Unveiling Lexington’s Segregation: A Journey of Awareness and Responsibility

In the heart of Lexington, Kentucky, a thought-provoking website has emerged, shedding light on a hidden truth that has shaped the city’s past and continues to affect its present. “Segregated Lexington,” a collaborative effort by Barbara Sutherland and Rona Roberts, presents a compelling exploration of racial segregation and its far-reaching consequences. With an earnest desire to promote racial repair and foster understanding, the duo delves into the historical fabric of their own community, unearthing a tapestry woven with systemic racism.

Barbara and Rona, who describe themselves as lifelong friends and White senior citizens, embarked on this poignant endeavor in the wake of the tumultuous summer of 2020. Deeply moved by the events that unfolded across the nation, they grappled with the question of their own responsibility in dismantling systemic racism. Driven by a shared commitment to racial justice, they turned their focus toward Lexington, their home for half a century, seeking to unravel the intricate web of segregation that has persisted within its streets.

The pair will host an in-person presentation called “Lexington, Kentucky: Segregated by Design,” on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, 6 – 7:30 PM, Dunbar Center, 545 N. Upper Street, Lexington. There is also a Zoom presentation on Thursday, June 22, 2023, 7:00 – 8:30 PM–register here.

Reasons for examining segregation in Lexington

Residential segregation emerged as a crucial lens through which Barbara and Rona examined the workings of racism in Lexington. Recognizing the profound impact of race-based disparities in home ownership, they embarked on an extensive research journey, culminating in the development of their presentation, “Lexington, Kentucky: Segregated by Design,” and the accompanying website.

The website stands as a testament to the deliberate choices made by local and federal government bodies, landowners, developers, realtors, and individuals that constructed a segregated community in Lexington. Unveiling a stark reality, the website exposes how government-sanctioned housing policies benefited White residents while stifling the opportunities of Black individuals. During a pivotal period between the 1940s and 1960s, government-backed home mortgages enabled White individuals with working and middle-class incomes to purchase homes and build intergenerational wealth. Tragically, Black families were systematically excluded from this pathway, perpetuating a vast racial wealth gap that persists to this day.

Statistics from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis paint a sobering picture of the consequences of this deliberate segregation. In 2022, White wealth stands more than eight times greater than Black wealth, with Black families having a mere 12 cents for every dollar held by their White counterparts. Shockingly, a study by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve concluded that no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between Black and White households over the past 70 years.

Against the backdrop of ongoing efforts to ban critical race theory and rewrite history, the importance of this work becomes even more pronounced. Sutherland and Roberts provide a vital counter-narrative, exposing the consequences of systemic racism and ensuring that the voices of those affected by historical injustices are heard and acknowledged. Their commitment to truth and justice stands as a beacon of hope amidst attempts to suppress the uncomfortable realities of our collective past.

The aptly titled website not only captures the historical legacy of de jure segregation but also delves into its ongoing consequences. By meticulously examining newspapers, oral histories, academic articles, official records, and more, Barbara and Rona shed light on the decisions and policies that propagated segregation in Lexington. The sections on Restrictive Covenants, Redlining, Planning & Zoning, Urban Renewal, and Steering by Realtors offer comprehensive insights into the forces that shaped Lexington’s racial landscape.

Restrictive Covenants

The historical record on restrictive covenants in Lexington, particularly regarding racial restrictions, sheds light on the historical segregation patterns in the city. Barbara Sutherland and Rona Roberts provide an insightful analysis of these covenants in their research. They explain that a covenant is an agreement written into a deed or legal contract, and in the context of property deeds, covenants can impose restrictions on property use or the types of structures that can be built. Restrictive covenants, specifically racially restrictive covenants, aimed to limit the race of individuals who could legally own, rent, or live on a particular property.

Sutherland and Roberts highlight that in Lexington, as well as in other parts of the country, racially restrictive covenants primarily targeted African Americans, excluding them from purchasing or residing in specific properties. These covenants were often designed to “run with the land,” meaning that the restrictions applied not only to the initial buyer but also to future buyers of the property.

The authors conducted extensive research to identify and examine restrictive covenants affecting homes in Lexington. They focused on specific neighborhoods, selected addresses within those neighborhoods, and thoroughly reviewed the corresponding property deeds.

Sutherland and Roberts emphasize that the historical records containing these restrictive covenants may contain offensive language reflecting the attitudes and biases prevalent at that time. They have presented the records without any modifications, except for highlighting the relevant sections.

