CROSSING TWO COLOR LINES:
INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE AND RESIDENTIAL
SEGREGATION IN CHICAGO
DOROTHY E. ROBERTS∗
In the opening of Brush Back, th e latest novel by best-selling author
Sara Paretsky, V.I. Warshawski returns to Rainbow Beach, in the Chicago
neighborhood where she grew up.1 There she sees a couple of women in
deep conversation—one, an African-American with a short Afro; the other,
a gray-haired white woman.2 “A mixed-race du o would have been
assaulted in my childhood,” she remarks.3 In fact, Rainbow Beach was the
site where a white man killed a black teenager in July 1919 for crossing
Chicago’s infamous “color line” by swimming into white-only waters,
touching off one of the most deadly race riots in the nation’s history.4 As
Warshawski’s comment suggests, residential segregation in Chicago was
violently enforced and tightly linked to an unwritten rule against interracial
This article explores the interplay of interracial marriage, residential
segregation, and racial inequality in Chicago in the decades building up to
the civil rights revolutio n of the 1960s. At the time, blacks in the South
lived under an oppressive Jim Crow regime of official racial separation,
including statutes that prohibited interracial marriage.5 Chicago had no
anti-miscegenation law, the Illinois ban having been repealed after the
Copyright © 2016, Dorothy E. Roberts.
* George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology, Raymond Pace and
Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, Professor of Africana Studies,
University of Pennsylvania. This article is based on the 37th Annual John E. Sullivan
Lecture at Capital University Law School. I presented earlier drafts at workshops at the
Columbia Critical Race Theory Workshop, Penn Law School, Russell Sage Foundation,
Tulane School of Law, UC-San Diego Department of Sociology, University of Cincinnati
Department of Sociology, and University of Florida Levin College of Law, and am grateful
to the participants for their comments. I also thank Sarah Adeyinka-Skold, Sonita Moss,
Dawn Androphy, Jordan King, and Samantha Ramin for excellent research assistance and
the American Council of Learned Societies for fellowship support.
1 SARA PARETSKY, BRUSH BACK 15 (2015).
2 Id. at 16.
4 Ken Armstrong, The 1919 Race Riots, CHI. TRIB., http://www.chicagotribune.com/
5 See infra note 27 and accompanying text.