The Johnson County Museum’s year-long run of REDLINED: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation comes to an end on January 7, 2023. Although Museum staff spent 18 months researching what would become a 22,000-word exhibit, we still found ourselves learning something new with practically every group tour, REDLINED program, and countless redlining-related news stories published this past year. As we prepare to close the exhibit, we wanted to share six of the things we learned since REDLINED opened.
1. Redlining Impacted Farm Loans
We frequently were asked the question: what about rural and farm loans? Although the federal government and private banks made redlining maps representing urban centers and suburban developments, it might not be surprising that the federal government’s agricultural loan programs in the 20th century denied investment to Black farmers. In 1920, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recorded that 14% of all farmers in the U.S. were Black (925,708). During the New Deal, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) reduced the amount of land used for producing crops to help drive up prices. But since 40 percent of Black workers were sharecroppers or tenant farmers, more than 100,000 Black farmers were driven off their land in 1933 and 1934 alone. Legislation throughout the 20th century continued this trend, and today just 1.4% of all farmers are Black. The loss of Black-farmed land is equal to 16 million acres over the last century. The topic of funding for Black farmers has been in the news recently around alleged discrimination in COVID-19 agriculture funding.
2. Native Americans were Redlined, Too
In REDLINED, there are physical examples of racially restrictive covenants prohibiting Black homeownership and reports how the legacies of redlining continue to impact African Americans, Latinos, and other communities of color. This includes Native Americans. Redlining practices denied Indigenous people access to home loans and other sources of funding for decades, too, and the inability to access banking continues to impact Indigenous communities today. For example, a 2017 Native Nations report found that the average distance to a bank from the center of a reservation is three times the national average of four miles. Lack of access to banks and mortgage products has resulted in a rate of Native homeownership that is 22.5% lower than the national average (50.8% for Indigenous populations, 73.3% for white non-Hispanic Americans) in 2019.
3. Just How Much was Invested in the Suburbs
One researcher estimated that the federal government extended mortgage insurance for over $129 billion in 1950s money for home purchases — or more than $1.239 quintillion in 2019 dollars. This unfathomable number accounts for just the initial injection of money into suburban communities through buying and building homes. It does not, however, account for any of the subsequent investment that occurred in those new communities for things like schools, highways, and other infrastructure. The FHA backed approximately 11 million home loans nationally between 1934 and 1972. By 1970, less than 2.5% had gone to homebuyers of color. Of the 77,000 FHA-backed loans issued to the Kansas City area in between 1934 and 1962, less than 1% (less than 770 loans) went to Black homebuyers.
For more on the FHA’s investment meant for Johnson County, check the out “The FHA and Suburbia” blog we published earlier this year.
4. Factoring Life Expectancy
One of the Museum’s REDLINED-related public programs was a panel discussion about how the environment around us can impact our health. During the program, Dr. Alex Francisco with the Kansas City Missouri Health Department shared data from Health Explorer, a new online dashboard that dives into the factors that make up a person’s life expectancy. While half of a person’s life expectancy is determined by genetics, behaviors and risk factors make up the other half. Analyzing health data at the census tract level, the KCMO Health Department’s Health Explorer reveals health disparities are clearly geographic in nature. The areas of the city most impacted by risk factors generally align with areas previously redlined. In REDLINED, we compare a life expectancy map from 2019 to redlining maps. These maps show that a person born into a previously redlined neighborhood on the city’s East Side would have 16 years less life expectancy than a person born in a previously greenlined neighborhood along Ward Parkway. Using census tract data, Dr. Francisco discovered a life expectancy difference of 18 years in one area of town by crossing a single street — Troost Avenue. For decades, one side of this street received systematic investment while the other did not.
Watch the panel discussion about social determinants of health here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVt4oYmi31w
Explore the online dashboard here: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/15137b6c1e394c33bc072387cc746652/page/Explorer/?views=Overall-
5. Defining Community Reinvestment
When a group of bankers toured the REDLINED exhibit, they pointed out a lack of information on the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in the section on undoing the system of redlining. The intent of the CRA was to ensure that banks invested in the local community, regardless of who made up the community around the bank. Yet the legislation’s lack of objective standards and ambiguous wording has made the CRA difficult to navigate and enforce. Just last week, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency made changes to certain banking thresholds and is considering more changes in the future, and an upcoming Supreme Court case about race and banking may decide if the CRA continues to exist at all.
6. Hoarding Opportunities
Areas that experienced systematic investment during the period of redlining continue to reap the benefits today. Dr. Sheryll Cashin, Georgetown law professor, acclaimed author, and featured speaker a program we partnered on with the Kansas City Public Library and UMKC’s History Department, calls the continued investment in areas already invested in “opportunity hoarding.” Dr. Cashin spoke about not just how systematic investment begets continued systematic investment, but how boundary maintenance often keeps that investment closed off to some of the population. In the Kansas City area, it is easy to think of several boundaries — real and imagined — that divide populations, neighborhoods, and levels of investment. Whether talking about the racially restrictive covenants that were in force throughout northeastern Johnson County through the mid-20th century, the racial steering practiced by real estate developers and real estate agents, or home prices that have risen beyond the purchasing power of the systematically disinvested populations (typically communities of color), various barriers continue to maintain opportunity hoarding in this region and in communities across the nation. Dr. Cashin writes extensively about this topic in her 2021 book, White Space, Black Hood.
Watch the program here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGrBZB-f4m8
Bonus Lesson: Continuing to Learn
One last thing we learned during the course of this exhibition is how little known and understood the history and legacies of redlining are today. From the research that made the exhibit to the lessons learned since it opened a year ago, we are constantly reminded the breadth and depth of the history and legacies of redlining. There is so much more to learn. And we remain committed to that learning. Continue to learn more with us by following the hashtag #RedlinedKC on social media, and by checking out program recordings and more resources at www.jcprd.com/Redlined. You can also take home the exhibition after it closes — the Museum published the exhibit as a book for sale in the Museum Store. More information coming soon on how this exhibit will live on in the future.
2 responses to “Things We Learned During REDLINED”
Are there plans for this exhibit to be shown in other locations? It is so well done it seems a shame to put it away in a store room.
Hi Bill, thanks for your great question! The REDLINED: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation special exhibit was created in-house by Johnson County Museum staff for our space. Unfortunately, the graphics are essentially big wall stickers that are not designed to be re-used. We have other exhibits planned and contracted for the gallery (we plan 3-5 years into the future), so it must come down. But, we have just announced that we will be launching a fundraising campaign for a high-quality, digital version of this exhibit that can be accessed by more people locally and around the nation, updated and refreshed as often as it needs to be, and engaging for schools, individuals, and community groups alike. In the meantime, the exhibit content has been published (by popular demand!) as a book available in the Museum Store. Additional resources and program recordings will continue to be available at http://www.jcprd.com/Redlined.