Racist language in the original deeds on Sherman Street in the Kenwick neighborhood. (ca. 1909, Fayette County Clerk, retrieved by Sutherland & Roberts)

The research highlights the existence of early restrictive covenants in Lexington’s central core during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Although the central core had both Black and White residents, it was not an integrated community. Even when housing was intermixed, there was minimal social interaction between racial groups.

Sutherland and Roberts cite a 2012 article by Rich Schein, a University of Kentucky professor, which discusses the ascendance of Jim Crow attitudes and laws in Lexington during the early 20th century. The article mentions specific examples of racially restrictive covenants in downtown areas such as Ross Street and Hampton Court. These covenants acted as buffers between predominantly White neighborhoods and adjacent African American areas, indicating a new concern for racial proximity.

Developer’s plat for Kenwick neighborhood, then called Wickliffe Subdivision. (ca. 1909, Wickliffe Land Company, Retrieved by Sutherland and Roberts)

Their research also highlights instances of restrictive covenants in various subdivisions in Lexington. Sutherland and Roberts provide examples from subdivisions such as Kenwick Area (including Wickliffe, Belldale, Beechland, and Morningside), Mentelle Park, Hollywood Terrace, Forest Park, Suburban Court, Goodrich, and Rosemill. They describe how the restrictive language in these covenants applied to entire subdivisions, enforcing racial restrictions on a larger scale.

HOLC redlining map overlayed with a modern day map. The blue areas in the 100 block of Kenwick streets often had restrictive covenants against housing black families, and served as a “buffer” for the most desirable green areas.

The authors present excerpts from property deeds, plats, and other historical documents to provide evidence of the existence and enforcement of restrictive covenants. They explain the specific language used in these covenants, which explicitly prohibited the sale, lease, or conveyance of properties to African Americans or individuals of African descent. Some covenants also included restrictions on building costs and setbacks to maintain the status of the neighborhoods.

Overall, the research by Sutherland and Roberts illuminates the prevalence and impact of racially restrictive covenants in shaping the segregation patterns in Lexington. By analyzing historical records and providing specific examples, they offer valuable insights into the historical context and legal mechanisms that perpetuated racial segregation in the city.


Barbara Sutherland and Rona Roberts explore the practice of redlining in Lexington, focusing on the discriminatory policies of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC). Their research sheds light on the impact of redlining on neighborhoods, mortgage discrimination, and the role of local realtors in creating redlining maps. The authors analyze historical documents, including the FHA Underwriting Manual and existing FHA redlining maps, to provide insights into the extent and consequences of redlining in Lexington.

Redlining, as defined by Sutherland and Roberts, refers to mortgage discrimination based on irrelevant characteristics of neighborhoods, such as race, rather than the qualifications of individual home buyers or the merits of specific houses. They establish that financial institutions, insurance companies, and government agencies, including the FHA and HOLC, practiced redlining in Lexington and throughout the United States.

The HOLC, created in response to rising home mortgage defaults and bank foreclosures during the Great Depression, operated in two phases. The authors explain that HOLC’s “rescue” phase aimed to refinance individual home mortgages to prevent foreclosures, thus rescuing both homeowners and banks. On the other hand, the FHA, established as part of the New Deal administration’s program to rebuild the housing market, played a significant role in denying home ownership to Black families and devaluing Black neighborhoods in Lexington.

Interactive Lexington HOLC map overlayed with a modern day map of Lexington. (The Lexington Times)

Sutherland and Roberts highlight the discriminatory policies of the FHA, which favored white homeowners at the expense of African Americans. The authors emphasize that the FHA strategically exploited its position to benefit white homeowners, leading to overwhelming discrimination against urban Black Americans. They quote various sources to underscore the discriminatory nature of FHA policies, including language from the FHA Underwriting Manual, which highlighted the agency’s concern with maintaining neighborhood stability and property values through racial and social occupancy restrictions.

The authors present evidence that the FHA’s Underwriting Manual endorsed racially restrictive covenants and required their implementation. They cite specific passages from the manual that advocate for the prohibition of racial and social occupancy changes, suggesting that such changes would contribute to neighborhood instability and decline in property values. Sutherland and Roberts emphasize that these racially restrictive covenants were not publicly available during the redlining era, and the FHA took extraordinary measures to prevent minority groups, the NAACP, and the general public from learning about their racial criteria.

Regarding redlining maps, the authors discuss the use of color-coded maps by the FHA to guide underwriters and lenders in determining loan-worthiness. They mention the disappearance of most FHA maps, which were destroyed around 1970, leaving only a few surviving maps, such as those for Chicago and Greensboro. Unfortunately, no FHA redlining map for Lexington has been found to date. However, the authors suggest that redlining likely occurred in Lexington based on the nationwide nature of FHA redlining policies.

Sutherland and Roberts emphasize the involvement of local realtors in creating FHA redlining maps. They state that local realtors helped identify supposedly undesirable neighborhoods and factors that the FHA considered unfavorable for mortgage eligibility. The authors reference Jennifer S. Light‘s research, which describes the collaboration between realtors and the FHA in mapping neighborhoods. Realtors provided information on factors such as industrial presence, racial and income groups, and commercial and shopping districts, which influenced the categorization of neighborhoods into mortgage eligibility classes.

The authors discuss the FHA’s role in promoting racially exclusive suburbs. They explain how the FHA’s mortgage insurance for new housing developments facilitated the creation of white-only subdivisions. By approving mortgage insurance for entire developments, lenders advanced money to developers with minimal financial investment, resulting in a rapid increase in suburban home construction. Sutherland and Roberts note that Lexington experienced a similar suburban building boom, with a significant portion of newly built homes subject to racial occupancy restrictions.

The discriminatory practices of redlining and racially restrictive covenants had long-lasting effects on the social and economic landscape of Lexington. Sutherland and Roberts argue that redlining perpetuated racial segregation and contributed to the vast disparities in wealth and homeownership between white and Black residents. They suggest that the devaluation of Black neighborhoods and denial of mortgage opportunities to African Americans led to persistent patterns of disinvestment, limited access to capital, and restricted mobility for Black communities in Lexington.

Additionally, the authors discuss the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which aimed to address housing discrimination and end redlining practices. They highlight the significance of the act in prohibiting discriminatory practices in the sale, rental, and financing of housing. However, they note that despite legal protections, the legacy of redlining and housing discrimination continues to shape the city’s neighborhoods and contribute to ongoing disparities.

Sutherland and Roberts’ meticulous research provides insights into the practice of redlining in Lexington, emphasizing the role of the FHA, HOLC, and local realtors in perpetuating discriminatory housing policies. Their research highlights the systemic nature of redlining, its impact on neighborhoods and communities, and the enduring effects of housing discrimination in shaping the city’s socio-economic landscape. By shedding light on the historical context and policies that perpetuated redlining, the authors contribute to a better understanding of the challenges faced by marginalized communities and the ongoing efforts towards equitable housing opportunities in Lexington.

Planning and Zoning

The section on Planning and Zoning explores the role of zoning ordinances and their impact on racial and class segregation in cities and suburbs, with a specific focus on Lexington. The authors, Barbara Sutherland and Rona Roberts, examine the historical context, legislative decisions, and consequences of zoning practices in relation to housing segregation.

The legacy of class and race segregation found throughout US cities and suburbs can in part be attributed to the misuse of zoning.

Joe T. Darden, 1991

The authors begin by acknowledging the legacy of class and race segregation in US cities and suburbs, which can be partly attributed to the misuse of zoning. They quote Dr. Joe T. Darden, who highlights the connection between zoning and segregation. This quote sets the stage for their examination of how zoning played a role in shaping residential patterns in Lexington.

They address the question of whether Lexington was deliberately zoned for segregation, providing a nuanced response. They explain that while Lexington did not adopt an explicitly race-based zoning ordinance, the city implemented various measures that perpetuated segregation. They reference the 1917 US Supreme Court case of Buchanan v. Warley, which declared Louisville’s racial zoning ordinance unconstitutional. This decision had implications for the adoption of zoning ordinances in cities like Lexington. The authors highlight that by the time Lexington adopted its first zoning ordinance in 1930, racial zoning had already declined at the national level.

The authors cite Christopher Silver, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, who argues that racial zoning was replaced by a race-based planning process that utilized various interventions to create separate communities. These interventions included street and highway planning, the siting of public housing projects for Black occupancy, slum clearance, neighborhood planning, private deed restrictions, and racially charged real estate practices. Sutherland and Roberts emphasize that Lexington adopted many of these “substitutes” for explicit racial zoning, contributing to residential segregation.

Exclusionary zoning is then explored as a mechanism that allows certain groups to be excluded from specific areas based on regulations governing the type of residential development. The authors explain how exclusionary zoning patterns, such as regulating density, lot sizes, architectural design specifications, and setbacks, can disproportionately affect lower-income individuals and communities of color. They reference Dorceta E. Taylor’s work to elaborate on the impact of exclusionary zoning on housing access and the exclusion of African Americans from predominantly White neighborhoods.

