1968 provided modest enforcement to prevent future discrimination, it did nothing to reverse or undo a century’s worth of state-sanctioned violations of the Bill of Rights, particularly the Thirteenth Amendment which banned treating former slaves as second-class citizens. So the structural conditions established by 20th century federal policy endure to this day. At every step of the way, Rothstein demonstrates, the government and our courts upheld racist policies to maintain the separation of whites and blacks. Leading to the powder keg which has defined Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, and Chicago. ‘The Color of The Law’ is not a tale of Red versus Blue states. It is sadly the story of America in all of its municipalities, large and small, liberal and reactionary.”

The cover art for the book was "actually an old map commonly used,” said Rothstein, and the colors correspond to zoning by government housing authorities to keep neighborhoods segregated.

The discussion over Rothstein’s book and the American history he uncovered was "lively and eye-opening,” said one audience member at the WCC. Other attendees wondered whether Rothstein's book was part of the syllabus for high school classes, nationally.

“It should be mandatory reading,” one Wellesley resident said. Many attendees thanked World of Wellesley President, Michelle Chalmers for bringing the event to the local audience.

“The Color of The Law” is available at, Barnes & Noble, or from

To watch the video of the WOW-WCC book discussion, courtesy of Wellesley Media, visit

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