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Healing Through Exploring Local History of Segregation & Racism Workshop

The history was very painful to hear, but attendees said the workshop that the ISAAC Housing Task Force and TRHT gave on February 28 was powerful and informative. Over eighty people participated, including local municipal officials, clergy, housing agency leaders, housing advocates, leaders from a variety of congregations and municipalities, and the very impressive number of 22  from the City of Kalamazoo administration, legal team, planning department, human services and City Commission!  The workshop was called “Healing through Exploring Local History of Segregation and Racism” and was designed to:

  • Bring all of us together to understand the local history that created the housing disparities we see, and
  • Provide a space for building relationships that will help us work together to find solutions to the need for safe, decent, affordable housing for everyone in our community.

Rev. Barry Petrucci and the staff & congregants at Portage Chapel Hill United Methodist Church welcomed us very generously to their beautiful space that you can see in these photos.  Our MC, Stephanie Hoffman, Open Doors Kalamazoo Executive Director and ISAAC Housing Task Force co-chair, set the tone for us to work together in truth and love as we respond to the distressing history we were going to hear. Lanna Lewis, Community Investment Officer at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, explained the role of TRHT (Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation) and the truth telling and healthy relationships necessary for us to create racial healing and transformation, in housing specifically.

Dr. Charlae Davis, Executive Director of ISAAC, and Rev. Joslyn Mason from Unity of Kalamazoo, who are trained Racial Healing Circle practitioners, led healing and relationship-building activities with the group in dyads they chose with people they didn’t know, to lay the foundation for receiving our presenters and taking this journey with open hearts and in unity. Then our speakers presented the history that has created so much housing disparity in our community:

  • Michelle Johnson, historian and scholar, showed slides of the first Black families to become landowners in Kalamazoo, beginning in the 1830s, when they came to escape the backlash in the South against Black autonomy.  There were over 400 farms in Michigan owned by Black people, many of them in SW MI, such as Enoch & Deborah Harris’ farm on Parkview Ave.  Dr. Jeremiah Stafford was a prominent Black doctor here, and there were so many Black owners of homes and stores, schools, funeral parlors and other businesses that Black author Lula Margaret Williams, from Kalamazoo, quantified them in her Michigan Manual of Freedman’s Progress.  The value of Black property owners’ homes was often greater than the white families’ homes around them.  But backlash here to Black autonomy (called “racial absurdity” by another historian) became very strong and the KKK terrorized Kalamazoo families. This racial absurdity, now in the North, greatly impacted the safety of Black people and negatively regulated where they could live, shop and attend school.
  • Matt Smith, KPL librarian and KPL Anti-Racism Team Member, said “Then two policies were enacted that excluded African Americans from home ownership—“Redlining” and “Racially Restricted Covenants.” The Redlining map of Kalamazoo, published in 1937 by the Federal Housing Authority, Red-lined or Yellow-lined every home owned by African Americans—a death sentence for any area, since no FHA loans were available except to Blue-lined and Green-lined areas (owned mostly or entirely by white people.) At the same time, “Racially Restricted Covenants” meant homes in neighborhoods like Westnedge Hill, Winchell, and Westwood had language on their deeds like “No premises shall be rented, leased or occupied by persons other than members of the Caucasian race.”  In 1945 when the “Great Migration” of African Americans moved up North for manufacturing jobs, 85-95% of Kalamazoo was covered by these “covenants.”  The new workers from the south could only move into the Northside, Eastside and Edison neighborhoods, making segregation much worse. “White flight” was the natural response to these two policies of Redlining and Racially Restricted Covenants.  The 1937 Redlining map is an almost perfect predictor of white and black spaces in Kalamazoo today, and of homeowners and renters.
  • Patrese Nicole, Housing Property Manager, Housing Advocate and Vice Chair of the Fair Housing Center Board, said the federal “Fair Housing Act” was passed in 1968, but the map is still the same. Policies are still allowed that segregate, as coded language is often used that discriminates against people of color.  “My husband and I were renters when our house was condemned.  For a whole year we could not find a place to live because of my husband’s past criminal record.  They never asked questions about his specific situation or considered the current professional work he is doing and his leadership in the community.” Blanket policies that exclude everyone with a criminal record, everyone who has ever been evicted, and everyone whose “source of income” is a housing voucher, these are legal, and they affect African Americans and other people of color disproportionately because of mass incarceration and redlining.  Homeless people, especially single women with children, are disproportionately African American.  We need to look at our housing needs through an equity lens.
  • John Shagonaby of the Gun Lake Band of Pottawatomi, explained how the “Treaty of Chicago” in 1821 ceded the land where the Pottawatomi and Ottawa people lived along the Kalamazoo River. 4,000,000 acres were ceded to the US–land that now includes Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Jackson, Coldwater, Elkhart, South Bend, St. Joseph and everything in between. Chief Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish’s band of the Pottawatomi was allowed just two three-mile square reservations near the Kalamazoo River. Then in 1830, Congress passed the “Indian Removal Act”, stating that all American Indians east of the Mississippi would be moved to reservations west of the Mississippi. Some bands of the Pottawatomi escaped removal but others were forcibly removed to present-day Kansas and Oklahoma—called by historians the “Pottawatomi Trail of Death.” The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish band avoided removal by moving north to place themselves under the protection of an Episcopal Mission in Allegan County. In 1999, the US government approved their petition for a sovereign-to-sovereign relationship with the US, after a long history of the US Government removing the indigenous people from their land and breaking the treaties made.
Huge thanks to everyone who worked on giving this workshop! The ISAAC Housing Task Force and TRHT are planning follow-up workshops on the next steps toward collaborative and equitable solutions to the housing crisis connected with this painful history.

– Tobi Hanna-Davies, Housing Task Force co-chair with Stephanie Hoffman