Racial and systemic housing segregation that began in the 1930s upholds its impact on Lincoln neighborhoods today.
Sociologist John McKnight coined the term “redlining” in the 1960s to describe the discriminatory practice of lining off areas where banks would not invest in based on demographics of that community.
Leadership Lincoln, Inc. hosted the History of Racial Redlining in Lincoln virtual panel as part of their Hot Topics series on Oct. 21. On the panel was Lori Seibel, the president/CEO of the Community Health Endowment; Ed Wimes, a leadership and human resources management consultant and Lincoln native; and Ed Zimmer, the former Lincoln Lancaster County Planning Department historic preservation planner.
More than 120 people attended the Zoom virtual panel while others watched live on Facebook. It was the most attended Hot Topics event Leadership Lincoln has ever had. The nonprofit organization offers programs to encourage civic engagement and leadership.
Each panelist described what redlining looked like for them in their area of expertise.
“White citizens have an accumulated advantage while people of color have an accumulated disadvantage,” Seibel said.
Seibel said she has found that in addition to poverty being the highest in the areas that were redlined, there are also health disparities. In Lancaster County, primary medical care facilities are concentrated in white areas and COVID-19 cases disproportionately affect minority communities.
Seibel said that in Lancaster County, white people make up 81 percent of the population and experience 65 percent of COVID-19 cases. The numbers look different for minority communities. Lancaster County’s Asian community is 4 percent of the population yet experience 10 percent of cases and its Hispanic community is 7 percent of the population yet experience 17 percent of cases.
Ed Zimmer, the former Lincoln Lancaster County Planning Department historic preservation planner, has been studying this pattern his whole career.
“Redlining is the term for government, and banking and real estate, policies that differentiate it between neighborhoods often with a heavily racial bias as to where funds might be loaned or not,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer provided data and maps throughout his discussion on the racial redlining history in Lincoln. He said a key part of its history was the growth of the University of Nebraska and industrial facilities that started displacing African Americans in the early 21st century.
Race clauses as Zimmer described were used by realtors to stop African Americans in Lincoln from purchasing land. The clauses made it so the land could only be used by white people. By World War II, there were race clauses throughout the city.
Redline maps were used across the nation including in Lincoln to categorize portions of the city by desirability from best to hazardous.
“If we put some of those race clauses onto the [redlining] map, those all fell into the best-categorized area,” Zimmer said.
The race clauses that outlined where minorities were excluded from purchasing land were the “best areas” to live in because only white people could live there. The most “hazardous” areas on the redlining map were where minorities lived.
Today in Lincoln, the impact of redlining is still apparent. Lincoln native Ed Wimes experienced those effects growing up. He said the most important thing that can be done today is to ensure that minority neighborhoods can retain their dwellings.
“We can’t continually displace people for the advantage of a few,” Wimes said.
Panelists also answered questions on how policy and institutions can be changed to help with the effects of redlining.
“Who’s in charge of institutions that lend money?” Wimes said. “How diverse are they? If you don’t have that voice on the table, I’m not sure anything changes.”