By Lindsey Pryor
A few weeks ago, my family got in the car and took a tour of a city that I’ve lived in almost all my life. At the outset of Black History Month, my husband and I wanted to help our kids understand how racism has shaped our community. I’d heard about the Dividing Lines tour from a friend who thought I’d enjoy it because it explains segregation in KC through the specific lens of real estate.
As a real estate agent, I pride myself in knowing the ins and outs of Kansas City. And yet, I’d never been to half of the places we went that Saturday morning. Nor did I realize the extent to which my profession had shaped the segregation issues that continue to plague our city.
Did you know that Kansas City, Missouri is widely accepted as the place where “the segregated American cityscape came into being?” Tanner Colby, author of Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America, dedicates nearly a fourth of his book to explaining how Kansas City became the birthplace of America’s racist housing policies. Colby’s work was largely the inspiration for the Dividing Lines tour.
Starting in the parking lot at Shawnee Mission East (my alma mater), the tour takes you through Mission Hills and down Ward Parkway. This was all part of J.C. Nichols’ original “Country Club District,” which was first advertised in 1908 as “1,000 acres restricted for those who want protection.” As the first developer to attach racial covenants to the deeds of his homes, Nichols set a precedent in suburban neighborhoods across the country. In contrast, you’ll then drive down The Paseo and through Blue Hills, now shells of their former glory as result of blockbusting, redlining and white-flight. You’ll sit in the parking lot at Central High School, where former students talk of failed integration attempts. Although I “knew” all these terms, I had no idea how pervasively they shaped our city.
It feels trite to wrap this article up with a take away. My mind is still reeling from the experience. On one hand I feel disgusted by our city’s history and helpless to change it. On the other I feel empowered to try. Obviously we all want safe homes and great schools for our kids. There’s nothing wrong with having those desires. But an important part of living in a community is to understand the history that shaped it. And that knowledge is critical as we work to break this cycle and make safe homes and great schools a reality for everyone.
If you’re interested in experiencing this for yourself, download the VoiceMap app. This tour was created for the Johnson County Library’s “Race Project KC,” and it was written by Nathaniel Bozarth and Christopher Cook.
I also highly recommend Tanner Colby’s book, Some of My Best Friends Are Black. In addition, this Monday night, Feb. 15 at 6 p.m., UMKC is hosting their annual Martin Luther King Jr. lecture series featuring Professor Ibram X Kendi, author of How to be an Antiracist. The Johnson County Library and Race Project KC are two of the sponsors for this free, online event. You can register at the UMKC events page.
Bash & Co. Sotheby’s International Realty is an innovative full-service residential real estate brokerage that leverages the latest technology to serve clients in emerging, established, and luxury neighborhoods across the Kansas City area. Follow them on Instagram here and on Facebook here.