Learning Resources

Mapping Inequality

Redlining in New Deal America

Key Vocabulary

Demographics - The study of a population based on factors such as age, race, gender, income level, education level, and other statistical data.

Query - A question posed to check for accuracy; with geospatial technology, a question using the map and data stored with the map.

Redlining - The practice of denying a creditworthy applicant a loan for housing in a certain neighborhood even though the applicant may otherwise be eligible for the loan. The term refers to the presumed practice of mortgage lenders of drawing red lines around portions of a map to indicate areas or neighborhoods in which they do not want to make loans.

Restrictive covenants - An agreement in a deed to real estate (land/property) that restricts future use of the property, often enforceable against future owners. Restrictive covenants based on race were declared unconstitutional in 1949.

Segregationist - A person who supports the policy of enforced separation of different racial groups.

Structural racism - Laws and public policies that create a disadvantage for people of color, including unfair employment, educational, housing, banking, and lending practices.

Read for Understanding: 

Mapping Inequality introduces the viewer to the records of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) on a scale that is unprecedented. Here you can browse more than 150 interactive maps and thousands of "area descriptions." These materials give an extraordinary view of the contours of wealth and racial inequality in Depression-era American cities and insights into discriminatory policies and practices that so profoundly shaped cities that we feel their legacy to this day.

View this map on American Panorama.


How can maps help us visualize the segregationist housing policies of New Deal America?

  • Examine the How to Use this Map image above. 
  • Click on the Map URL.  
  • Take 10 minutes to explore the map and its tools.  What do you notice?

Click on the Introduction link located in the upper right corner of the brown toolbar on the map.

Take turns reading each paragraph of the Introduction aloud with a partner, stopping to allow the listener to paraphrase what was just read or ask clarifying questions. Alternate between the reader and listener roles. Zoom in and study the primary source HOLC’s map for Decatur, IL.        

  • Share 3 things you found surprising or interesting about this topic
  • 2 new vocabulary words you learned
  • 1 question you have about the map so far.

Repeat the same partnered reading process by continuing to read Archiving Inequality for the Digital Age and the “Bibliographic Note.” Alternate roles as both a reader and listener with your partner. Discuss how the HOLC rating for Savannah, GA differed from other cities.  

Familiarize yourself with the basic tools on the map.  Notice the +/- buttons in the top right corner which can be used to zoom in and out on the map.  

  • What are some of the map options? 

Select the Map Options tab and view each one.

  • How might you use each version of the map?
  • Why do you think the cartographers who created the map included each of these views?

Locate the small US Map icon beside the +/- buttons. 

  • What happens on the map when you click this icon?

Use this icon to return to the national view as we continue to explore the map.

The legend, or map key, located in the bottom left corner of the map, uses color-coded symbols.  Based on the partner reading of the Introduction and Archiving Inequality for the Digital Age, how does this key help the reader understand the HOLC rating system? 

To hide the legend, select the minus icon.  To bring it back to the screen, select the show legend tab at the bottom of the screen. 

Locate the Search for City box in the top right corner of the screen. Type in the name of your city (or the closest city to your school or location) in the box and click enter to run a query (a geographic question using the map and data stored with the map).

  • Did your city show up on the map? 
  • If not, what are some reasons why you think it was not included?  

Now try typing the name of your state in the same box.

  • How many cities (if any) in your state are listed in the results?
  • What states do not have any cities with a HOLC rating?
  • Why do you think these states were not evaluated by HOLC during this time?

Select another city and click on its name, then spend a few minutes exploring the map. Use the +/- buttons to zoom out until you can see the entire United States on the map. 

  • What do you notice about the majority of cities included on the map?
  • Where are there few or no cities represented on the map? 

Turn and talk with a partner and discuss why you think the map includes data from some cities/states, but not all. You may refer back to the information in the Introduction or Archiving Inequality for the Digital Age with your partner when discussing possible answers.  

Use the US map icon on the toolbar to navigate back to the national view on the original map.

  • What do you notice about the circular icons on the map?
  • How do the colors in the map key or on the map next to the names of each city correspond to the HOLC rating data for each state? 
  • For your state/city (if any)?
  • What other patterns do you notice?  

Explore the icons located within the map key.  

  • How does the map change as you select each of these icons?
  • For what purpose do you think the mapmaker (cartographer) selected these tools? 

Your teacher may ask you to record your answers on an exit ticket.


How did redlining contribute to decades of racial segregation in America? 

Structural racism refers to laws and public policies in the New Deal era that created a disadvantage for people of color, including unfair employment, housing, banking and lending practices such as the federal mortgage policy of redlining that denied mortgages to blacks and other minorities.  

