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Home / Redlining in Iowa underscored in new African American Museum of Iowa exhibit
CEDAR RAPIDS — Though redlining was a practice filled with complexities that have morphed into new forms of racism, a Homeowner’s Loan Corporation map of Waterloo outlines neighborhoods in the late 1930s with very blunt language.
“This is the colored section,” the key notes of one redlined area. Next to it is a “poor working man’s neighborhood close to the colored section.” A few blocks away, the map describes an area inhabited by “a mixture of poor white trash,” reiterating what was already explicit practice: “no loans could be considered here.”
Though maps explicitly outlining “desirable” and “undesirable” areas were only produced by the federal government from 1935 to 1940, the effects on redlined neighborhoods in Iowa cities — Dubuque, Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines — live on to this day in various forms.
What: Mapping Exclusion: Redlining in Iowa
Where: African American Museum of Iowa, 55 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: Exhibit opens Friday, Sept. 10 and will be on display until Aug. 6, 2022
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays
Cost: $6 adults, $5 for senior citizens, $3.50 students and free for children under 5
In many Iowa cities, redlined areas where banks would not lend and insurance companies would not offer policies encompassed a majority or a substantial portion of the city.
Realtors were also in on the practice of housing discrimination that perpetuated mindsets well before redlining in its official form was created as a result of the National Housing Act of 1934. The 1924 Code of Ethics for the National Association of Real Estate Boards warned that introducing to a neighborhood “members of any race or nationality … whose presence will be clearly detrimental to property values in that neighborhood,” would be punishable by license revocation.
“People have heard the term (redlining), but they really don’t know what it is,” said Felicite Wolfe, curator of Mapping Exclusion: Redlining in Iowa, a new exhibit opening at the African American Museum of Iowa. “We’re giving them that foundation here, how it came to be, what this practice was. It didn’t exist in a bubble for a 10-year period of time and then everybody learned from it and walked away.”
With that foundation, she hopes the exhibit will show visitors how redlining has morphed into new forms of systemic racism and racial injustice that persists today.
“A lot of people don’t talk about this stuff, or don’t know that it exists. That makes it difficult,” she said.
Though redlining was not unique to Iowa or the Midwest, the “Iowa nice” motto has complicated its acknowledgment here.
“Nobody wants to admit this was going on,” she said after noting the difficulty of sourcing information on redlining in Iowa. “I hope people go, ‘Oh, I get it now,’ and have an aha moment.”
One prominent example of housing discrimination in Iowa is the story of Dr. Percy Harris, Cedar Rapids’ first Black physician at St. Luke’s Hospital who struggled to simply find a house to buy in Cedar Rapids.
In a move that divided St. Paul’s Methodist Church, the congregation voted to sell a piece of land to Harris in the Indian Creek Hills neighborhood — then affluent and all white — at the urging of Robert Armstrong, St. Luke’s board president. Many of the families who voted against the sale left the church and started Lovely Lane Methodist Church.
Today, historically redlined neighborhoods are connected to a variety of poor health conditions, lower life expectancy, police brutality, less access to healthy food, retail depression and gentrification.
Learn more about how a brief period of history has lived on through objects, stories and hands-on activities. In the exhibit, on display Friday, Sept. 10, through Aug. 6, 2022, visitors can explore the stories of those who created redlining, those who fought against it, and learn about the lasting effects.
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