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 Dividing Lines driving tour site.
The Dividing Lines virtual tour is embedded in this page below in three 30-minute videos. Each video is like a chapter in this history. Before and after each video, on this page, additional content expands the story to the national context.
The tour allows you to immersive yourself in a unique 360° environment that's amazing when wearing a virtual headset.
On this tour, you will see many historic landmarks and interactive panoramas from positions along many streets in Kansas City.
of Kansas City
The core focus on this tour is to show you the impacts of redlining from the perspective of Kansas City's racial history.
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 came into vogue, other means were used to ensure the creation 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 served to 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 widespread (white) support in St. Louis for racially restrictive deed covenants like those in Kansas City. Finally, in 1948, an African American couple from St. Louis, J.D. and Ethel Shelley, would bring their Shelley v. Kraemer court case all the way to the Supreme Court, 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 would 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 signalled 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, but are the result of actions, supported by the state and often unquestioned by individuals. Today, if we do nothing, this trajectory of inequality will continue.
Hopefully, watching this tour wrecked you. Hopefully, it enraged you. Most importantly,hopefully it made it clear how individual actions contribute to systemic issues. You have power to make real and incremental changes. While there is no five-step process for individuals to dismantle their complicity in this system, we suggest three things you can do:
White supremacy exists often like an invisible, unquestioned film coating everything we say and do. In order to begin to see that film, we must educate ourselves. Choose to read books and watch movies by Black and brown authors and producers - media that calls attention to the invisible structures that create and perpetuate inequality.
The work of racial justice cannot be done alone . You must align and ally with people who are doing the work alongside you. In your city, you might join the Black Lives Matter chapter, a tenants rights organizations, the local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, or the Urban League. You might intentionally broaden 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.
Dividing Lines details one major contributing factor to the racial wealth gap. It says little about persistent gaps in income along racial lines, broken promises during Reconstruction, or the root evil of slavery. Intentionally investing in businesses owned by people of color is a simple and tangible way to reinvest in communities of color without waiting for just and equitable government policies. See if your community has a Buy Black initiative or clearinghouse to find local organizations in your community. Become loyal to those organizations and tell your friends what you’re doing.
Dividing Lines has been made possible by collaboration among a wide variety of individuals.
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.