Land of Opportunity

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Land of Opportunity

(intense music) – [Nico] The legacy of this country has proven that ownership of land and property is the most secure way to financial stability And the appreciation of that property over decades is how families are able to accumulate wealth, send their children to college, or start their own businesses But what happens if you don’t come from a neighborhood with high property values? Or, what if, based upon the color of your skin, you were never given access to participate in that America to begin with Not by a single real estate agent or a private developer, but by a system that was designed to exclude you from its benefits If you take a drive through any major city, you’ll notice they all have about one thing in common They’re still segregated And there has been a consistent fight to maintain and overcome those physical boundary lines, then and now This is a story about the transformation of an historic neighborhood in Kansas City and the fight for housing rights across Missouri that challenged the United States Constitution My name is Nico and this is The Land of Opportunity (intense strings music) (keyboard music) – [Marquita] Some years ago the black archives and some neighborhood leaders joined together to get Santa Fe listed on the National Historic Register And there’s a lot of reasons, not just the structures of the homes but also a lot about the people who have lived here After I grew up I moved to Kansas for a little while and right back to Santa Fe area and I’ve lived in this area for 25 years now One of the first people that I was told to meet was Rosemary Lowe – [Nico] Having lived in the same home since 1952, Rosemary Lowe was president of the neighborhood association for many decades – [Marquita] And still recognized with the state and others because of her pioneering work that she did for Santa Fe and for the rest of the city – Well I worked on a lot of things. (chuckles) It’s a matter of how many things, because you was workin’ to keep the neighborhood like it should be – [Marquita] We get a lot of people who come through as tourists, because they’ve heard about Santa Fe Certainly, they’ve heard about some of the prominent leaders that we’ve had and still have in this community One I didn’t mention was Reverend Wallace Hartsfield who was involved in integrating sports in our city – 1962, I came to Kansas City – When Alex and I first started thinking about moving we watched this area We watched for houses Our friends knew we were looking at this area – One of our high school classmates and good friends had called me, said “Al, there’s a house on Benton that has a lot of potential “You might want to take a look at it.” And the former resident Jewel Neal said, “Well, I can show you this house better than any realtor.” – (laughs) – “But don’t waste my time.” – [Nico] And when she said show you this house better than any realtor could, she meant it Jewel Freeman, also known as Jewel Neal, decided to write her thesis about the historical significance of this very neighborhood – Santa Fe was the first planned neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri – When they built these homes, they built ’em to stay and to last – [Nico] Santa Fe Place would be the first attempt in Kansas City to regulate, legally, the basic aspects of the construction and maintenance of a neighborhood Four vital elements would define the new upscale community Elegant architectural features, exclusion of any commercial structures, encouragement to only middle- and upper-class homeowners and incorporation of land for parks and boulevards – [Marquita] The Ellisons’ home is absolutely a model home – [Alex] This house was built in 1907 And I don’t know if you could find any homes that are built today that would have some of the I mean, just like the wood trim A lot of that would be cost prohibitive in today’s market – [Nico] While today it would be too expensive to build these homes, it would be the standard of excellence for the men who built the neighborhood – I believe that it was over 300 acres of land was owned by one guy – [Nico] That guy was Charles Lockridge Having amassed his wealth from three generations of slave labor along the Santa Fe Trail, Charles had plans to develop his family’s farmland into the city’s premier neighborhood Several of Kansas City’s most influential business and civic leaders were involved in this development – The first owner of the house was a gentleman by the name of James G. Smart And he was actually the first president of the Kansas City Missouri Bar Association – [Nico] These were men of money, land and influence Principal among them was the wealthy industrialist,

