UMKC’s writer in residence publishes book about Troost Wall

U-News Staff

Whitney Terrell has spent many years bringing the issue of Kansas City’s sluggish rate of ethnic integration to the public’s attention, and is no stranger to the history behind the racially restricted covenants that perpetuate local segregation.

Terrell,  Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at UMKC’s English Department,  knows the history of the Troost Wall is a long story, but that hasn’t stopped him from telling it in his book, “The King of Kings County.”

He was initially introduced to hints of racial restriction through his aunt’s deed, which likely included verbiage such as, “No property in said addition shall at any time be sold, conveyed, rented or leased in whole or in part to any person or persons not of the White or Caucasian race.”

Terrell was then inspired to write his book, which has since prompted others to address the problem.

“Once African Americans started moving south, unscrupulous real estate dealers would go into a neighborhood and say, ‘An African  American is moving in on the block,’ or they would buy a house on the block and put an African- American family in it, but not a middle-class one,” Terrell said.

“They’d put a tough-looking guy in there, and then they’d tell everyone else in the neighborhood, ‘Look, this neighborhood is going to go biracial or black, and you need to sell your house, and you need to sell it now’.”

Ultimately, the house would be sold for much less than its market value, and the real estate agent would get a quick commission. This process is known as “blockbusting”.

Joe Louis Mattox, board member of the Historic Kansas City Foundation and Local Historian for the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, has a consistent viewpoint of this practice.

“Let’s say you have a white family living at Fifty-fifth and Paseo, or Fifty-fifth and Benton,” Mattox said.  “And you had a middle-class black person move in, who was going to be a good homeowner, and they had been saving for years to afford this house. So they move in and they would be a good neighbor. But you had someone coming and saying, ‘The blacks are coming,’ and so many of the white people in that neighborhood said, ‘Well, it’s time for me to get out.’ “

This phenomenon is what is referred to as “white flight.”.

“He has been out there doing something with historic preservation,” Maddox said, referring to Dr. Jacob Wagner, Director of UMKC’s Urban Studies program. “He is one of the few people out there trying to do something, and the man is sincere in what he’s trying to do.”

Wagner  takes an interest in both conservation and improvement of inner-city environments.

“In the ‘30s, in response to The Great Depression, you get the federal government colliding with private real estate and creating racially biased lending patterns so that it’s increasingly difficult for folks in integrated neighborhoods to get loans, to buy homes, or to improve existing homes,” Wagner explained. “And so what you have is a Federal Housing Policy that starts to support the development of white suburban neighborhoods. So it’s not that white flight is just something that people want. It’s constructed. It’s fabricated. And it’s supported by a private industry.”

During this period, the Federal Government began implementing the practice of “redlining,” or  the mapping out of cities, indicating to banks and private mortgage companies where to lend. If a neighborhood was outlined in red, it meant that it was an “at-risk” neighborhood, and the residents of those neighborhoods would not receive lending.

Terrell explained the result of this system by noting, “If you teach a city over a period of time that real estate in all-white neighborhoods is more valuable than real estate in mixed neighborhoods, and especially more valuable than real estate in black neighborhoods, then you create a system where people who are white don’t want black people living in their neighborhoods.”

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