The authors provide historical context by discussing Lexington’s zoning ordinances from the 1930 Building Zone Ordinance to the present. They highlight that Lexington’s zoning ordinances have consistently maintained aspects of exclusivity, separating residential areas based on size and density. The authors note that this exclusivity has become ingrained in the perception of neighborhood character and community organization.

Sutherland and Roberts explore whether decision-makers in Lexington intended for exclusionary zoning to maintain segregated housing. They reference Richard Rothstein, who suggests that exclusionary zoning was used intentionally by many cities to exclude African Americans from White neighborhoods. While they find no precise evidence of this in Lexington, they mention other authors who provide evidence of racial motives in zoning decisions in different cities. The authors acknowledge that various factors may have influenced the adoption of zoning ordinances, but they highlight the racial motives that have been documented in scholarly research.

The authors delve into the health implications of early zoning practices in Lexington, highlighting the potential for zoning to either protect or promote health disparities. They cite the US Commission on Civil Rights, which found that zoning practices, even if race-neutral on the surface, can contribute to the disproportionate placement of hazardous and toxic industries in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. They note that Lexington’s 1930 Building Zone Ordinance aimed to protect residents’ health by separating industrial and residential areas, but it inadvertently designated industrial zones in or adjacent to predominantly African American residential areas, leading to negative health consequences for residents.

“In 1980 Lexington Leader reporter John Woestendiek produced a special report on Davistown, ‘Valley of Neglect,’ the authors write, “One of the photos in the report shows a veritable mountain of junk cars looming over neighbors’ homes.”

Junked cars tower over Davistown homes in 1980. Photo by Ron Garrison, Lexington Leader. Colorized by The Lexington Times. (Transformative fair use for non-commercial, educational purposes.)

Sutherland and Roberts emphasize the persistence of health effects resulting from racial residential segregation. They reference a social vulnerability map of Lexington, which demonstrates the unequal distribution of health disparities across the city. The authors argue that the historical legacy of zoning and segregation has created enduring patterns of inequity, with marginalized communities experiencing higher rates of environmental pollution, limited access to quality healthcare facilities, and increased exposure to health risks.

To support their argument, Sutherland and Roberts draw on studies that highlight the link between residential segregation and health outcomes. They discuss the concept of “neighborhood effects,” which suggests that living in segregated neighborhoods with limited resources and opportunities can negatively impact individual and community health. They cite research on the correlation between segregation and higher rates of chronic diseases, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, as well as increased mental health disparities.

Modern health outcomes in Lexington neighborhoods are still correlated with past HOLC grades. View an interactive version here. (Not Even Past: Social Vulnerability and the Legacy of Redlining)

Furthermore, the authors explore the concept of “spatial mismatch,” which refers to the disconnect between the location of job opportunities and affordable housing. They argue that exclusionary zoning practices and the concentration of low-income housing in certain neighborhoods can limit access to employment, education, and other vital resources. This spatial mismatch can exacerbate socioeconomic disparities and contribute to poorer health outcomes for marginalized communities.

Sutherland and Roberts also address the potential for planning and zoning to promote health equity. They suggest that adopting inclusive and equitable zoning practices can help mitigate the negative health effects of residential segregation. They propose measures such as mixed-income housing developments, the incorporation of green spaces and parks in all neighborhoods, and the implementation of transit-oriented development to enhance access to transportation and reduce reliance on private vehicles.

The authors acknowledge the challenges and complexities of transforming existing zoning practices and promoting more equitable development patterns. They stress the importance of community engagement and the involvement of diverse stakeholders in shaping zoning policies to ensure they address the specific needs and concerns of marginalized communities. Additionally, they highlight the significance of interdisciplinary approaches that bring together urban planners, public health experts, policymakers, and community members to develop holistic solutions.

Sutherland and Roberts’ research on planning and zoning in relation to racial and class segregation in Lexington underscores the historical impact of zoning practices on residential patterns and health outcomes. They argue that exclusionary zoning and the perpetuation of segregation have contributed to health disparities and limited opportunities for marginalized communities. The authors advocate for inclusive and equitable zoning practices as a means to promote health equity and address the enduring effects of racial residential segregation.

