Redlining: a look at systemic racism’s history in Kent

Karen Beck, long-time Kent resident. Photo provided by Karen Beck.

“I would go down to Doc’s bar in the South End with Bob and I was the only white person there,” said Karen Beck, long-time Kent resident. “I was cool with it and I really appreciated being able to do that because it made me think of how often Bob and Gloria were the only black people.”

Beck moved to Kent in the 1960s with her family to attend Kent State as a student. She lived in a neighborhood called Valleyview, across the street from what is now known today as the Historic South End. While at school, she was exposed to a variety of different racial backgrounds and would soon meet her first Black friends, Bob and Gloria Alfred. Like other minorities, Bob and Gloria lived in the South End neighborhood.

Throughout Kent, there are clear distinctions between different neighborhoods. Driving down Overlook Drive, located in the University Heights neighborhood, it is clear that this was more of an exclusive neighborhood back in the earlier 1900s. With bigger houses, perfectly trimmed lawns, clear upkeep, the neighborhood is a more wealthy and “exclusive” neighborhood.

 “Exclusive has two meanings. Exclusive means elite, which in many senses, it was those are the largest homes in Kent exclusive also means, keep out,” said Roger DiPaolo, Historian in Residence at the Kent Historical Society.

While the neighborhood may have changed from being a more restricted area, it continues to be less of a diverse community.

Going down Walnut Street, located in the South End neighborhood, it is clearer that this neighborhood was not like University Heights. It is clear that this neighborhood was not viewed as an exclusive community back in the 30s and 40s. During that time, the South End was unpaved, there were outhouses, as well as a common well. They “were very much separate neighborhoods,” said Roger DiPaolo, Historian in Residence at the Kent Historical Society.

On this map, it shows the different neighborhoods located in Kent. University Heights is in the purple. The green is the South End and the red is Silver Meadows. Map made by Sara Crawford.

These neighborhoods in Kent, whether that be a more exclusive community like University Heights or a more disenfranchised neighborhood, like the South End, create a clear example of redlining happening in Kent’s own backyard.

According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, 80 years ago the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation created maps that documented how appraisers, loan officers and real estate professionals determined mortgage lending risks before suburbanization in the 1950s.

These maps outlined or “redlined” neighborhoods that were considered high risk or hazardous, which led to numerous denials of capital investments in predominantly Black communities. Along with outlining the “hazardous” neighborhoods in red, these maps also color-coded the white areas as “best” with green and “still desirable” with blue.

These redlining maps lessened many minority’s economic opportunities or limited their chances of finding better housing in neighborhoods outside their own.

“If you live in a community that’s not redlined and it’s considered a high-quality neighborhood, that means two things depending on whether you already live there and you want to sell a house or you don’t live there and you want to buy a house. It means the property values are probably pretty high and it means that if you are someone who lives there and wants to sell your house, you’re probably going to you know get a good price for it. Someone’s going to want to buy into that neighborhood. So it’s a good neighborhood,” said Elizabeth Smith-Pryor, associate professor in history at Kent State. 
Elizabeth Smith-Pryor is an associate professor in history at Kent State. Photo provided by Elizabeth Smith-Pryor.

Redlining pointed out which neighborhoods would be considered “risky,” meaning places that were not a higher property value, and people who wanted to live there should not receive a loan. Instead, people in “safer” neighborhoods, or neighborhoods that were not mixed and do not have a lot of immigrants, would receive loans and mortgages.

“They relied on information from people involved in real estate including appraisers, and they combined that with a lot of ideas about race, racism, [and] very strong anti-immigration ideas,” said Elizabeth Smith-Pryor, associate professor in history at Kent State.

As the United States and the idea of the “American Dream,” with the white picket fence and owning your own property, it can create more issues for people that are living in these past redlined areas.

In redlined areas, there are more people that are renting these properties — especially within the past of the inability to receive loans to buy such properties. People are less likely to have an interest in buying these properties. “But the person who owns the rental property is probably not going to invest a lot of money in that property, either. Which means they’re not going to keep it up,” Smith-Pryor said. 

Over almost 100 years, the cycle of redlining has continued on with the promotion of homeownership, the inability for many to receive a loan or a mortgage and the understanding of a “risky” neighborhood rather than a safe neighborhood. It led to many having the inability to buy a house, due to the color of their skin.

“One of my dearest friends, the Alfreds, they lived on Valleyview,” Beck said. “But when they first moved to Kent, they weren’t allowed to buy, if you crossed Water street, they couldn’t buy there.”

Over almost 100 years, the cycle of redlining has continued on with the promotion of homeownership, the inability for many to receive a loan or a mortgage and the understanding of a “risky” neighborhood rather than a safe neighborhood. It led to many having the inability to buy a house, due to the color of their skin.

One bill that changed the legalization of redlining was the Fair Housing Act. Passed in April of 1968, “The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities,” stated on the Department of Housing and Urban Development website.

Roger DiPaolo is the historian in residence at Kent Historical Society. Photo Provided by Roger DiPaolo.

This act prohibits any discrimination in housing because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. 

While the Fair Housing Act makes any discrimination toward housing illegal, there are still methods that redlining continues to be in effect while being unwritten.

“It can be enforced in a number of ways. People, if they’re in a community long enough, know where they’re not supposed to look to live, or where they’re not going to get loans,” DiPaolo said.

“Restrictive covenants” are today’s new way of keeping out minorities economically and residentially. While these restrictions are invisible and unenforceable, DiPaolo said they’re still in the deeds and basically regulate everything from no clotheslines in your backyard, to no Jewish people, no Catholics, no Italians and no African Americans.

Although these maps of Kent are difficult to find today, the lasting imprints on communities can still be seen. According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, most of the areas considered high-risk long ago are still filled with those same minority groups. 

The districts that were once physically labeled good and bad are wiped away online but are the memories wiped away from those ostracized communities.

“While using these maps is no longer legal, there’s a long legacy and they have shaped the ways in which our cities and our suburbs and our communities, developed and we live with that legacy today,” Smith-Pryor said. 

Work Divided:

Sara Crawford conducted and transcribed interviews for Roger DiPaolo and Elizabeth Smith-Pryor, pulled audio clips, researched the story topic, collaborated on writing the story, created the visual map of Kent, Ohio and laid out the web post.

Ashley Johnson conducted the interview with Roger DiPaolo and also interviewed Karen Beck and transcribed this audio, pulled audio clips, pulled additional online resources, researched the story topic and collaborated on writing the story.