Redlining resulted in racial segregation and neighborhoods with declining property values.  Redlined neighborhoods had a smaller tax base which affected school funding, access to healthcare, and the ability to generate wealth. The practice of embedding restrictive covenants, an agreement in a deed to real estate (land/property) that restricts future use of the property, often based on race, religion, or ethnicity, was often enforceable against future owners during this era.  These policies over time continue to be barriers to success for many people of color. 

To fully understand the long-term impact, we need to take a closer look.

View this video from our friends at Untold History and iCivics about the landmark Supreme Court case, Shelley v. Kraemer, which challenged the practice of racially restrictive covenants and redlining. You will learn more about J.D. and Ethel Shelley and their fight against restrictive housing covenants. Unable to purchase the house of their choice because of an agreement among homeowners to not sell to people of color, the Shelleys took their case all the way to the Supreme Court. Their actions changed accessibility to housing for millions of Americans.

Continue to explore the map to get a better understanding of how redlining and racially restrictive covenants denied homeownership to many Americans in the New Deal era.

Hold down the small white hand icon on the map to move the map. Select a city to explore either by typing the name in the search box or double-clicking on a city from the map. Notice how the map has now changed.  Take 5-10 minutes to explore this new map and data on your own. Some of the tools are the same as the previous tools we have used with earlier maps, and some are new. 

Look carefully at the map.

  • What city and state are on your map?
  • What information is displayed to the left of the map?

Take a few minutes to examine this information.  Hover over each of the “Areas by Grade.”

  • What do you notice about the map as you hover over each colored bar?

Read each description, and locate these places on the map. As you read and observe, look for patterns.

Now zoom in on the image of the original map and locate the map key or legend.

  • What is the source of this map? 
  • When was it created?
  • Why do you think it was created? 

Compare the original map key to the digital map key.   

  • What similarities and differences do you see with the 2 map keys?  
  • How does the language on each map key reflect the time period when they were created? 

Now zoom out and look at the actual neighborhoods on the map.  

  • What patterns do you see?  
  • How are neighborhoods grouped in relation to industrial or commercial use areas?
  • How are neighborhoods grouped in relation to bodies of water?

Turn and talk to a partner who explored a different city and map.  Compare and contrast the city and map you explored with the one your partner explored.  Discuss any similarities and differences. Return again to the national view on the map. (Reminder, use the small US map icon located in the upper right corner of the toolbar at the top of the map.)

Now take a few minutes to try a new tool, the Marker, located on the left side of the map key.  Select this tool and toggle between the two views of the marker, reading about each version. Be sure to observe the changes on the map as you toggle back and forth.

  • What new information is revealed when you toggle between these different views?
  • What information is easier to see with the concentric circles? With the donut chart?
  • Does each view change the patterns you see on the map? 
  • What percentages of each of the HOLC graded categories (A, B, C, D) do you see in this city?

Select a new city to explore, clicking again on the map.  Use the “map options” tab located at the top of the map on the toolbar, and select the “graded areas” view. 

Zoom in and explore more of the details on the map.

Look carefully at the graded areas view of the map of Philadelphia.

  • Where are the redlined (D, “hazardous”) neighborhoods in relation to public spaces such as parks? 
  • Where are the redlined (D, “hazardous”) neighborhoods in relation to hospitals?
  • Where are the redlined (D, “hazardous”) neighborhoods in relation to banks?
  • Where are the redlined (D, “hazardous”) neighborhoods in relation to cemeteries?
  • What do these spatial relationships reveal about redlined neighborhoods? 

Your teacher may ask you to record your answers on an exit ticket. 


Can we use historic maps and data to show a pattern of structural racism in New Deal America?

Return again to the national view on the map using the US Map icon located on the toolbar in the top right corner of the map. Navigate back to the same city map you explored in the previous lesson. Be sure the map options are set back to "full map" view.

Use the hand icon tool and single click on one of the green color-coded neighborhoods. 

  • What changes do you see on the map? 
  • How does the information on the left of the screen change?

Use the map options button to select the polygons view of the map. Select the “Show Full” button. Take a few minutes to read about the green color-coded neighborhood.  

  • How is this neighborhood described? 
  • How does the description of the neighborhood reflect the HOLC score on the map key?

Click on the “Show Scan” button and read the primary source HOLC area description. 

  • What types of adjectives or descriptive words do you see?
  • What else do you notice about the way certain neighborhoods are evaluated?

Select the “Show Map” button to close the window when you are done reading to return to the map. Deselect (one click) the green color-coded section of the map you were viewing to return to the main map key. Scroll down the key and view more selections from the Area Descriptions.

