Inside JCPRD: Johnson County Museum opens new special exhibit on the history and lasting legacies of redlining

Redlined: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation will be on exhibit through Jan. 7, 2023 at the Johnson County Museum.

By the Johnson County Museum

Redlined: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation, the Johnson County Museum’s newest special exhibition, opened this Saturday, Jan. 29. The exhibit explores the history of redlining and how it both shaped and was shaped by Johnson County and the Kansas City region. Visitors will learn about the 19th and 20th century foundations of redlining, how the private practice became federal policy during the Great Depression, the expansion of the practice during postwar suburbanization, attempts to dismantle the system during the Civil Rights Era, and how the legacies of redlining continue to impact communities around the nation today.

“This important exhibit is the product of hundreds of hours of staff research,” said Museum Director Mary McMurray. “Our team reviewed more than 120 books, scholarly articles, media coverage, dissertations, and literally thousands of primary source documents housed here at the Johnson County Museum, as well as at regional and national archives in order to understand the full history and many legacies of redlining.”

“The research process revealed to us just how massive the history of redlining is,” said the Museum’s Curator of Interpretation and exhibit project lead Andrew R. Gustafson. “In fact, we told this story in just 1,200 fewer words than the story of Johnson County in our main exhibition.”

What is redlining?

Redlining refers to the systematic disinvestment of some neighborhoods and populations. This means that private industry and later the federal government chose to fund and support home purchases for some people and neighborhoods over others, often on the basis of race. Redlining was integral to the build-up of the nation’s suburban communities to the detriment of urban neighborhoods and communities of color. Although the policy was outlawed with the passage of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, the legacies of the system continue to impact our community and the nation today.

The exhibition will remain on view through Jan. 7, 2023. It features a mini exhibit of artwork by Black artists, large-scale visualizations, a video showing interviews with cultural leaders from previously redlined communities, and a touchscreen exhibit comparing historic and modern maps.

Visualizing an abstract system

The museum called on Theatre in the Park Producing Artistic Director Tim Bair to design the exhibit.

“I wanted to use design to help people digest the important history in this exhibit, but also to create a moving experience for the visitors,” said Bair. Drawing on decades of experience with theater and graphic design, Bair infused the text with recurring graphic elements to highlight key information as well as massive graphic elements that visually tell both the local and national story.

“The design is truly stunning,” said McMurray. “We are so fortunate to work alongside creative and talented colleagues in the Culture Division of Johnson County Park and Recreation District!”

The exhibit includes more than 120 images and ten display cases with historic objects and documents. Large-scale visualizations of redlining, restrictive covenants by neighborhood, and media coverage will move visitors. A video featuring Dr. Carmaletta Williams, executive director of the Black Archives of Mid-America, Gloria Ortiz Fisher, executive director of Westside Housing Organization, and Marvin S. Robinson II, Quindaro historian and advocate, highlights voices and experiences from inside previously redlined communities.

An exhibit within an exhibit

A unique feature in the exhibit is a micro art exhibit made up of several new pieces that members of the African American Artists Collective created in response to the topic of redlining. Their works offer opportunities to learn about the history of redlining from the artists’ perspectives and to reflect on the historical content provided in the exhibit.

“Partnerships are critical to achieving the museum’s mission,” said McMurray. “Partnering with Sonié Thompson-Ruffin and the African American Artists Collective made the exhibit – and us – better. We are grateful to them for sharing their talents with us.”

A year of programming at the Johnson County Museum

The Johnson County Museum will offer public programs designed to complement the exhibit throughout the year. The first program, on Feb. 19, is a one-of-a-kind experience that explores the history and legacy of redlining in our region. The program begins with a scene study from “A Raisin in the Sun,” the 1961 film, followed by a tour of the exhibit, and exploration of the systemic roots of housing inequality and segregation. The experience then culminates in a mixed-media art project where participants can create visual art that reflects their experience with this complex history. Additional programs include history talks with Dr. Carmaletta Williams, Dr. Bill Worley, and Dr. Edgar Tidwell, as well as panel discussions about the legacies of redlining featuring The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County, Blue River Conservation Collaborative, Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, United Community Services, and the Health Forward Foundation. School-based offerings are also available.

A convening of partner sites throughout the metro

Programs will also take place at partner sites around the metro.

“We quickly realized that the history of redlining was too big to be told by a single institution,” said McMurray. “So, we reached out to sites throughout the region asking them to help us extend the conversation beyond our walls.”

More than a dozen partners agreed, including the Johnson County Library, Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, Kansas City, Mo. Public Library, Black Archives of Mid-America, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Kansas Studies Institute, Kansas City Museum, and more.

“The collaborative nature of the cultural community in Greater Kansas City is one of our region’s greatest strengths,” said McMurray. “We are grateful for these amazing partnerships and cannot wait to see the programs our partners host!”

Redlined: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation will be on exhibit through Jan. 7, 2023, and is included with regular museum admission. For more information, follow the hashtag #RedlinedKC and visit: