When Cynthia Brothers began her research for the Wing Luke Museum’s new exhibit, she didn’t know the extent of the city’s history of redlining, and how it continues to affect communities today.
“I’m from Seattle, born and raised, but it was really educational to go back and see some of this history,” Brothers told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “I would say that Seattle is still a very segregated city. I saw the reality of that growing up here in the ’80s and ’90s. But to see that so formalized and institutionalized – exclusion and segregation goes back to the very founding of this city.”
Seattle’s history of redlining and segregation is the subject of a new exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum in the city’s International District — The Excluded, Inside the Lines.
Evidence of this segregation can often be found in many of Seattle’s deeds and neighborhood covenants. Homes were sold with detailed conditions – that they would only be sold to white people. That contributed to Seattle’s practice of redlining – only allowing certain groups to live in certain neighborhoods. This was often done by not allowing banks to provide loans to people in certain areas.
In cities across the United States, this practice added up to placing white people in one area, black people in another, Jewish in another, and so on.
“At one point, there were 20,000 properties across the city and the suburbs that had racially-restrictive deeds and covenants,” Brothers said. “If you compare the redlining maps with city-drawn maps, currently, that are looking at neighborhoods that have the highest risk of displacement, they are very similar. They are pretty much the same. You can still see that racial and ethnic segregation today. Those neighborhoods that were redlined, those are the ones that are now most at risk of gentrification and displacement. Those same communities are now losing their homes and communities.”
The result in many cities was that minority areas were economically starved. Where you lived influenced education, job prospects, and prosperity. Another effect was that minority neighborhoods would receive far less investment from banks and city leaders. That led to many areas becoming dilapidated.
“And then certain city policies or developers and folks who were interested in getting that land, it’s easier to justify that by saying ‘Oh, this place is blighted,’” Brothers said, noting it was a justification to plow the neighborhood over and move people out.
“There were some really beautiful resilient communities and legacies that came out of red-lined communities,” Brothers said. “Communities that were able to build their own networks, their own institutions, their own social services, arts and culture and it’s these same communities that are now being pushed off of their land and their homes.”