WSW: Segregation Set In Motion By Government Policy

Aug 21, 2017

Kalamazoo's Vine Neighborhood - file photo
Credit WMUK

A line can be drawn from discriminatory lending patterns in the 1930’s and current race relations and segregation. That’s according to the Director of Western Michigan University’ Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations.

Tim Ready says government policy channeled resources to white neighborhoods. Bridge recently examined the maps and reports that the government created in the 1930’s for Kalamazoo and other cities in the state. Ready was one of the people interviewed for the story. Bridge Computer Assisted Reporter Mike Wilkinson says while it’s now illegal to consider race in lending, back in the 1930’s federal reports advised banks not to lend in areas with large minority populations.

Ready says the impact of those policies has been long lasting because for most people their home is a major source of wealth. Ready says it’s one of many factors that helps explain a large and persistent wealth gap between white and black families. He says New Deal programs that helped people afford to buy a house were one of the “entry cards” to the middle class that was denied to African-Americans. 

"What kind of society do we really want to live in?"

Wilkinson says the Home Owners Loan Corporation was an outgrowth of the Great Depression and the foreclosures on many homeowners. Wilkinson says as the suburbs grew after World War II most of the people who were able to enjoy it were white people. He says minority families were left behind for 30 years until lending based on race was made illegal in the 1960’s. Other cities have tried to address the impact of past discriminatory lending. Wilkinson says programs in Shaker Heights, Ohio and Oak Park, Illinois have helped in some ways, but Wilkinson says there is no “silver bullet answer.”

In the 1930’s federal maps recommended Kalamazoo’s Winchell neighborhood for a number of reasons. That included good schools and deed restrictions that would prevent black families from moving into the neighborhood. Other parts of town, like the city’s north side were considered less desirable for lending based in part on the number of black families living there. Ready says that set in motion the pattern that persists today. Ready asks “What kind of society do we really want to live in?”