Why do whites live where they live? Why do blacks live where they live? “In 1968, Larman Williams was one of the first African Americans to buy a home in the white suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. It wasn’t easy.” That’s the beginning of Richard Rothstein’s “The Making of Ferguson” in the fall issue of The American Prospect. As any St. Louisan will tell you, you can’t talk about what’s wrong with Ferguson without first understanding the region’s patchwork of municipal boundaries–holdovers from the Jim Crow era, Rothstein says. He emphasizes that current residential segregation is not just a result of choice or the private prejudices of white homeowners. It’s also, “the explicit intents of federal, state, and local governments to create racially segregated metropolises”–not only in St. Louis but throughout the country.

That government, not private prejudice, was responsible for segregating greater St. Louis was once widely recognized. In 1974, a federal appeals court concluded, “Segregated housing in the St. Louis metropolitan area was … in large measure the result of deliberate racial discrimination in the housing market by the real estate industry and by agencies of the federal, state, and local governments.” The Department of Justice stipulated to this truth but took no action in response. In 1980, a federal court ordered the state, county, and city governments to devise plans to integrate schools by integrating housing. Public officials ignored the order, devising only a voluntary busing plan to integrate schools, but not housing.

Read the rest, including the Jim Crow-era experiences of pioneering black homeowners, now at The American Prospect. Looking for even deeper analysis? Check out Rothstein’s paper at The Economic Policy Institute.