I moved to Dayton in September 2020 from Birmingham, Ala., where I lived for 13 years.
As I prepared for the move, I studied Dayton’s history and demographics. I was surprised to learn that Dayton’s population peaked in 1960, and that Black poverty is higher and Black median household income is lower than in Birmingham. My time in the South taught me that these things don’t happen by accident. I needed to learn more.
Upon my arrival to Dayton, one of my first projects was stewarding Learn to Earn Dayton’s work with the traveling exhibit Undesign the Redline, which is scheduled to be in Dayton beginning Friday, Aug. 6, at the Dayton Metro Library’s downtown branch. This work gave me the opportunity to learn about Dayton’s history as a redlined city.
Redlining has its roots in New Deal-era housing programs that refused to insure mortgages in and near Black neighborhoods, thus blocking traditional bank financing for Black homebuyers. At the same time, the federal government subsidized new subdivisions — with the requirement that none of the homes go to Black families. Today, redlining refers to a tangled web of federal, state and local public policies woven to deny opportunity and services to Black neighborhoods.
Birmingham is world-renowned for its history of state-sponsored segregation and racial violence. While my Alabama colleagues and I might disagree on the legacy of slavery, the 1963 murder of four Black girls at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church by a KKK member or 1965′s Bloody Sunday attack by state troopers on marchers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, those events were all part of our collective memory.
Dayton does not have a similar set of shared memories. We tend to attribute Dayton’s present-day racial segregation and racial disparities as “de facto” resulting from the river’s geography, personal choices and private discrimination rather than “de jure” as a result of government policy.
As Richard Rothstein describes in his book The Color of Law, de facto segregation is essentially a myth. Racially explicit federal, state and local actions in the mid-1900s separated the races in Dayton and cities across the country. We can see the impacts these policies had and continue to have on our community. Yet it’s difficult to talk about disrupting racial disparities in health, housing, education or wealth without a complete understanding of our city’s history.
That’s why the Undesign the Redline exhibit is so important to me and the work of Learn to Earn Dayton. The exhibit, along with an extensive series of supporting events, workshops and learning programs, can help us draw a line from our past to our present – and hopeful to a resurgent future.
You can visit the exhibit for free anytime during regular hours until Saturday, Sept. 25, or schedule private tours. From there, the exhibit will travel to the University of Dayton (October), Sinclair Community College (November), Trotwood-Madison City Schools (January 2022), Wright State University (February), Corinthian Baptist Church (March), and The HUB powered by PNC at the Dayton Arcade (April).
Learning about our history is the first step; I hope it’s not our last. Will you join Learn to Earn Dayton and our partners to remove redlining’s legacy in our community and rebuild systems in more equitable ways? You can learn more at RedesignTheRedline.org.
Kristina Scott is the CEO of Learn to Earn Dayton, which fosters the success of all Montgomery County children from birth until they graduate from college or earn a high-quality credential.