Virginia Tech Magazine
College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

Blocks of Shame

A 1938 Home owners' Loan Corporation map depicts housing zones in Richmond, Virginia.

During the Great Depression, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, one of the New Deal’s most important federal agencies, paid $3 billion to refinance an estimated one million mortgages, about one-fifth of all mortgages in the metropolitan United States at the time. The agency was also responsible for a practice known as “redlining”—steering capital away from African Americans and reinforcing urban poverty.

LaDale Winling, an assistant professor of history at Virginia Tech, has joined with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Richmond to launch Mapping Inequality, an online repository of more than 200 interactive maps from the 1930s and 1940s.

“The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation has long been seen as both a savior to the housing sector and a force for racial segregation,” Winling says. “Mapping Inequality introduces viewers to the agency’s historical records on a unprecedented scale. Visitors can get a view of Depression-era America as developers, realtors, tax assessors, and surveyors saw it—a set of interlocking color-lines, racial groups, and environmental risks. These maps reveal their evaluations of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ neighborhoods.”

RELEVANCE TODAY

“Redlining continues to have repercussions for present-day inner cities,” Winling says. “Visitors to Mapping Inequality can use the maps and area descriptions to draw connections between past state actions—and inactions—and contemporary issues in the United States.”