THE AGE OF REDLINING

Story of Redlining in Berkeley
Artist and Writer: Sara Bruckmeier
 
Original completed 2007
Restored in 2018
Redlining2.jpg

In 1933, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, an institution backed by the United States

government, changed lending practices across the country. The HOLC hired local real estate

agents to draw color-coded property maps (green, blue, yellow, red) assigning degrees of risk

to each neighborhood. Green indicated “safe” neighborhoods with high property values; red signaled

“risky”. Typical risk factors included access to utilities and proximity to industry. HOLC agents also

considered skin color a risk factor and drew red lines around neighborhoods where people of color

lived. This was called redlining. (HOLC maps connecting skin color to property value are archived at

salt.umd.edu/T-RACES). Thus did the legacy of slavery manifest in country-wide lending practices.

 

From 1933-1968, redlining forced property values down and mortgage rates up in “risky” neighbor-

hoods. Discriminatory real estate practices also prevented people of color from buying homes in white

neighborhoods, where property values were higher. Of the $120 billion in new housing financed during

this period, less than 2% went to people of color (see The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein). Real estate

wealth of white families in the U.S. grew exponentially larger than that of non-white families.

 

South Berkeley was a redlined neighborhood, where all races could live. This diverse community

was caring, cohesive, and politically active. Scenes from the Age of Redlining are depicted in this painting.

 

SCENE 1: (right) Rooming house on Ashby Avenue. Young people bicycling and hanging out on the side-

walk. Here are quotes from elders reminiscing about growing up here in the 1940s:

“On our block, one side was black and white, the other side was all white, but we would all mix

in. The neighbors were also parents for us, and at that time kids played, you know...real playing. And the

times we had!”

“The neighbors would say, don’t go that way, I’ll tell [your parents]!”

“Our folks knew people that we didn’t know they knew!”

 

SCENE 2: (left) Pursley Realty on Telegraph Avenue, founder Marilyn Pursley in the doorway. She and real

estate agents like her helped fight redlining. For example, white couples would pose as home buyers in

“Caucasian only” neighborhoods, then sign the deeds over to people of color.

 

SCENE 3: (church steps) Progressive Missionary Baptist Church on King Street. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

exiting the church with Pastor Stovall after preaching on March 26, 1961.

CENTER: Map of Berkeley showing the red line.

 

WINDING THROUGH: The Civil Rights Movement. People marching, organizing, and helping each oth-

er climb high enough to reach up and SNIP the red line. Dorothy Mulkey, plaintiff in the 1967 Supreme

Court case that outlawed redlining in California, holds the scissors. Attorneys Thurgood Marshall and

Nathaniel M. Colley lend a hand.

 

In 1968, the Fair Housing Act became law, and the age of redlining ended. However, unequal dis-

tribution of wealth and real estate persists and affects us all. Let’s remember that for 35 years the U.S.

government, through the HOLC, took housing opportunity away from some families and gave it to others,

based on nothing but racial prejudice.