Daily Archives: October 18, 2011

The Cartography of Race


A component of segregation that might be overlooked in an overview of 20th century America has to do with cartography—that is, the production of local maps. During the 1920s and 30s, white homeowners signed covenants to neither sell nor rent to African Americans. This practice affected maps created by the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC), which in turn helped define patterns of segregation for decades.

Join us for a fascinating look at this little-known piece of our history when Matthew Daley, Ph.D., presents The Cartography of Race. It will be held on Thursday, Oct. 20 at 7:00 p.m. in the auditorium of the Downtown Lansing Library.

Dr. Daley is an Associate professor of History at Grand Valley State University and editor of the Grand Rapids Historical Society magazine. His presentation will focus on how the banking collapse of 1933 impacted the system of home mortgages, causing a shift from informal segregation to a sharper form of institutionally backed segregation, represented by zoning, race restricted covenants and access to finance.

“While doing my dissertation work on Detroit,” he explains, “I realized that what work has been done in this area tended to focus on traditional big cities such as Philadelphia and St. Louis, and with a notable lack of interest in smaller cities such as Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Jackson—all of which appear in the files of the HOLC.”

Reading the analytical surveys and questionnaires for both large and small cities led Daley to consider how this information shaped how Americans would purchase homes for generations, ultimately defining the concept of “neighborhood.” He was prompted to study the specific importance of local maps when he realized that “the existing literature’s heavy focus on federal policies ignores the local input that went into the maps and appraisals, and the influence these communities had on the direction of policy.”

Far from being irrelevant in 2011, this kind of data provides not only clues to our past but also what Daley calls “a roadmap for the future.” He points out that we are once again in a period of much discussion and legislating about national housing policy. “The discussions and actions of the 1930s exert a subtle influence even in the present-day, because their choices and attitudes were built into policy and institutional memory.  Examining those sorts of built-in assumptions tells us a great deal about how we’ve come to where we are today.”

The Cartography of Race presentation is in support of The Great Michigan Read, an annual reading project that encourages residents to read and discuss a selected book. This year’s title is Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle. It’s the electrifying account of a real-life murder trial that resulted when an African American physician purchased a home in a white Detroit neighborhood in 1925. CADL will welcome Boyle for a book discussion and signing on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. His appearance is being co-sponsored by Thomas M. Cooley Law School and will be held at their downtown Lansing location.

The Great Michigan read is presented by the Michigan Humanities Council with support from Meijer and the National Endowment for the Humanities.