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Historical society presents series on redlining and segregation

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The Indiana Historical Society began its four-part series on redlining and segregation Aug. 27 with a virtual lecture from Nathan Connolly, a professor at Johns Hopkins University whose focuses include racism and capitalism.

Connolly’s big-picture approach to redlining and segregation laid the groundwork for the rest of the series — which will have local panels — about how those practices have shaped Indianapolis.

Many people have a baseline understanding of what redlining means: Green areas on a map were considered the most desirable for lending, and the colors degraded gradually down to red, which represented the riskiest areas for mortgages. Green became synonymous with (non-Jewish) white, and red was mostly African American.

But Connolly explained redlining wasn’t only about telling the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) where it would be “risky” to deal mortgages in the 1930s and ‘40s; it was also an indicator to predatory landlords where they could exploit poor renters and lax housing standards.

Home equity didn’t improve in Black neighborhoods like it did in white neighborhoods, Connolly said, so the way to turn a profit was by charging higher rents and neglecting livability. Black residents, limited because of poverty and de jure segregation, had little say in the matter.

Connolly compared the profitability of segregation to the plantation economy of the 18th century.

Connolly’s 2014 book, “A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida,” is in part about the power property owners had in shaping American cities through redling and segregation.

Redlining grew from a political culture of white popular sovereignty, he said, which has remained untouched.

People like Kyle Rittenhouse — who shot and killed two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, two days before Connolly gave his lecture — are a “consequence of the redlining moment,” Connolly said, because it’s the kind of violence whites have resorted to when the government doesn’t advance or protect their popular sovereignty.

Redlining was basically the government’s attempt at a racist method of stability.

“If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes,” the FHA Underwriting Manual read in the ‘30s and ‘40s. “… A change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and a reduction in values.”

Indianapolis, for example, adopted an ordinance in 1926 that allowed African Americans to move to a white area only if a majority of its white residents gave their written consent.

The next part of the series, “Making It Local,” is 7 p.m. Sept. 29 and will explore what redlining looks like in Indianapolis. Two more will follow in October and November. The events are free on Zoom. Register for the next event here.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

Redlining map of Indianapolis from 1937. (Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed September 2, 2020, https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=5/39.096/-94.57)

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