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Montgomery County, Ohio officials acknowledge effects of redlining with art

The quilt on display at the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office. Pictured are Brandon McClain, Montgomery County Recorder, and quilt artists Carroll Schleppi and Shannon Naik.
Garrett Reese
Redlining is a practice embedded in racial segregation and inequality into the development of American cities and suburbs.

A quilt showing the history of redlining in the city of Dayton is on display at the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office. The piece was commissioned by Sinclair Community College and was stitched together by local artists Shannon Naik and Carrol Schleppi. Both are members of the Miami Valley Art Quilt Network.

The quilt shows the city of Dayton divided by highways I-75 and I-35 highlighting areas with bright blue, yellow, green, and, most ominously, a scarlet red.

The quilt is based off of a map created in the 1930s by the Home Owners Loan Corporation. The map designated areas of the city that were “desirable” to live in, colored green, which were primarily populated by white people.

Areas designated in red were “undesirable,” and were often populated with Black and immigrant communities. Areas designated in blue and yellow were less desirable, but still better than the red areas.

The 1930s map created by the HOLC that the quilt is based off of. Courtesy of Mike Brill, Communications & Community Engagement Manager at the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office.
The 1930s map created by the HOLC that the quilt is based off of. Courtesy of Mike Brill, Communications & Community Engagement Manager at the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office.

Redlining was a discriminatory practice that started after the Great Depression in the 1930s. Maps like the one created by the HOTC classified Black and immigrant communities as risky places to make home loans, which led to underinvestment in those areas.

That underinvestment, and economic inequality, can still be seen today.

“There were efforts that segregated our community and has had this long term impact,” Karl Keith, the Montgomery County Auditor, said. “I think the map helps to show that because as you look at these areas on the map as, oh, I know that area, I know why it’s this way or why it’s that way. And it shows, I think, that this just wasn’t by chance.”

Keith says that as the county’s chief property assessor, he still sees houses worth less in areas that were redlined over 80 years ago. Redlining has more devastating effects than low property value, however.

“When we lay over this 1937 map where the highest amount of infant mortality is, it’s in the same places that were sanctioned into redlined areas,” John Zimmerman, vice president of the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, said.

Zimmerman also said because the redlined areas were deemed too risky to invest in, they have poorer amenities and public services overall. That leads to higher rates of infant mortality as well as other issues.

The comparisons to areas redlined over 80 years ago and areas in Dayton still struggling was what motivated artists Naik and Schleppi to stitch the quilt together for Sinclair.

The quilt on display at the County Auditor’s Office.
Garrett Reese
Redlining not only affected property value but also infant mortality rates.

The quilt was originally commissioned for the Equity 21 Summit: Redlining that took place over Zoom because of the pandemic. Sinclair told the artists that they wanted participants of the summit to contribute in some way.

“That was something that Carroll and I had never contemplated before,” Naik said. “So we had to come up with a plan for that.”

They decided to incorporate comments made by participants over the Zoom call and through the chat during the conference detailing what they were learning through the summit.

One of these quotes stood out to Naik.

“So many people, that’s the first thing is red lining means there should be a red line. Where’s the red line?’” she said with a laugh.

They made that comment, “Where’s the red line?” slightly larger than the others, and made it more bold. Naik said that the often asked phrase encapsulated what was learned about redlining, and what they hope viewers of their quilt begin to learn too.

Schleppi pointed to quotes related to unity and coming together as important in her view of their art. Phrases like “finding new bridges and highways that truly connect” and “we all bleed red” were very motivating to her.

“Where we are today depends on what happened in the past,” she said. “And we need to acknowledge our past.”