BPL Black History Workshops February 9, February 23 Explore Racial Redlining in Birmingham

Paul Boncella, map conservator for BPL's Southern History Department.

Two Black History Month workshops taking place at the Central Library February 9 and February 23 will explore the history of racial redlining in Birmingham.

Paul Boncella, the map conservator for the Birmingham Public Library’s Southern History Department, will conduct present workshops focused on two historic maps:  The 1933 Postal Map of Birmingham and the 1938 Residential Security Map of Birmingham.

Boncella’s talks, both open to the public, are as follows:

 • Birmingham Explored Race and Real Estate: Redlining Birmingham in 1938, Sunday, February 9, 3:00 p.m., Linn-Henley Research Library, Arrington Auditorium 

A federal government effort to identify the areas of Birmingham best suited to receive home mortgages led to the creation of a map in 1938 that further defined racial boundaries sanctioned by the city's zoning ordinance of 1926. Paul Boncella of the Southern History Department examines the two versions of the federal government's redlining map and other documents to demonstrate how real estate zones were delineated and how the criteria for doing so were later invoked to justify preserving the city's racial divisions.
City of Birmingham 1933 zoning map.

 • An Emblem of Segregation: The 1926 Birmingham Zoning Map, Sunday, February 23, 3:00 p.m., Linn-Henley Research Library, Arrington Auditorium 

A scheme to segregate the population of Birmingham by race existed both in theory and in practice long before the legislation that made it legal was passed in 1926. Paul Boncella of the Southern History Department examines the zoning map and other documents to demonstrate how the ordinance came into existence and why it was initially accepted by the population at large.
1938 City of Birmingham Residential Security Map.

Boncella presented a similar workshop about laws that allowed racial separation in Birmingham housing at BPL last year during Black History Month. Boncella's two talks are among nearly 60 Black History Month programs taking place at 18 BPL locations during February.

Paul Boncella's Black History Month talks are February 9 and February 23.

In a Q&A. Boncella discussed how government-sanctioned racial redlining came to be and the impact the two zoning maps still have on Birmingham nearly a century later.

What led you to do this program?

Boncella: My study of the 1926 Birmingham Zone Map led me to an extravagant defense of residential segregation in Birmingham that was undertaken a quarter century later, when real estate values were cited as a justification for the practice. I suspected that it was related to redlining, and I set out to explore that connection through two maps from the 1930s and other documents from that time.

Where are these redlining maps today?

 Boncella: The maps are held by the National Archives and Records Administration. They were never meant to be seen by anyone outside two agencies of the federal government, and we are fortunate that they were discovered there in the 1970s.

How were these maps used, and what impact did they have in Birmingham? 

Boncella: They were used to determine who would be eligible to receive federally sponsored mortgages and mortgage insurance based on the real estate zone in which they lived. The policies that defined the zones on the maps discouraged mortgage investment in areas occupied by African Americans and greatly reduced the likelihood of such investment in neighboring zones.

Anything else to add? 

Boncella: Although the theories of real estate valuation that brought redlining into existence are no longer a matter of government or industry policy, it is clear that their principles survive into the present. We need to be able to identify them whenever and wherever we see them put into practice.