106 Iowa L. Rev. 2125 (2021)
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Historian Manning Marable posited that “[t]he most striking fact about American economic history and politics is the brutal and systemic underdevelopment of Black people.”1 According to this theory, Black people “have never been equal partners in the American Social Contract, because [our] system exists not to develop, but to underdevelop Black people.”2 To affect this underdevelopment, racism is embedded into the core of power, the economy, culture, and society. The result is that Black people have been intentionally sacrificed to feed America’s growth and expansion.

Our transportation system has always been a driver of racial inequality. Using Marable’s theory of underdevelopment, this Essay explores the ways transportation policy and infrastructure development have fed inequality and helped make many Black communities inhospitable for health, success, and economic opportunity. The nation’s transportation infrastructure was built at the expense of Black communities and has contributed to and sustained the underdevelopment of Black America, often making it difficult for Black people to take advantage of society’s opportunities. The benefits and burdens of our transportation system—highways, roads, bridges, sidewalks, and public transit—have been planned, developed, and sustained to pull resources from Black communities that are subsequently deployed and invested to the benefit of predominantly white communities and their residents.

Drawing on the legal scholarship calling for a Third Reconstruction, this Essay argues that to break the link between transportation policy and the underdevelopment of Black communities, advocates must more robustly deploy civil rights laws to challenge the dispossession of land, lack of opportunity and investment, and the accumulation of harms in Black communities. To do so, advocates must re-envision civil rights laws as tools for community equity and economic justice, rather than solely as shields against individualized harms. We must also grapple with how civil rights laws can more effectively address the intersectional harms that transportation policy causes.

Thursday, July 15, 2021