“Urban Renewal” in Lexington

The section on urban renewal in Lexington, as presented by Barbara Sutherland and Rona Roberts, provides a somewhat complete overview of the historical challenges faced by African American neighborhoods and communities in the city. The authors highlight the persistent threats and perpetual challenges that have affected these neighborhoods, with a focus on the physical destruction and displacement caused by urban renewal initiatives. Through their detailed analysis, Sutherland and Roberts shed light on the detrimental impact of urban renewal on four Black communities and the resistance efforts undertaken by residents. Unfortunately, however, the authors do overlook recent controversial “renewal” pushes in the Smithtown neighborhood around West Sixth Brewing, as well as gentrification in the Brucetown neighborhood around Greyline Station. Both neighborhoods saw displacement of long-term residents and rampant speculation by investors in the 2010s. These adverse circumstances coincided with long-awaited infrastructure upgrades and new upscale commercial enterprises moving in.

Shotgun homes on unidentified street, ca 1931 from “First Comprehensive Plan of Lexington and Its Environs.” (Lexington Public Library) Colorized by The Lexington Times.

Despite dropping the ball on more recent failed renewal projects, Sutherland and Roberts effectively emphasize the persistence of health effects resulting from historical residential segregation. They quote the city’s 1931 Comprehensive Plan, which referred to “poor colored neighborhoods” characterized by dilapidated and unsanitary housing conditions. This quote underscores the discriminatory views held by white city officials, who saw Black neighborhoods as a menace to health and safety rather than recognizing the systemic issues that needed to be addressed to improve living conditions.

The authors argue that the attempts to “fix” Black neighborhoods often involved removing Black residents and demolishing their homes, rather than implementing solutions that would support families and preserve community ties. They note that these actions were motivated by desires to repurpose the land for other purposes, rather than genuinely improving the lives of residents. This observation highlights the underlying motives behind urban renewal initiatives, which were often driven by economic and racial considerations rather than genuine concern for community development.

A 1924 housing survey compared housing on two unidentified streets in Lexington.
(Report of Housing Survey of the City of Lexington, Kentucky, January to April 1924)

Furthermore, Sutherland and Roberts describe the active resistance displayed by Black residents and their allies against urban renewal efforts that threatened their neighborhoods. They highlight the residents’ strong attachment to their communities and the mutual support networks that existed within them, which served as driving forces behind the organized and effective resistance. The authors reference Appler and Riesenweber (2020), who recognize the residents’ fervent opposition to urban renewal initiatives that would have significantly altered their neighborhoods and circumstances.

The section also provides specific examples of urban renewal projects in Lexington, both those initiated by local government and institutions and those intended to receive federal support. Sutherland and Roberts discuss the case of Branch Alley, which was a predominantly Black neighborhood that faced demolition after being labeled an unsanitary eyesore. They also explore the eradication of the Adamstown neighborhood to make way for the University of Kentucky’s basketball arena, highlighting the power dynamics and the displacement of the Black community for the benefit of a white-led institution.

The authors further discuss the disinvestment and deterioration experienced by Davistown, a racially diverse neighborhood impacted by decades of uncertainty regarding road construction plans. They emphasize the effects of disinvestment caused by the on-again, off-again nature of the roadway extension plans and the eventual construction of Newtown Pike Extension, which disrupted the community. Additionally, Sutherland and Roberts recount the demolition of South Hill homes to create parking space for Rupp Arena, demonstrating how urban renewal projects can displace communities even when they are not officially designated as slums.

Regarding Lexington’s federally supported urban renewal attempts, the authors outline the city’s engagement in four projects, with successful opposition efforts led by Black residents against two of them. They provide specific details about Pralltown, an African American community that faced two attempts at urban renewal but managed to resist through strong community opposition. The authors note that despite residents’ efforts, Pralltown now faces challenges from commercial landlords and increasing pressure from university students occupying available rental spaces.

Sutherland and Roberts also discuss the East End Urban Renewal project, which targeted a predominantly Black neighborhood and faced significant opposition from residents. They highlight the successful efforts to collect signatures on a petition and ultimately hold a city-wide referendum that resulted in a two-to-one vote against the project. The authors emphasize the power of community organization and mobilization in protecting neighborhoods from the destructive effects of urban renewal.

Furthermore, the authors mention Lexington’s completion of the Newtown Pike Extension, which serves as a prime example of the negative consequences of urban renewal. The construction of this road extension resulted in the displacement of many residents, predominantly from low-income communities. The authors emphasize that while the road may have improved traffic flow and accessibility to downtown, it came at the expense of disrupting established neighborhoods and displacing vulnerable populations.

Sutherland and Roberts also discuss the importance of recognizing and preserving the cultural heritage of African American communities affected by urban renewal. They argue that the destruction of historic neighborhoods not only erases physical landmarks but also undermines the cultural identity and collective memory of these communities. By highlighting the loss of significant sites, such as the demolished African American school on Georgetown Street, the authors underscore the need for proactive measures to protect and celebrate the cultural heritage of marginalized communities.

