Residential segregation and the racial wealth gap didn’t just happen through some automatic human instinct or by chance. Individual actions in tandem with state and federal policies created our current unequal reality.
By highlighting the history of segregation in Kansas City, Dividing Lines sheds light on the governmental policies and individual actions which decimated Black neighborhoods all over the United States. This experience will expand the tour by comparing the history of Kansas City to that of St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Birmingham.
You can also experience Dividing Lines in the real world. For more information, visit the driving tour site.
The content of this tour may contain controversial material; such statements are not an expression of library policy.
The Dividing Lines virtual tour is embedded in this page in three 30-minute videos. Each video is like a chapter in a book. Before and after each video, additional content expands the story to the national context.
The tour allows you to immerse yourself in a unique 360° virtual environment.
On this tour, you will see many historic landmarks and interactive panoramas from all over Kansas City.
of Kansas City
While this tour focuses on Kansas City’s history, the policies and practices discussed were present across the country.
In the twisted logic of segregationist developers, racially restrictive covenants were key to building neighborhoods in the land of the free.
In some cities, before racially restrictive covenants came into wide usage, other means were used to ensure the separation of white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods.
In 1911, the St. Louis Real Estate Exchange, working with neighborhood improvement associations proposed a city ordinance which was intended to keep white neighborhoods white. The ordinance, “Ordinance to Prevent Ill Feeling, Conflict and Collisions Between the Whiteand Colored Races, and to Preserve the Public Peace,” was put to a public vote and overwhelmingly passed. This ordinance cut off African Americans from the most modern and new housing developments in St. Louis.
While the ordinance lasted only a few years, it paved the way for the widespread support of St. Louis’s white citizens of racially restrictive deed covenants like those in Kansas City. Finally, in 1948, an African American couple from St. Louis, J.D. and Ethel Shelley, brought a suit (Shelley v. Kraemer) all the way to the Supreme Court, their win marking the end of the legality of racially restrictive covenants.
While white people were lured away from city centers to the gleaming suburbs, official federal policy allowed banks to deny Black people access to the affordable credit they needed to own and improve their homes.
Residential security maps were enforced by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and created by local affiliates or local employees. They were used all over the country, systematically disinvesting Black neighborhoods and driving up demand (among whites) for white and new suburban neighborhoods. Knowledge of the use of residential security maps compelled new developers to make provisions that their neighborhoods be all white. The Mapping Inequality project allows you to view residential security maps for cities across the country.
Featured in this section is a residential security map for Indianapolis. To this day, the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood (the large green triangle near the top of the map) is almost exclusively home to white residents.
Even while policies continue to disadvantage Black neighborhoods, the Black community and allies of all races fight for the right of Black people to thrive in the face of this long violent history.
In the latter half of the 20th century, public works projects were completed across the country. These projects presumably signaled the gleaming future that lay ahead for our cities. Actually, many of these projects were very intentionally meant as “slum clearance,” displacing or further separating the places where Black people had been forced to live by official policy.
Like Highway 71 in Kansas City, I-20 and I-65 in Birmingham, AL paved over Black neighborhoods.
On the other hand, alongside the history of disinvestment and racist policy there have always been people fighting for justice and equity. These concurrent efforts must not be forgotten or overlooked. While Alan and Yolanda Young were fighting to build a sense of community in Ivanhoe, in Birmingham, people in the Titusville neighborhood were similarly fighting to strengthen and maintain the neighborhood for current residents in the face of gentrification.
Dividing Lines is meant to help you understand how we got here. Our neighborhoods and school and workplaces aren’t segregated by accident. Hopefully it made it clear how individual actions contribute to systemic issues. You have power to make real and incremental changes. We suggest three things you can do:
Consider reading books and watching movies by black and brown authors and producers.
Consider broadening your personal and professional network to include a more racially diverse set of people. If you are in school, find out if there is a justice-oriented club you can join. If there isn’t one, consider starting one.
Consider investing in businesses owned by people of color. It is a simple and tangible way to support diverse communities.
Dividing Lines has been made possible by collaboration among a wide variety of individuals.
With special thanks to the Greater KC Writing Project Summer Institute
360 video represents a whole lot of data streaming to your device. If your connection speed is slow or you data metered, YouTube may automatically ramp down the resolution on the virtual tour. If you have access to higher data speeds through wifi, we recommend manually setting the resolution (lower right corner of the video frame) to at least 1440s.
Some people do experience discomfort when using a VR headset. Likewise, the eyes can take a moment to adjust to the real world after you have been using a headset for a prolonged period of time. Although this discomfort is not unexpected, we recommend sitting down and taking a break before continuing if you are experiencing these symptoms.
The Dividing Lines driving tour is hosted on the Voicemap app. To take the tour, download the Voicemap tour on your mobile device. Click on “Kansas City” once you have successfully downloaded the app. Navigate to the Dividing Lines tour and download it. Drive to the southwest parking lot of Shawnee Mission East High School to begin the tour.