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Reconnecting Communities: Undoing Redlining's Legacy

August 7, 2023

Reconnecting Communities: Undoing Redlining's Legacy

Ask students: What is redlining? How did redlining affect communities of color in the United States? What is being done to address this now?

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Redlining, a discriminatory practice that spanned much of the 20th century in the United States, saw federal agencies and private lenders systematically denying services, particularly housing loans, to neighborhoods predominantly inhabited by communities of color. Its long-lasting effects have shaped the racial wealth gap, educational opportunities, and general socioeconomic conditions of these communities, underlining the need for meaningful solutions that uplift and heal the people who have been wronged. One particular consequence, which stems from the construction of the interstate highway system, broke apart historically Black and brown communities and left a psychological scar on many of the people who still live in these areas today.

In 2022, the Biden administration increased efforts to undo the effects of past racist infrastructure and redlining policies using grant funds from the Reconnecting Communities Program, enabled by the 2021 Infrastructure Act. On Feb. 28, 2023, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced an unprecedented $185 million in grants. These funds are assigned to 45 projects as part of the new Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, and aim to restore opportunity to communities isolated by past transportation policy decisions. Learn about one of these projects below in Richmond, Va., and extend learning with interactive activities on the history of redlining in the U.S.

Discussion Questions

  1. Can you describe the cultural and economic significance of Jackson Ward, sometimes referred to as the "Harlem of the South," prior to the start of redlining and the construction of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, now known as Interstate 95?
  2. How did redlining specifically impact the community of Jackson Ward and its residents?
  3. Interstate 95 was built through the heart of Jackson Ward. What were the immediate and long-term impacts of this infrastructure project on the community and its residents?
  4. What is the purpose and anticipated outcomes of the Reconnecting Communities Program? How has it been implemented in the case of Jackson Ward, and what are the goals of the Reconnect Jackson Ward Project?
  5. In light of the Richmond 300 Master Plan for Growth, how is the city attempting to heal the historical wounds caused by redlining and the highway construction through initiatives like the Reconnect Jackson Ward Project? How have community members responded to these efforts?
  6. The Reconnect Jackson Ward Project involves the construction of a freeway cap over the interstate. How is this measure expected to repair some of the harm done by redlining and highway construction, and what are some challenges associated with this approach?

What was the HOLC?

The Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) was a U.S. government agency established under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 during the Great Depression. Its primary purpose was to refinance home mortgages in danger of foreclosure due to the economic crisis. The HOLC is also known for creating “residential security maps” of major American cities, a process that contributed to redlining, which limited access to mortgage financing in many urban areas based on racial and ethnic composition.

Mapping Inequality: Tracing the Legacy of Redlining

The University of Richmond has compiled a compendium of historical HOLC maps, which were previously only accessible via the U.S. Archives or randomly dispersed online. All of these maps are now integrated into one interactive nationwide map. When selecting a city, the corresponding old maps are displayed, and when you zoom in, color overlays are superimposed on a modern map, indicating streets and buildings.

Working in groups, select a city on the map and observe the various zones marked by different colors as designated by the HOLC. What characteristics do you notice in the red and green zones, as noted by government officials? Can you spot any patterns in areas marked with the same color? Can you make predictions about the current state of these neighborhoods? If time allows, conduct research and draw comparisons between two neighborhoods from the map today; You might consider using a site like Zillow to compare real estate prices in these areas.

If you live near any of these areas, try identifying familiar locations to see how they were classified by the government during the era of redlining. Are you surprised? Discuss with the class.

School Funding and Redlining

Research has shown how redlining has resulted in stark disparities in education outcomes, primarily by funneling investment and resources away from minority neighborhoods and consequently their schools. Redlining's impact on property values has directly limited school funding in these areas because it is often tied to local property taxes. Deepen your understanding with this research from Housing Matters.

Extension Podcast: The Aftermath of the Tulsa Race Massacre

Discussion Questions

  1. What significance does the Goodwin family hold in the context of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the history of Greenwood?
  2. How were the Goodwin family and other residents of Greenwood able to rebuild after the massacre? What challenges did they face?
  3. How did urban renewal policies impact the Greenwood District? How were they framed positively, and what was the reality of their impact?
  4. Why does Regina Goodwin refer to urban renewal as “urban removal”? How does this terminology reflect the experiences of Greenwood residents?
  5. Discuss the potential of the Reconnecting Communities Program mentioned by Regina Goodwin. How could such a program address past harm and work toward community restoration?
  6. What is Regina Goodwin's dream for the future of Greenwood? How does this dream address the ongoing effects of the Tulsa Race Massacre and subsequent redlining?

Anti-Racist Educational Resources

Racism is everyone’s problem, and we all have an integral role to play in stopping it. Start planning your lessons with this collection of free preK-12 resources.

Andy Kratochvil
Andy Kratochvil is an SML team member who loves hiking, video games, scary books, Mexican food, and finding great content for the Share My Lesson community. He studied political science and French at California State University, Fullerton and received his Master’s in International Affairs from... See More
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