Walking the Red Line: Roanoke, Salem, and the Legacies of HOLC Residential Segregation

Author: Hunter Haskins
Major: History and Political Science
Approved: Spring 2020
Status: In progress

In 1933, facing a perilous real estate collapse during the Great Depression, the U.S. government created the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) to prevent homes and their owners from sliding into foreclosure. To determine the residents most in need of financial assistance, the corporation created color-coded “security maps” of American cities, with green and blue zones indicating areas of strong credit worthiness and with yellow and red zones indicating areas with few or no financial incentives for aid. Decades later, surveys of these maps show that areas colored yellow and red were disproportionately minority-inhabited neighborhoods and that racial bias and xenophobia played a substantial role in determining the color-coding. This bias and its practice are now commonly referred to as “redlining.”

Roanoke, Virginia, and the nearby City of Salem, were the subjects of one such security map. This project will examine this map and evaluate the practical and historical impacts of HOLC’s redlining on Roanoke and Salem in the twentieth century and beyond. This will be done through an examination of the history, development, and outcomes of several properties in Roanoke and Salem deemed green, blue, yellow, and red in the original 1937 map. A treatment of gentrification, urban renewal and regeneration, environmental racism, and other local factors closely connected to the area’s minority communities will connect the findings of 1930s HOLC agents with the realities of loan viability, economic disadvantage, and racial injustice. As the living memory of the Depression era fades, it is the project creator’s ambition to present and preserve the history of local spaces created or undermined by the notorious redline.