However, it is imperative to acknowledge that while the website brings forth a comprehensive understanding of Lexington’s historical segregation, there is one notable aspect it fails to touch upon—the recent gentrification near Brucetown/Greyline Station and Smithtown/West Sixth Brewing in the Northside of Lexington. While celebrating the website’s accomplishments, we must also recognize the importance of exploring these recent developments to gain a complete picture of the city’s evolving racial dynamics.

Nevertheless, Sutherland and Roberts’ section on urban renewal in Lexington provides valuable insights into the historical challenges faced by African American neighborhoods and communities in the city. Through their analysis, they highlight the detrimental impact of urban renewal initiatives on Black communities, including displacement, disinvestment, and the loss of cultural heritage. The authors also emphasize the importance of community resistance and the need for equitable and inclusive approaches to urban development that prioritize the well-being and preservation of marginalized neighborhoods.

“Revitalized” Neighborhoods in Lexington

In the section on revitalized neighborhoods in Lexington, the authors Barbara Sutherland and Rona Roberts provide a comprehensive overview of three specific neighborhoods: Adamstown, Davistown (Davis Park), Pralltown, and the East End. The authors offer historical accounts, emphasizing the racial dynamics, urban planning decisions, and community responses that shaped the fate of these neighborhoods. Drawing on various sources and scholarly work, their review sheds light on the challenges faced by these communities and the efforts made to commemorate their histories.

Adamstown, undated. The neighborhood was removed in 1949 to accommodate the construction of Memorial Coliseum. Louis Edward Nollau F Series Photographic Print Collection, University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center. Colorized by The Lexington Times.

Adamstown, an African American community established in 1872, was located between Winslow/Euclid and Maxwell Streets, near the center of Lexington. Sutherland and Roberts cite James Hanlon’s article “Unsightly Urban Menaces and the Rescaling of Residential Segregation in the United States” (2011) as a significant source of information about Adamstown. Hanlon explores the decisions that led to the community’s demise and the racial attitudes that drove those decisions. The authors briefly summarize Hanlon’s findings, highlighting the impact of the University of Kentucky’s growth and the development of middle-class white homes surrounding Adamstown. The university’s expansion eventually led to the demolition of Adamstown and the construction of Memorial Coliseum. The authors note the lack of concerted efforts by the university and the city to find new homes for the displaced Adamstown residents.

In the case of Davistown (Davis Park), the authors provide insights into the racially diverse nature of the community, which emerged in a swampy valley half a mile southwest of downtown Lexington in 1865. They reference the Kentucky Archaeological Survey’s Davis Bottom History Preservation Project website, which details the occupations of early residents, including domestic servants, waiters, cooks, and laborers. The authors highlight the impact of industrial zoning, absentee landlords, and the loss of homes to factories and tobacco warehouses, leading to the decline of Davis Bottom. The long-awaited Newtown Pike Extension project further contributed to the loss of homes and the transformation of the community. However, they mention that neighborhood activists, community organizations, and state and local government efforts have resulted in the construction of attractive new homes and a park through the Lexington Community Land Trust.

The Road that Rebuilt a Neighborhood - The Newtown Pike Extension Project
“The Road that Rebuilt a Neighborhood – The Newtown Pike Extension Project” (Federal Hwy. Admin.)
Deweese Street, ca 1931 (Comprehensive Plan of Lexington, Kentucky & Environs) Colorized by The Lexington Times.

Regarding the East End neighborhood, the authors discuss the failed urban renewal project that started in 1959. They reference Katherine T. Jones’s PhD dissertation “Envisioning the East End: Planning, Representation, and the Production of Urban Space in Lexington, Kentucky” (2003), which provides a comprehensive analysis of the planning process and its impact on the community. Sutherland and Roberts highlight the contrasting perspectives between residents who valued their neighborhood and planners who viewed it as “poor” and in need of renewal. They note the lack of genuine plans for re-housing residents and the concerns raised by the League of Women Voters about the displacement of residents. The authors also reference Rev. H. E. Nutter’s accusations of exploitation by unscrupulous real estate agents and the community’s distrust of city officials’ plans for housing.