August R. Meyer, for whom Meyer Boulevard is named after Victor Bell, a businessman in real estate and original developer, is often given credit for coming up with the idea of the Santa Fe Place development – Santa Fe was the Plaza, the Country Club Plaza as it is today It was the first area like that – [James] When they finished building over here was in 1925 A lot of the neighborhoods that are over in Brookside and the Plaza area, those neighborhoods and the Country Club Plaza was built after Santa Fe They wanted to make this area the Ward Parkway of Kansas City – [Nico] Ward Parkway, Brookside, the Country Club Plaza Today, these are some of Kansas City’s most premier neighborhoods And they didn’t get that way by accident It would be the effect of decades of federal-led investment with the government declaring one primary condition to access the money: homogenous neighborhoods In other words, no race mixing Therefore, Santa Fe Place’s most impactful feature may have had as much to do with the neighborhood’s boundary lines as it did the structure of its homes To the east, bordered by Indiana Avenue To the south, 30th Street To the west, Prospect And to the north, 27th which would be the dividing line separating the races According to the African-American newspaper, “The Rising Sun,” when realtors failed to steer away Black families from white-occupied areas, death threats or the torching of black-occupied houses succeeded Thanks to a handful of bombings, the receipt of a letter signed “Dynamite” was usually sufficient enough to dislodge a new Black resident – They’d set fire (mumbles) explosion over on 27th and Paseo on the southwest corner house – That was the main mindset of that day that races did not intertwine It was codified It was written into the deed of this homeowners’ association If I lived in this neighborhood, we could not sell to African-American families (keyboard music) – [Nico] In Kansas City before the 1940s, the prevalence of restrictive covenants on areas south of 27th Street confined Black families to areas north of 27th Street One person recalled that once you got past 27th Street, it was just all white I mean the businesses were white, the houses were white, everything was white It really says that in here It says everything was white – That was the law, that we couldn’t, we couldn’t live south of 27th Street – Racially restrictive covenants were usually filed with the Register of Deeds at the county court house (keyboard music) – [Nico] For the period of 30 years from and after the fifth day of February, 1931, none of the said real estate shall be devised, sold, conveyed, leased, subleased or occupied by any person or persons of the African race or blood or descent commonly called Negroes And that for enduring said period of 30 years, the sales, leases and subleases, occupancy or said real estate in addition be so accordingly restricted – So those covenants were strictly enforced and it was almost like you had to sign a contract if you purchased a house within an area that had covenants Some of the people who signed off on it, there are streets now named after ’em, Lockridge, Victor – It made me think, these folks are crazy. (laughs) That is exactly what they felt in their heart That they would write it down and sign a covenant And when I think of covenants, I think of it on the spiritual end You know, something that you truly in your heart, mind and soul agree to which would not in my wildest mind be to bar Black folks from living in a home that you used to own or you helped build – We are just one out of a number who have witnessed the same thing where there are areas that, as it was in Santa Fe, that you weren’t allowed to live in – [Nico] By the late 1940s, wealthy Blacks would take the issues of housing rights into the courtroom and through the legal process Leading the charge would be Dr. Dennis Madison Miller Born in Georgia in 1884, Dr. Miller would arrive and begin his medical practice in Kansas City in 1917 – I worked for him for 23 years At 18th and 9 was where his office was I was doing nursing – [Nico] Located just a few blocks north of the impenetrable race line, 18th & Vine would be the hub of Black culture through the early 1900s By the 1930s, Dr. Miller would be appointed superintendent of the Jackson County Hospital Colored Division

