Race & Redlining in Richmond

By Maryam Tahseen

Even though the city of Richmond freed itself from the shackles of slavery towards the end of the 19th century, the structures of systematic racism continue to discriminate against and marginalize the black community of the city. With the increasing black population of the city posing a threat to the mostly white City Council and General Assembly members in the late 19th and early 20th century, strategies such as the construction of Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike were used to displace and disburse residents from the majority black residential areas. The Turnpike cut a one block wide and an eighteen blocks long trench through Jackson Ward which was a majority black neighborhood.[1] These frequent displacements of black people and lack of financial support by the government meant that most of these people settled in either less-developed or impoverished areas of the city in the 20th century. To this day, the effects of these racially segregated zones are evident between the neighborhoods of East End and West End. While the East End suffers from issues such as food deserts and poorly-maintained schools, West End is home to some of the wealthiest communities in the Richmond area. Moreover, the ordinance by Henry W. Woody in the early 20th century to prohibit persons who could not marry each other from living next to each other led to a paucity of racial integration in the residential areas and its effects can still be seen today.

The gentrification of predominantly black neighborhoods in the city of Richmond is a poignant reminder of the city’s dark history. According to Rosa Coleman, president of the Greater Fulton Hill Civic association, her neighborhood in Fulton was completely bulldozed and its residents dispersed. While growing up, she remembers that her neighborhood in Fulton rarely had any electricity or indoor plumbing which again indicates the deplorable conditions of the black neighborhoods when compared to the white neighborhoods of the city. [2] Another black neighborhood in Richmond which has gone through gentrification is Church Hill. Through gentrification, the South of the neighborhood flourished while the longtime residents were pushed towards the north. As new businesses and restaurants continue to open in the South of Church Hill, the divide between the predominantly black North and white South becomes more and more obvious.

In the late 19th century and early to mid 20th century, the annexation of counties near Richmond was carried out in a way to specifically reduce the black voting strength in the majority black wards by splitting the newly annexed populations evenly throughout the wards. [3] Moreover, laws disqualifying voters who had committed a petty larceny further contributed to the muffling of black political voice in the city. Their lack of representation in the city politics and governance meant that policies to displace and destroy their neighborhoods got easily passed in the assembly. By using such ordinances and laws, the majority white councils of the city of Richmond were able to silence the voice of black communities for over a century until 1968 when a black person was elected to the general assembly.

Although not as obvious, the structures of racism are still evident in various institutions of the city. According to Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, black borrowers continue to become the victims of “redlining.” Based on their recent research on mortgage data, 13.7% of white borrowers had their loan applications denied while 34.6% of black applicants had their loan applications rejected. [4] The neighborhoods impacted by redlining today are the same that were historically excluded for lending.

Since most of the black residents in Richmond were former slaves, they not only belonged to low-socioeconomic backgrounds, but also had limited reading and writing abilities. Before integration in the educational institutions, most of the black schools were overcrowded, under-funded, and had low teacher pays. On the other hand, most of the schools with the highest educational standards were located in some of the wealthiest and “white-est” localities of the city. Even after integration, most of these schools were unavailable to black children because of the distance of these schools from their neighborhoods, coupled with the lack of public transportation available to these schools. The election of anti-integration governors such as Godwin further complicated the racial integration of classrooms. The lack of funding of majority black public schools magnified the economic boundaries between the black and the white neighborhoods in the region. The black community in Richmond still seems to be stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty because of the low educational standards of public schools in black neighborhoods. In 2012, United States’ official poverty rate was 15% while the city of Richmond had a 25.3% rate of poverty. A further breakdown of this statistic shows that the poverty rate amongst the white community in Richmond was 5% while the black population suffered from 30% rate of poverty. [5] The poorly funded schools in black neighborhoods over the course of the last few years means that employment opportunities are not as available to the black population in the city of Richmond. The unemployment rate was 14.1% for blacks as compared to 5.1% for whites.

Even though it has been years since the abolition of slavery, the scars of structural racism can still be seen throughout the city of Richmond.

 

Maryam Tahseen is a rising Junior majoring in Accounting with a concentration in Finance and minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is from Islamabad, Pakistan. As an international student, she is very excited to uncover the lives of international students along with underrepresented minorities through this project. 

 

[1] Benjamin Campbell. Richmond’s Unhealed History, Selections, Brandylane Publishers, 2012, 155.

[2] Brian McNeill, “Social Work Students Explore Richmond’S Struggles With Race, Injustice”, News.Vcu.Edu, 2017, https://news.vcu.edu/community/Social_work_students_explore_Richmonds_struggles_with_race_injustice.

[3] Benjamin Campbell. Richmond’s Unhealed History, Selections, Brandylane Publishers, 2012, 136.

[4] Ned Oliver, Times-Dispatch, “Study Links Richmond Mortgage Denials To Race”, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2017, http://www.richmond.com/news/local/city-of-richmond/study-links-richmond-mortgage-denials-to-race/article_84d2e614-823a-5902-83df-a14ae649eb61.html.

[5] Julian Hayter, City Profile Of Richmond (Richmond: University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, 2015), http://thrivingcities.com/sites/default/files/City-Profile-Richmond.pdf.

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