Redline maps, also known as security maps, were used during the Great Depression to identify and mark “high-risk” neighborhoods for mortgage lending. This practice was widely used in the United States and had a lasting impact on the racial and economic segregation of American cities. In this article, we explore the personal history of redline maps and the 1940 Census, and how they continue to shape the inequalities present in our society today.
Understanding the 1940 Census
The 1940 Census was the 16th census taken in the United States and marked a significant moment in American history. It marked the first time that the US Census Bureau asked questions about race and ethnicity. This information was used to map out and identify “high-risk” neighborhoods for mortgage lending purposes. The resulting maps, known as redline maps, highlighted neighborhoods with a high concentration of minority populations, labeling them as “risky” for investment.
The Impact of Redline Maps
The practice of redlining had a profound impact on the racial and economic segregation of American cities. Neighborhoods that were redlined were often neglected by banks and other financial institutions, leading to disinvestment and a lack of resources for those communities. This resulted in declining property values, inadequate infrastructure, and increased poverty.
Redlining also had a lasting impact on the wealth gap between white and minority populations. Neighborhoods that were redlined were often passed down from generation to generation, and the lack of investment and resources meant that the wealth of these communities was not able to grow. As a result, the wealth gap between white and minority populations continues to persist to this day.
The Legacy of Redline Maps
Despite the fact that redlining was officially banned in 1968, its legacy can still be seen in many American cities today. Neighborhoods that were redlined continue to experience higher rates of poverty and lower levels of investment compared to other areas. Additionally, the practice of redlining has contributed to the overall racial and economic segregation of American cities, which continues to have a significant impact on the opportunities and outcomes for people of color.
Classroom Exercise: Mapping Inequality
Objective: To educate students on the history and impact of redline maps and the 1940 Census, and to encourage critical thinking about issues of race and inequality.
- Access to the internet
- Whiteboard or blackboard
- Markers or chalk
- Introduction: Ask the students if they have heard of redline maps and the 1940 Census. Explain that these were maps used during the Great Depression to identify “high-risk” neighborhoods for mortgage lending purposes, and that they had a lasting impact on the racial and economic segregation of American cities.
- Research Activity: Divide the class into small groups and have them research the history of redline maps and the 1940 Census. Have them take notes on key information and be prepared to share their findings with the class.
- Class Discussion: After each group has had time to research, have them present their findings to the class. Ask follow-up questions and lead a class discussion on the impact of redline maps on the racial and economic segregation of American cities.
- Mapping Activity: On the whiteboard or blackboard, create a map of a fictional city. Have the students work in pairs or small groups to label the different neighborhoods based on different criteria, such as income level, race, or access to resources.
- Reflection: After the mapping activity, have the students reflect on the impact of their choices and how they might have contributed to inequalities in the fictional city. Lead a class discussion on the larger implications of these inequalities and how they might be addressed.
- Conclusion: Sum up the key points from the lesson and emphasize the importance of understanding and addressing issues of race and inequality.
- Group research presentation
- Mapping activity
- Written reflection
- Have students research real redline maps from their own city or region and discuss the ongoing impact of redlining on their community.
- Invite a guest speaker from a local community organization to discuss their work on addressing issues of inequality and segregation
The personal history of redline maps and the 1940 Census serves as a reminder of the lasting impact that discriminatory practices can have on our society. Understanding the legacy of redline maps is crucial for creating more equitable and just communities for all. As we work towards a more equitable future, it is important to acknowledge and address the ongoing impact of redlining, and to work towards creating more inclusive and equitable communities for everyone.