by then presiding court judge Harry S. Truman (driving music) It wasn’t covenants alone that pushed housing rights to new extremes After the Great Depression, the federal government took steps to recover the housing market by signing into law a series of programs called “The New Deal.” These national policies were extremely discriminatory and led to disinvestment in Black communities across the country One agency in particular had the greatest impact – The Home Owners Loan Corporation And this is an organization sanctioned by Congress to resurrect the country It doesn’t have anything to do with race seemingly You have these lending practices or lending regulations that you will then not invest in certain neighborhoods And those neighborhoods became the redlined neighborhoods Literally on maps they would have red sections of communities and they considered those communities bad banking investments and those who lived in those communities as undesirable residents But what constituted an undesirable resident? – [Nico] By 1945, over 30% of all housing in Kansas City, Missouri was listed as substandard with 85% of all housing occupied by Blacks in need of redevelopment or rehabilitation – Those families were locked into those environments where they couldn’t get the money and the loans to even fix the houses up that they were being trapped in that they had to stay in – On the other end of the redlined communities are greenlined communities So what are greenlined communities? Greenlined communities are great bankin’ investments – [Nico] Blue would be the second-best grade and yellow would be the last grade to receive any investment This is Santa Fe, which protected its value by remaining an all-white neighborhood – And so, here comes the racial covenants again Black people are not allowed to invest in greenlined communities because of the racial covenants You can’t buy into this community Meanwhile, banks and lending agencies are investing in these communities which, then white people then wanna move into these communities and they do – ‘Cause they can – ‘Cause they can – The intention was that you’re always the slave We will always be the master and that’s where it is now It is still the thought of being a master It’s still the thought of being the master You be the server – [Nico] While all other qualifications would have reserved Dr Miller the finest home Santa Fe had to offer, he would be bound by the color of his skin But with his political and social connections, he wouldn’t give up so easily – They had him in court for a year (mumbles) the neighborhood – Four years It was in court four years – It was a long time – [Nico] On the other side of the state in St Louis, another case was making its way to the Missouri Supreme Court A Black man by the name of J.D. Shelley, purchased a home that had a racially restrictive covenant The local neighborhood improvement association sued to prevent the Shelleys from taking possession of the home The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the covenant was enforceable, blocking the Shelley family from purchasing the home as they had done many times over with families in Kansas City NAACP attorneys led by the soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall launched a legal response, taking the case to the federal level and garnering national attention On May 3, 1948, the U.S Supreme Court made a decision on that case, ruling that if a Negro is able to buy or rent a piece of property and occupies it, the court may not be used to evict him from it, that no arm of the state can be used to help carry out such discriminatory acts which are based purely on race and color As the effect of this case got back to Kansas City, Dr. Miller and his wife, Clara, would be the first African-American family to move into the Santa Fe Place neighborhood, taking up residence at 2944 Victor Street – Well, at the time, this got Dr. Miller outta court Two or three people had moved into the neighborhood also – [Nico] And although those Black families now had the constitutional right to live in Santa Fe, the lawsuits continued – Oh, Mr. Street with the Street Hotel down on 18th and Paseo – [Rosemary] Right – [Nico] As Mr. Street took up residence, the lawsuits would shift to focus on the negative impact Black families had on property values, stating, “This is an action to enforce “a racially restrictive agreement.” His case would be one of the last to be reviewed in court By 1950, there was no further legal action Two years after Black families broke the color line, Dr. Miller would bring Rosemary along with him – He thought, if we would like to move in a better house and a larger house

that maybe we could find something in Santa Fe And so there was a real estate man who lived on Victor and he found the house I’m in – Once those lines were broken, then it was a mad rush to move into this area, into the nicer homes And to have something beautiful to live in – After we moved into Santa Fe, it kinda opened up the way that it wasn’t too big a problem with them movin’ into other neighborhoods in the surroundin’ areas The big problem was Santa Fe – [Nico] Four years later as integration into Santa Fe Place was at its peak, Jewel Neal went door-to-door asking White and Black residents how they felt about living in an integrated neighborhood (intense keyboard music) (intense keyboard music) (intense keyboard music) (intense keyboard music) (intense keyboard music) – [Marquita] I imagine to live and have to worry about lookin’ out the window and “Will I be safe?” must have been extremely difficult And I’m sure that they experienced being scared I certainly would have been afraid I would have been afraid for my life To be a pioneer for that type of integration, I do praise them because it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t stepped forward certainly for Santa Fe For those neighbors who moved out there was nothing but fear What’s gonna happen to my value of my home if I don’t move? Or do I want my kids playing with African-American kids? What type of education are they gonna get now? All of those things are important for everybody, but it’s just fear – [Nico] The fear that Blacks would destroy neighborhoods was no longer just a feature of the local housing markets, but was now a permanent and uncontested belief shared by the real estate and banking industries – I hope that you and the bank will reach a policy decision on real estate loans that will reassure the homeowners of this community – I’m a practical man You don’t work for this bank very long unless you are I’ll call downtown and see what they say – In Kansas City through the 1950s and later, FHA appraisals routinely included paragraphs discussing the racial makeup of Kansas City neighborhoods and downgrading appraisals on properties located in Black and racially mixed neighborhoods – The narrative is my parents worked hard, got a home, was able when it was time for me to go to college, they mortgaged it They did whatever and that is how I was able to go to college And if your other counterparts who have a different racial identity who are Black, who are Hispanic, they don’t necessarily get a chance to say those things And not because their parents didn’t care Or they weren’t organized enough Or they didn’t have a vision for them But it was because they didn’t have access – A lot of the language was that those people will bring crime into the neighborhood If they move into the neighborhood, then the value, the housing value of the neighborhood will decline – Whites saw themselves as being different And not just color, but being different, being more than And to be, to have those persons leavin’ and I’m left here with these “less-than” people, there was always the urge and the movement to move, to leave – I had white neighbors next to me, Mr. Jackson They lived next door But they moved about six months after we moved in – We often throw around the term “white supremacy” and people often think of white supremacist, the KKK, people in white sheets and all those kinds of things But I think the true definition of white supremacy is whiteness being the ideal of humanity And so they internalized these decisions