Repeat the same steps above with one of each of the other color-coded neighborhoods.  

Select a blue, yellow and finally a red neighborhood on the map by single-clicking on each type of neighborhood.  Examine the map, the primary source HOLC documents and other information provided on the left side of the screen for each color-coded section.

Select a category from the map key (ex.” Clarifying Remarks”) to read more descriptions. Be sure to read the “Instructions to HOLC Agents” if these are included in the entry.  Select the “full screen” icon to see a comparative table of comments from all 4 color-coded sections of each category.

Compare and discuss your findings with a partner who explored a different city and a different set of maps. Hover over each description in the table to display an inset map.  Pay careful attention to the Area Descriptions. Some are broken down into categories such as “Clarifying Remarks,” “Detrimental” vs. “Favorable” Influences,” and “Inhabitants Type” which may contain key pieces of evidence. You may scroll between categories in the table by clicking on the category numbers in the top left and right corners. 

  • Do the color-coded regions in both cities show patterns that are consistent with structural racism? 
  • Did you discover segregationist language contained within the Area or Category Descriptions or in some cases, the Instructions to the HOLC agents?

Select the “Show Selections” button or scroll down through  the map key on the left to read a variety of selections from the Area Descriptions. Discuss these with your partner, noting any new examples you find of race-based comments. 

Write a short paragraph describing how each of these neighborhoods varied in terms of property  value, demographics of the inhabitants and estimated income.  Describe your thoughts on how this data relates to structural racism. Note specific words or phrases you see which show evidence of discriminatory language or patterns in each color-coded region. 

Document the city name, letter, and section with each example (ex.Philadelphia, PA -B20).

Your teacher may ask you to record your answers on an exit ticket.


How does the HOLC data represented in Mapping Inequality mirror modern-day structural racism?

In the 1980s discovery of the HOLC security maps in the National Archives changed the way historians thought about HOLC and New Deal housing policy. Housing activists in the 1960s and 1970s had criticized and protested discrimination in real estate lending and buying, coining the term “redlining” to illustrate the geographic dimensions of housing discrimination.

Read this excerpt from How Redlining’s Racist Effects Lasted for Decades from bunkhistory.org.

Notice the related content to the right of the excerpt. The stack of cards contains related content to the original article on the left of the screen. As new content is added to Bunk, the related content and number of cards/connections (indicated by a gray number) will vary. 

The connection icons located to the left of the cards here represent Idea, Person, Place and Later, which refers to a connected article from a later time period. These icons may change as new content is added to Bunk.  Select the “View Connections” button.

Notice how the screen changes.

Select the “How Connections Work” icon and “Learn More” to read about how Bunk makes connections to its content.

Return back to the Redlining content by using your browser’s back arrow.

Below the connections icon, you will see a list of tags, manually curated for each piece of content to link the excerpt to other material from our archives that intersects with it in some way. Take a moment to view the list of tags. 

  • Do you notice anything about how these tags relate to the earlier learning activities you completed with the American Panorama map, Mapping Inequality?
  • Are there any tags with new vocabulary or ideas not explored in your previous exploration of Mapping Inequality?

Select the arrow in the far right corner of the screen below the cards to view other cards, with new connections and tags. Each card will generate new connections and tags for each excerpt.  Take some time to view these connections.

Note any similarities/differences between the tags.

Working in groups of 3-4, each person in the group will select a different related card and read the excerpted article which is connected.  Each person will prepare a visualization such as a 1-pager, infographic or sketch notes to summarize the main points of the Bunk content they read, and share with their group.  Your visualization should include suggested new tags for the article, or a new suggested connection from the list of Bunk connections viewed earlier. 

Once all groups have completed their visualizations, display these around the classroom and spend time taking a gallery walk to view your classmates’ work.  

  • What do you notice about the ways redlining or structural racism are visualized? 
  • Can you think of other ways redlining continues to impact communities today? 

Suggested resources for visualizations:

One-pagers: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/one-pagers/

Infographics: https://www.commonsense.org/education/top-picks/best-infographic-design-apps-and-websites

Sketch Notes: https://creativeeducator.tech4learning.com/2016/articles/get-started-with-sketchnoting

Your teacher may ask you to record your answers on an exit ticket.


Bunk History. (2019). How Redlining’s Racist Effects Lasted for Decades. (online). Available at: https://www.bunkhistory.org/resources/831.

Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed November 28, 2019, https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining.

“The Shelleys & the Right to Fair Housing.” iCivics. iCivics/Untold History, April 6, 2021. https://www.icivics.org/videos/shelleys-right-fair-housing.

This work by New American History is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at newamericanhistory.org.

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