Unrest sparks scrutiny into redlining development and the racial divide in Kansas City

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There are parts of history in Kansas City that helped develop it into the city it is today: socially, economically, and physically. Recent racial unrest has many people examining what got us here and what needs to change.

Troost has long been considered a dividing line down the middle of Kansas City, and it’s design wasn’t coincidental. FOX4 examined redlining and how the practice defined today’s population.

Redlining is the actual physical marking on a map meant to separate communities into black and white. This happened in Kansas City in the 1920s and 1930s, largely under the work of Country Club Plaza developer J.C. Nichols.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams is President of the Black Archives. She said redlining, “ made home buying difficult, property ownership difficult, all of those things that help people to advance. So when we talk about systemic racism and what causes people to not advance at the rate of others, this is one of those things. That is something that is designed to hold people back. It’s not a natural thing. It’s created, it’s contrived.”

Williams said it was a deliberate attempt to stop the growth and progress of people.

Banks wouldn’t lend money or homes to black people. This resulted in inequities in social and economic opportunities and resources. According to the city, some of these racial restrictions were still in places as recently as 2005, despite the fact that they were banned by the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Kara Johnson works with the Troost Market Collective.

“You hear about the Troost wall, and people don’t really think that it exists, but you go all the way up and down Troost, and you see how many buildings are closed or boarded up,” Johnson said. 

“It could change overnight. We could have it fixed tomorrow, but it takes people who are willing to say, ‘My ego is not predicated on whether or not I can hold somebody back,’ or ‘My value as a citizen is not based on how many people live in an area outside of mine,'” Williams said. 

She also believes the timing of the current racial unrest is critical.

“It’s just a perfect recipe because you have the pandemic,” Williams said. “People are inside, it’s getting hotter. You know, temperatures are rising outside and inside. I think it’s just very important that this is happening when it is.”

Nika Cotton is opening a tea shop inside the Wonder Space at Troost and 30th.

“The people who benefited from the redlining, they passed their property and their wealth down to their children and passed it down to their children. And so now, we’re, you know, generations past red redlining, but still the benefit is with the people who originally had that benefit.” she said. “I remember hearing stories from my great aunt about coming down to the department stores on Troost. There was a movie theater on Troost, and so it flourished at one point.”

Cotton believes it can get back to that, and with the help of the Troost Market Collective, businesses of all races could be welcome and successful.

“It’s because of this red lining. It’s because of the way the district minds are set up,” Johnson said. “You have these pockets of Troost that are flourishing, and then these pockets that aren’t. That’s something that really just has to change. It has to change for the good of Kansas city.”

Williams continued, “Unless you have social equity and political equity and economic equity, and those red lines are a forever box around you and your generations, your progeny.”

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