The red line


The fifties were a very different time here in Saint Paul, and the country writ large. Many look back on those years through rose-colored glasses, you know the “Ozzie & Harriet” view of the times. As a kid, I was oblivious to at least one festering sore of that era.

At school we kids would hang with other kids without regard for color.

When we picked teams for softball it was strictly in order of ability and when we just hung out on the playground before school we were divided by gender only – girls not allowed [ugh!]. But after school?

One day I suggested to Grant (called “General” as in General U. S. Grant) our school patrol lieutenant, that maybe we could get together after school sometime. He declined the suggestion but wouldn’t say why. He just said he couldn’t come to my house and I couldn’t come to his. That same day when my parents came home from work, I told them of what Grant said. Dad tactfully explained explained why and I was astounded and appalled – it just didn’t seem fair! You see, Grant was African-American.

If my parents were racially biased, they did a fine job of hiding it from me. I once used the “N-word” repeating what one of my neighborhood friends said and was thoroughly schooled by my father to not EVER use that word again. I haven’t – lesson learned!

I was completely unaware of “Redlining,” a practice of ensuring a certain portion of the city’s population remained contained for the most part in a specific neighborhood. It wasn’t a law, but it was practiced. I once saw a map showing the redlined area of St. Paul and if I remember correctly the area was bounded by Lexington Parkway to the west; University Avenue to the north; Dale or Western or perhaps Marion Street to the east and Marshall Avenue to the south (I’m a little fuzzy on the eastern border).

During the mid-seventies I flirted with being a Realtor® for about five years, and by then redlining was illegal. That really didn’t completely stop redlining, I can’t tell you how often people would ask me to show them homes in “good” neighborhoods. I also can’t tell you how often those same people stopped working with me. I eventually left the Real Estate profession, not because of that, but because I wasn’t all that good at it.

With the Civil Rights Act of 1968 Title VIII as amended, “…prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability),” one might think redlining has gone away…although this city has a richness of cultures that I celebrate; some, unfortunately still wish for a return to the fifties, and not the Ozzie & Harriet fifties!