The little known story of Pralltown

Photos of Pralltown, ca 1972-1975.
Pralltown Development Study, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, University of Kentucky
Colorized by The Lexington Times

Pralltown is a neighborhood located in Lexington, Kentucky. It was established between 1868 and 1877 by John Prall, a lawyer and judge, who subdivided his land on Nicholasville Road and sold lots or homes to former enslaved individuals after the end of the Civil War. Initially, Pralltown was situated on the outskirts of Lexington, but the University of Kentucky (UK) moved across the street in the late 1870s.

The neighborhood of Pralltown was primarily populated by African Americans. By 1880, it had a population of 290 black residents and 46 white residents, making it approximately 86 percent black. The early residents of Pralltown were mainly laborers and farm hands who found employment opportunities in adjacent large estates, the railroad, the tobacco industry, and the University of Kentucky.

Source: D.G. Beers & Co. Atlas of Bourbon, Clark, Fayette, Jessamine and Woodford Counties, Ky. Philadelphia, 1877. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/2005627107/.

Pralltown faced challenges throughout its history due to public policy efforts aimed at addressing perceived shortcomings or improving the neighborhood. In the early 20th century, reformers and city officials considered Pralltown a “slum.” A 1924 Housing Survey conducted by the Lexington Board of Health noted that while the houses had been built according to the standards of the time, they had deteriorated and were far from sanitary. Lexington’s 1931 Comprehensive Plan also singled out Pralltown as an unhealthy and unsanitary settlement, referring to it as a “menace to health and safety.”

The first urban renewal effort in Pralltown took place from 1951 to 1954 under the Federal Urban Renewal program. The plan focused on the neighborhood’s potential for industrial expansion and the growth of the University of Kentucky and the College of the Bible, rather than improving the lives and homes of the current residents. The residents objected to the plan, and after facing intense public opposition and a lack of concrete relocation plans, the project was ultimately abandoned.

From 1954 to 1967, physical conditions in Pralltown remained largely the same, with reports of dilapidated houses, inadequate streets, sewers, and storm drainage. The close proximity to the railroad tracks and incompatible land use mixtures contributed to poor living conditions. In 1968, the Pralltown Neighborhood Association collaborated with the University of Kentucky College of Architecture to develop a new urban renewal plan for the neighborhood. This plan prioritized housing and aimed to provide low- and medium-density housing, community facilities, and improved public infrastructure.

The second urban renewal effort faced challenges due to funding limitations and changes in federal policies. Although the plan received initial approval, federal funding decreased, and the project did not progress as envisioned. The federal Urban Renewal program was terminated in 1974, resulting in limited progress in Pralltown’s redevelopment.

Despite these setbacks, residents of Pralltown continued their efforts to improve their community. In 1975, a study conducted by the University of Kentucky College of Architecture recommended housing rehabilitation and the construction of low-rise attached and semi-attached housing. The Pralltown Development Corporation was formed in the 1970s with the goal of rebuilding the neighborhood with single-family homes.

Over the years, Pralltown experienced changes in its character, with some older houses being split into apartments or replaced with complexes catering to students and temporary residents. However, the neighborhood’s residents and the city have made ongoing efforts to preserve existing housing, renovate structures, and develop plans for the future of Pralltown.

In their review of Lexington’s urban revitalization projects, Sutherland and Roberts demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the long-term history, challenges, and community responses in several of the revitalized neighborhoods in Lexington. They effectively utilize sources such as James Hanlon’s article, “Unsightly urban menaces and the rescaling of residential segregation in the United States,” the Davis Bottom History Preservation Project website, and Katherine T. Jones’s dissertation “Envisioning the east end: Planning, representation, and the production of urban space in Lexington, Kentucky,” to provide rich details and multiple perspectives. By highlighting the racial dynamics, urban planning decisions, and community activism, the authors contribute to the understanding of the complex processes involved in neighborhood revitalization and the importance of commemorating the histories of these communities, despite overlooking some examples from recent history.

The Role of Realtors in Housing Segregation

The section on “Steering by Realtors” provides valuable insights into the historical and ongoing practices of racial steering by real estate agents and its impact on housing segregation. The authors, Barbara Sutherland and Rona Roberts, shed light on the long-standing issue of realtor steering and present evidence from various studies to support their claims.

The authors begin by defining racial steering as the act of directing homebuyers toward or away from specific neighborhoods based on their race, highlighting its illegality under the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. They mention Gene Slater’s book, “Freedom to Discriminate: How Realtors Conspired to Segregate Housing and Divide America,” which asserts that realtors have played a significant role in establishing and perpetuating segregation in the United States. Slater argues that realtor organizations prioritized property owners’ freedom over racial equity, circumventing legal requirements.

