The history and lasting legacy of redlining is the subject of a new temporary exhibit which opens Jan. 29 at the Johnson County Museum.
Redlined: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation is the name of this exhibit, which is scheduled to be at the museum through Jan. 3, 2023. This nearly year-long exhibit is being tied into to the museum’s 55th anniversary, and the year is dedicated to this exhibition and related programming.
“Redlining is the systematic disinvestment of some neighborhoods or populations in favor of others,” explained Curator of Interpretation and Exhibit Project Lead Andrew R. Gustafson. “It started as a private practice in the banking, real estate, and insurance industries in the early 20th century, but by the late 1930s had become a federal policy through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).
As a result of these policies, for the next thirty years or so, the federal government essentially chose which neighborhoods and populations to fund and which to ignore. Those ignored were “redlined” and often included impoverished, immigrant, and minority populations. Not all redlined populations were Black, but nearly every Black person living in a city was redlined by the federal government. Private banks followed suit. The policy was later deemed unenforceable and was eventually outlawed with the passage of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, but the legacy of redlining continues to shape reality in America to this day.
Johnson County is often mistakenly referred to as redlined for African Americans. In reality, on the 1939 Residential Security Map (commonly called a redlining map) made by the federal government for the Greater Kansas City Area, none of Johnson County was redlined. In fact, nearly all of Johnson County was greenlined (considered ideal for investment) by the FHA.
The history of redlining is a story the museum has told for years in its main exhibit, its tours, and through its social media and blogs.
“Our signature exhibit, Becoming Johnson County, focuses on four themes: land, policies, regionalism, and people,” Gustafson said. “In our special exhibits, we try to expand on those themes in ways that lead to a deeper understanding of Johnson County, suburbia, and the suburban experience. Redlining encompasses all four of the themes explored in our signature exhibit. From how the land was developed by people and federal policies, to the connection to Kansas City, Mo., redlining is essential to understanding the history of Johnson County and suburbs in general.”
“The history of redlining is so integral to understanding why our communities look the way they do today that museum staff felt a full-scale exhibition was warranted,” Museum Director Mary McMurray added. “The lasting legacies of redlining and the practices that informed it on our communities makes this a timely exploration of an often unknown or ignored part of the region’s (and nation’s) past.”
Gustafson notes that the lasting impact of redlining is reflected in Johnson County’s current demographics.
“The county remains about 80% white,” he said. “You can also see the history of greenlining in the average price of homes and the desirability of Johnson County neighborhoods. As suburban communities, the reliance on the automobile, generational wealth built through equity in homeowning and through home sales, and the easy access to grocery stores, banks, hospitals, and other necessities and services all speak to the history of FHA funding in Johnson County’s communities.”
Redlined: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation is the culmination of an intense and years-long research process. More than 120 books, scholarly articles, dissertations, and newspaper articles, as well as literally thousands of primary source documents housed at regional and national archives, were used in the making of this exhibit.
This temporary exhibit will take place at the Johnson County Museum, located inside the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park. Exhibit admission is included with regular museum admission rates of $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $4 for children ages one to 17, and free for children under one. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and is closed on Sundays and holidays.
“In support of the exhibit, there will be a robust slate of public and education programs,” McMurray said. “This includes programs offered at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, as well as programs offered at partner sites across the metro. The museum has partnered with a dozen museums, libraries, universities, and cultural organizations across the Kansas City metro. Those partners will offer related programming at their locations over the course of the year as this community conversation continues.”
Upcoming related programs planned at the museum for the current season include A Raisin in the Sun and the Legacy of Redlining on Feb. 19, Free Did Not Mean Welcome on Feb. 24, and History on Tap: Nichols and Suburbia on April 7.
“The history of redlining and how many parts of our lives today it continues to touch may be surprising to visitors,” Gustafson said. “It certainly surprised the museum staff as we delved deeper and deeper into the history and legacies of a federal policy from 1934. But once you visit the exhibit and learn about the history and the legacies, it is hard to not see connections in the news and in our own lives today.”