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In 1933, in an effort to forestall foreclosures during the Great Depression, Congress established the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC). In a bid to obtain Southern support for the measure, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal supporters allowed for certain provisions within the act to discriminate against Blacks and other minorities. For example, when it came to mortgage assistance, neighborhoods were color-coded for certain racial, ethnic, and economic indicators to maintain a pre-existing de facto segregation of neighborhoods. The use of a red marker to designate majority black neighborhoods gave the practice its name: red-lining.

The map above is a 1937 copy of the HOLC map for Canton. Four different colors highlight sections of town from “First grade” to “Fourth grade.”  For example, those neighborhoods shaded in green (Harter Heights and Ridgewood) were in the First Grade; the most desirable and “exclusive” housing which were attractive to home-buyers even in the most dire economic conditions. The grading was based on statistics gathered by the Division of Research and Statistics under the auspices of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and included general descriptions and numerous demographic characteristics such as foreign-born families, “negro” population, “relief families,” the nature of those moving in (also referred to as “infiltration”), construction patterns, three year mortgage and price ranges, and other numbers and factoids. In the HOLC analysis for Canton, the Harter Heights neighborhood was described as an area that had paved streets, but was also ‘highly restricted.” Most inhabitants were “professional men and junior executives.” There was also an “infiltration” of “desirable.” The estimated income of residents in the Heights was between $3,000 – $10,000 at a time the national income average was $1,780.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Fourth Grade sections of Canton, described as an area in Canton’s southeast neighborhood with factories and railroads to the north, was on a “downward” trend of desirability. Primarily, inhabitants were laborers with a 10% population of Italians and 80% “Negro.” In its clarifying remarks, the appraisal mentions that this is a “colored section” with a “lower class of Jews and Italians.” The annual income was between $800 and $1200 with only $0% of the residents owning their homes. The infiltration of new residences was characterized as “undesirables.”

The residual effects of redlining was to reinforce and solidify a segregated city through the decades. Obviously the pattern was set before the HOLC appraisal, but in 1937 redlining was federal policy. In the absence of favorable and fair bank mortgages, the ability for individuals or others to transform or improve neighborhoods became restrictive and virtually impossible. Likewise, home ownership and home improvements were rare and the cycle of poverty in these areas became even more stubbornly entrenched with race-based government policy, restrictive covenants and reluctant financial institutions. Absent economic and political growth lead to a decades-long, gradual abandonment of basic retail, medical and other basic resources vital for the well-being of residents in these neighborhoods. For example, the disappearance over the years of grocery stores resulted in what has become “food deserts,” i.e. areas absent of any fresh, nutritious food. Likewise, the mortality rates, health standards, education standards and other “quality-of-life” indicators all suffered accordingly. Even today, many of these houses still have lead-based paint on their walls with the resulting negative effect on child development.

These patterns exist throughout urban areas in the U.S. with the same results of negative health, education, income disparity with surrounding neighborhoods. The likelihood of crucial health concerns such as cancer and obesity, food deserts, mortality rates, and other outcomes are closely tied to zip codes which, in turn as the redlining map reflects, is likely to be based on race or ethnicity.  Though redlining has become illegal, other policies at both the federal and state levels have reinforced this de facto segregation. Urban renewal in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s oftentimes reinforced the boundaries of segregated communities. Construction of interstate highways such as Route 30 divided and physically isolated once vibrant communities. Today, the risk of default on low apprised housing allows banks and other financial institutions to refuse mortgages. Hence, the possibility to begin the revitalization of neighborhoods becomes an even more Herculean task as the past history of redlining reverberates into our present.

David Swope, Library Volunteer