The section delves into the historical context, highlighting the National Association of Real Estate Boards’ Code of Ethics from 1924 to 1950, which explicitly supported realtor steering, emphasizing the detrimental impact on property values. Although an amendment in 1950 introduced more ambiguous language, racial steering persisted. The authors reference the experiences of realtor Ben Story, who faced resentment and threats for selling a home to an African American couple in a predominantly White neighborhood, reflecting the resistance to integrated housing in Lexington until the late 1960s.

The authors discuss the efforts to address racial steering, such as Dr. Joseph Scott’s role as the chair of the Housing Subcommittee of the Lexington Committee on Religion and Human Rights, which sought legal advice on real estate boards’ exclusion of Black brokers. The denial of O.M. Travis Jr.’s membership application to the Lexington Board of Realtors and his eventual admission in 1973 highlight the challenges faced by Black professionals due to discriminatory practices.

The 1978 study conducted by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights examined racial discrimination in realtor practices and found that two out of three cases involved racially discriminatory information provided to Black and White potential homebuyers. Examples of differential treatment in showing houses and loan qualification requirements further substantiate the existence of steering. A 1987 study indicated some improvement but still showed disparities in the treatment of Black and White testers.

At the rate of two out of every three cases, blacks and whites seeking homes or apartments in Fayette County were given racially discriminatory information about the availability, prices and requirements during a scientifically conducted test of 30 real estate agencies and 30 apartment complexes

(Kentucky Commission on Human Rights 1978, 7).

The authors refer to the League of Women Voters’ publication in the early 1980s, which documented ongoing struggles to integrate housing and included personal narratives and research perspectives on housing discrimination in Lexington. They note that by the late 1990s, matters had improved, with no complaints of differential treatment reported to the Lexington-Fayette Human Rights Commission.

However, a national study conducted in 2000 by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Urban Institute found that steering persisted and even increased in some cases, with agents providing biased geographic commentary and encouraging White homebuyers to choose predominantly White areas. A follow-up study in 2012 indicated that steering of Black homebuyers away from White neighborhoods had potentially increased over time.

The authors highlight the long-term impact of past realtor steering, contributing to segregated neighborhoods and the wealth gap between African Americans and white Americans. They note that the National Association of Realtors apologized in 2020 for past discriminatory practices and acknowledge the continued challenges in achieving housing equity.

The research presented by Sutherland and Roberts provides a comprehensive overview of realtor steering and its historical persistence in housing segregation. The studies and personal accounts cited offer evidence of discriminatory practices and their consequences on homeownership, wealth accumulation, and neighborhood development. The review highlights the ongoing need for vigilance and efforts to eliminate racial steering and promote fair and equitable housing opportunities for all.

What Now? Taking the Next Steps

As we conclude this comprehensive exploration of housing segregation and racial disparity in Lexington, it is essential to consider the next steps in our journey toward racial repair and a more just society. Barbara Sutherland and Rona Roberts have provided us with actionable recommendations to move forward effectively. Here is a summary of the actions we can take:

  1. Challenge the Myth: Recognize that de facto or accidental segregation is a fallacy and acknowledge the intentional forces behind segregation. This awareness forms the foundation for meaningful change.
  2. Community Investigation: Addressing segregation requires collective investigation and consideration. It is a question that necessitates the involvement of both Black and White individuals working together.
  3. Formal Acknowledgment: Explore opportunities for individuals, businesses, and groups to formally acknowledge the history of segregation in Lexington. This step may serve as a crucial starting point, although further investigation is necessary.
  4. Deepen Understanding: Expand your knowledge by delving into the recommended readings provided on the website’s “References” page. These resources offer valuable insights and perspectives on racial justice.
  5. Offer Support: Contribute your time or resources to ongoing projects in Lexington that aim to repair racial injustices or celebrate the contributions of African Americans. Your sincere volunteerism or financial support can make a difference.
  6. Address Unexplored Issues: Consider taking on segregation-related issues that are currently not being addressed in Lexington. The “What We Don’t Know” page of the website presents challenging yet essential areas that require further research and commitment.

Remember the words of Nelson Mandela the authors leave us with, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Let this mantra guide us as we navigate the path ahead. In the face of erasure and attempts to suppress critical race theory and “wokeism,” our commitment to truth, understanding, and collective action becomes even more crucial.

Top graphic source: “Housing opportunities in relation to family income,” A Low Income Housing Study for Lexington and Fayette County, Kentucky. Volume: 1970 Author: Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, Lexington-Fayette County Planning Commission, Cass, James E. Date published: 1970-04-01