Updated: Nov 29, 2021
By Dexter Hall
When you’re weary and feeling small. When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all. I’m on y your side, oh when the times get rough, and friends can’t be found.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay down.
Many of you may recognize the lyrics to the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
This classic song shares with us as a community that we can overcome anything together -- that as we look to create lasting systemic change, we can lay down together as one community over the troubled waters and come out as winners together.
For this to occur, we must be of one accord, and this begins with TRUTH. As easy as it sounds, facing TRUTH is not easy. Facing TRUTH means we must lay aside our biases and openly confront what has been if we are to move to what could be.
Learning from Another City -- Tulsa
James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
These words have haunted me over the last few weeks after I read them on the side of the “Greenwood Rising” Building in Tulsa, Okla., during the Inner City Tour I had the privilege to attend with a cross-section of Waco community and government leaders.
As I listened to Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, the word TRUTH was planted in my heart and mind. This was cemented as I listened to numerous city and community leaders as they shared with our group about Tulsa and how it was currently rising.
My late mother’s words began to ring in my mind. From my earliest memories as a child and throughout my adult life, my mother would say, “Baby, there is nothing we can’t overcome as long as the TRUTH is our bridge.”
At Greenwood Rising, our group learned of Tulsa’s reckoning with its past. We witnessed what leaders in Tulsa have done as they prepared for the 100th commemoration of the Race Massacre of May 31-June1, 1921. That infamous massacre disseminated the Greenwood District of Tulsa, once known as the “Black Wall Street.”
Federally Funded Financial Discrimination
In Waco, 1934 was a pivotal year that calls for our reckoning today – our facing of TRUTH. Community leaders are now more aware of that year’s “redlining” map that directed economic development in our city. But there are more details to be faced in this pursuit of TRUTH. We have not shared how this map came to be through a fully funded agency of the federal government called the Homeowners Loan Corp. (HOLC).
So here’s the rundown on HOLC and the intentional genesis of redlining:
HOLC was born in the 1930s during the Great Depression. During this time there was high unemployment, and many people couldn’t make their mortgage payments. A surge of foreclosures was occurring all over the United States. To help people stay in their homes our federal government created the HOLC with a goal to refinance mortgages with better terms – lowering interest rates and creating longer repayment periods to help prevent foreclosures.
So that sounds very familiar right even as we look through the eyes of our current pandemic. But here is where it all began.
The HOLC sent individuals to appraise neighborhoods in cities across the United States to determine which loans they would guarantee. The individuals documented the types as they visited each neighborhood –
Types of housing they found, and
Information about the people who lived in each neighborhood.
These individuals also catalogued “detrimental influences” with descriptions like “infiltration of negroes” and “mixed races” as characteristics that lowered the value of property in neighborhoods. (See image below.) I will leave it up to you to determine if these descriptions should be labeled as “racist.”
A redlining document: Detrimental influences: Obsolescence and poor maintenance. Infiltration of Negroes. Elevated structures on Lexington Ave & Fulton & Grand Avenue. Mixed races.
Armed with this information, federally funded HOLA created “residential security maps.”
Each map of cities across America gave neighborhoods within each city the following classification:
Based on these classifications, HOLC (a federally funded government agency) determined which loans they would guarantee. Banks across the United States also bought into these classifications in determining who and more importantly who did NOT qualify for a mortgage as they would NOT provide loans to buy homes in the "declining" or "hazardous" neighborhoods.
Any guesses on the areas in our city that were impacted negatively because of these actions?
Redlining Promotes Structural Racism
Redlining, as we know it today, was born as a result of these legal practices. Invisible but visible lines were drawn in areas based upon the residents’ race. This intentional legal practice effectively eliminated economic growth and mobility for entire communities. This practice helped institutionalize racialized poverty in areas of our city like East Waco and portions of South Waco.
Structural Racism – laws, rules, or official policies in a society that result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race
The creation of HOLC and, more importantly, how it went about doing its work is an example of structural racism.
Their practices led to further harm to Black and Brown people in our city and across America and helped create residential segregation. Because of the classifications, Black and Brown people were denied access to neighborhoods that may have been deemed more desirable by racist real estate practices.
Remember, according to HOLC policies, neighborhoods that had Black and Brown citizens living in them would have lower property values. Oh yes, and it was nearly impossible to get a loan to buy a home inside of the “red zone” as banks would not lend in neighborhoods that HOLC had classified as declining or hazardous.
In addition, real estate agents used tactics below to reinforce segregation:
Blockbusting – the practice of persuading owners to sell property cheaply because of the fear of people of another race or class moving into the neighborhood and thus profiting by reselling at a higher price.
Contract Selling – where buyers made monthly payments but owned nothing until they made the final payment. They could be evicted if they missed a single payment, losing everything they had paid – even if it amounted to the full price of the home. The seller, meanwhile, was free to resell the house and start the cycle again.
Racially Restrictive Covenants – “agreements entered into by a group of property owners, subdivision developers, or real estate operators in a given neighborhood binding them not to sell, lease, rent, or otherwise convey their property to specified groups because of race, creed, or color for a definite period unless all agree to the transaction.”
We know that owning a home is a gateway to achieving financial stability and creating generational wealth – wealth that can be passed down that allows future generations to achieve better educational and health outcomes. The prevention of this wealth being built was born out of policies that focused on Black and Brown communities while White communities were provided more resources and opportunities to build wealth.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
So, I ask, is poverty the result of bad luck or not working hard?
Racial Poverty Today is Rooted in Past Practices
It is now some 90 years after the creation of the Homeowners Loan Corp., and the hard TRUTH is, we are still dealing with the aftermath of its intentional acts and policies. Policies that were a driving force for the creation of poverty in our communities of color have withstood the test of time. This is the true definition of “systemic.”
Disinvestment in Black and Brown communities through redlining led to denying or withholding public and private funding, city services, or other resources that neighborhoods – and their residents – need to thrive.
Impoverished neighborhoods are the result of policies like redlining. The leading indicators of wealth, such as home ownership and business ownership, now show the results in economic health and its impact on health and education outcomes.
Seizing a TRUTH Moment
This is a TRUTH moment for us in our beloved community. What are the intentional actions we can do together to drive different results – different systemic results.
Join us in the work to implement the City of Waco’s Blueprint for Financial and Economic Security for all Wacoans. It takes the same level of intentionality to change the tide from what has been to what could be.
The bridge of TRUTH is before us. What is our TRUTH moment? When will we act on it so we can cross the bridge TRUTH together.
For more information or to assist with the implementation of the Blueprint for Financial and Economic security, please contact me at Dexter@prosperwaco.org.
Dexter Hall is chief of staff and senior specialist on financial security for Prosper Waco.