The 1939 Map That Redlined Kansas City — Do You Want to See It?

In 1933, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation was created as part of the New Deal to help rescue lenders and homeowners from the Great Depression. Homeowners were out of work, facing foreclosure and eviction; banks were receiving no mortgage payments and in crisis. The HOLC offered relief by buying loans, with government funds, from the latter and refinancing them for the former. It also set about creating a map of 200 U.S. cities that lenders could use to make “safe” loans rather than risky ones.

Risky areas, marked in yellow or red, were those of both lower-value homes and darker-skinned residents, the “undesirables” and “subversives” and “lower-grade” people. This entrenched segregation and the racial wealth disparity, with blacks and other minorities having a difficult time getting home loans, ownership being a key to intergenerational wealth. The Federal Housing Administration also used the HOLC map when it backed mortgages to encourage lending (if a resident couldn’t make the payments, the FHA would step in and help — as long as you were the right sort of person in the right part of town; see Racism in Kansas City: A Short History).

Kansas City’s map was completed April 1, 1939. You can see that the areas along Troost (easiest to find by looking at the left edge of the grey Forest Hill Cemetery) are yellow, with red portions east and north of that, where blacks at this time were most heavily concentrated. The yellow shade actually extends, in some places, west of Troost to streets like Rockhill. Each section can be clicked on for a description (D24: “Negro encroachment threatened from north”; D21: “It is occupied by a low grade of low income laborers, chiefly Mexicans, some negroes”). The use of this map by lenders, real estate agents, developers, governments, and more would solidify the Troost wall and Jim Crow repression, and impact Kansas City into the next century.

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