If you take a drive through many cities in America you may notice a trend, that many of the cites Black residents are all clustered in one geographic area. When I was a child growing up in Louisville, KY we lived downtown in an area known as Shelby Park. Shelby Park was a unique area as it was the central area between a few traditional neighborhoods, in this case Germantown (where I went to school), Smoketown (a traditionally Black neighborhood where I went to church and ), Schintzelburg (where I went to Girl Scouts), Old Louisville (where my eldest brother lived), and 2 other neighborhoods (where I had lots of friends and adventures).
What made Shelby Park unique was it was a very culturally diverse neighborhood mostly due to the location right in the middle of the traditional city limits prior to it become a metro area. I loved it there but after my father died my mother was worried about me being by myself and decided to move us closer to my grandmother who lived in West Louisville. My grandmother had always lived in West Louisville and so had most of my family. My grandmother’s older brother and her other siblings had built many of the homes in the area, once owned a gas station and an ice crème parlor. I would look at the family album and the old pictures all the time. Then one day I decided to ask my father why they didn’t build anything in another area. My father of course being my father was immediately triggered and went into a tirade about how “They” wouldn’t let “Us” have anything anywhere but the West end and Smoketown. He also said that was why he and his close friend (a White Jewish man) had put the business they had together in his friend’s name even though my father put up most of the money.
I was a kid so of course I wasn’t sure exactly who “They” were or why “They” didn’t want “Us” (I did know who Us was) out of other areas. It wouldn’t be until I was in middle school and after my father passed away that I found out that I live in a very segregated city and that it was segregation that put the bulk of Black Louisville (and recently displaced the bulk of Black Louisville) west on the other side of the expressway at 9th street. Now I wont go into the particulars of Louisville, KY; to this day many residents former and current including myself are very annoyed by the city and Louisville’s current gentrification is what some believe is the catalyst for the death of Breonna Taylor.
What I will discuss is how this city segregation was intentional and played out in many cities across the country.
Redlining was an intentional discriminatory policy and practice in which banks, insurance companies, builders and some local governments refused to loan, allow mortgages, or offer insurance to certain racial groups, usually Black. All the while simultaneously downgrading certain area’s property values in geographic areas, and neighborhoods where Black people lived, trapping Black populations into certain geographic areas where they most likely still live today.
The Great Depression devastated America from 1929 nearly up to America’s emergence into the Second World War. Large swaths of America were unemployed and underwater. However, Black people suffered more acutely than many other groups. Like today, many Black people are often the last hired and first to be fired during an economic downturn. Black people at that time were often forced to take low paying and starter level positions in the normal economy but with the market souring those jobs were either eliminated or they were fired for those positions to be opened up to White people. Black unemployment was triple or double that of White Americans. This would spur The Great Migration when Black Americans still living in the communities their families may have been during slavery migrated north and west to many of the larger cities.
The main fall-out you will need to take away from this is that the Great Depression caused a housing crunch and cities began to see an influx of Black faces. So after the Great Depression the US government decided that it would evaluate the current value of American property thus designating which areas had more risky mortgages. The result would be some of the most racist and bigoted policies that still ripple to us right now, as the US government mandated geographic segregation. The FHA that was building homes with subsidized federal money had one stipulation and that was to not offer homes to Black people. Furthermore, neighborhoods were graded by their proximity to areas with large numbers of Black Americans. The idea was that if Black peopled were to buy homes outside of their “assigned” area White homes that they were insuring would decline. When in actuality Black Americans often raised property values because they were often wiling to pay more for properties because they were in restrictive areas with fewer housing stock.
These areas were mapped, and color coded first by the Home Owners Loan Corp and then by the Federal Housing Administration. The Feds would create an underwriting manual that expressly outlined that incompatible communities should not be permitted to live in the same communities, thus making Black people uninsurable. These policies would result in income differences, discrimination in real estate agents’ banks that the Supreme Court would call De Facto Segregation when in actuality it was just plain state sanctioned separation, or De Jure Segregation. These practices in the 40s and 50s would lead to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, white-flight from cities and the depressed climate of Black inner cities in the 1980s. To sum up, what it would end up creating was inner city poverty that was filled with Black people in substandard housing and locked in devalued neighborhoods that suffer from depressed value today. These practices lead to poor health outcomes, underperforming neighborhood schools and low economic development.