and they then believed that blackness is not the ideal of humanity and so then they structured their lives around this unspoken understanding – And restricted covenants are steeped in that mindset – Are steeped in it – That the ideal homeowner, the ideal neighbor carries and manifests and displays these characteristics – Yeah – Down to the skin color – I think when you grow up with that, you’re being told that every day, that you’re superior and they’re inferior and if they move into your neighborhood it’s going to drive the value of your homes down, then that’s what you do You move out – And that’s really important to really pause on because then we get into the narrative making that even though today those restricted racial covenants cannot be legally binding, it still has a lasting effect on what communities look like today You’ve gotta be curious about where did all this come from? Why is it only Black people in this neighborhood? Why is it only white people in this neighborhood? Why are so many of the houses in my neighborhood torn down? – [Nico] And as those policies downgraded appraisals on racially mixed neighborhoods, whites wasted little time moving back into homogenous neighborhoods By 1955, only 15% of Santa Fe was white – The last Caucasians to move out of Santa Fe was in 1970 and that was on 29th Street – [Nico] Santa Fe Place had now transformed into the first fully residential neighborhood that matched the economic status of middle- to upper-class Black families in Kansas City – This area was first integrated most of the people who were able to buy, the residents, they were professional people They were doctors, lawyers, teachers So it was a place where you wanted to be – This was like the neighborhood for all of the Talented Tenth as W.E.B. Du Bois would say – From Benton to Indiana to Rosemary Lowe It’s not 29th Street It’s Rosemary Lowe So there are streets, segments of streets, who have been named after individuals who’ve had a great impact in this city – [Marquita] Santa Fe can play a major role in educating the community and the world about race relations because we have documented information about those who were the champions and those who pioneered and those who stepped forward and risked their lives to have a better way of life – We still have not been able to accept self Who we are To be like the white race that’s not my goal My goal is to be a better person And to represent a blessing in difference that God has put us here for We are a part of the outpouring and the outpouring of ourselves is the outpouring of the love of God And that’s how we experience God Regardless of how it affects me, sometimes it hurts It’s hard (laughs) to love and put my arms around that person But if I understand that they do not understand what love is, then it helps me to understand, to accept that – It is not about hate Racism how it really happens in America, is really not about hate Yes, there are forms, there are people in our society who we call or we consider hate-mongerers People who do individual acts of hate towards other individuals But most of the racial, systemic race, structural racism happens tacitly, subtly, unassuming, implicitly People don’t realize that they’re engaging in this idea of race – [Stephenie] What have we learned from the New Deal era? What have we learned from the access and the subsidies and the opportunity – [Rodney] Yeah – of yesteryear that now presents itself today – [Rodney] Yeah – Have we created equitable landscapes – Equity – that begins to create more streams of access for a different type of people – That’s right – Because if we think that the emergence of opportunity zones today are still not embedded

and steeped into the racial arrangement and the historical impact that the racial arrangement has had that continues to determine access, then we begin to replicate what happened then again – I don’t just wish for the white man’s house or the car, the whatever I wish for the opportunity I wish for the given the freedom of the opportunity to gain whatever, whether it’s a car or house But the opportunity, just the opportunity to attain that which is good, positive, so that I can outpour it to others (relaxing piano music) (relaxing piano music) (relaxing piano music)