Segregated Lexington

How our past laws and choices
have led to ongoing race-based inequities

This descriptive website contains evidence we discovered and relied on
to develop "Lexington, Kentucky: Segregated By Design,"
a presentation that examines segregation in our small city.
—Barbara Sutherland and Rona Roberts

Why is Housing in Lexington Segregated?

Is it by accident? Or is it by design? The answer is clear. Over many decades, local and federal government, landowners, property developers, realtors, bankers, landlords, and individual home-sellers intentionally created a segregated community. Government-sanctioned segregated housing benefited White people and harmed Black people. For a few crucial decades, primarily the 1940s through the 1960s, White people with working class and middle class incomes bought houses made affordable, in part, by government-backed home mortgages. Very few Black people were able to do the same. As the value of their houses appreciated, White owners built wealth and shared it with their families across generations, creating inequalities that persist today.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, in 2022, White wealth is more than eight times greater than Black wealth; "Black families have about 12 cents for every dollar held by white families." Researchers for a Minneapolis Federal Reserve study concluded in 2016 that " progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years."

For much of the 20th century, government polices explicitly excluded Black people from a proven pathway to wealth building through home ownership. In its 1970 investigation, A Low Income Housing Study for Lexington and Fayette County, Kentucky, the Planning Commission acknowledged this explicitly

Prior to the passage of civil rights legislation covering fair housing practices [1968], the only housing available for Negroes was in predominately "Negro areas." These areas were essentially within the 13 low standard neighborhoods, two new Negro subdivisions, the small Negro settlements in the rural areas of Fayette County, and in the public housing projects. 

Only a tiny fraction of Black people were able to buy a home that would appreciate in value and build family wealth during the years when multiple forms of government assistance helped White people become first-time homeowners. By the time in the late 1960s when government policies changed to remove legal barriers to Black home ownership, the cost of homes had increased so much, relative to incomes, that many Black families could still no longer afford the cost of buying their own homes. 

The film Segregated by Design paints a national picture of 20th century de jure (law-based) segregation and its causal contribution to the wealth gap between Black and White families in the United States. Both the presentation and website titled “Segregated Lexington” document some of the history and ongoing impacts of de jure segregation in Lexington and Fayette County, Kentucky.

Note of caution: You may come across language on this website that you find harmful or offensive. To provide evidence that segregation in Lexington did not happen by accident, we have found it necessary to use materials that reflect the time period when they were created and the views of their creators. As a result, some texts may exhibit racist and offensive views that do not reflect our values. 

 De Jure Segregation in Lexington,
and Some of its Consequences

This website documents the ways in which Lexington decision-makers implemented de jure segregation, and describes some of the consequences of those decisions. The main focus is on the middle two-thirds of the 20th century, roughly 1920 to roughly 1975. We rely on newspapers, oral histories, academic journal articles, deeds, minutes of official meetings, and academic theses and dissertations. We are carrying out our work voluntarily as members of the public, not experts or trained historians. We are dedicated to knowing and sharing our community's history as accurately and fairly as we can. It is our intention to contribute to addressing past wrongs to the extent possible.

Click on any red titles below to reach that topic's main page, which contains the overview and context for that topic. The Urban Renewal topic includes subsections that allow more focus on a particular locale or situation. 

During decades of dramatic suburban growth many Lexington sellers legally restricted the sale of their homes to Whites only. This section offers detailed evidence from seven sections of the city; the restrictions applied to many more— perhaps most—parts of Lexington. The impact of restrictive deeds on overall opportunities for integration and equity in Lexington linger, long after restrictive covenants became illegal. Even though they are not legally enforceable, many Lexington deeds still include the restrictions. 

Until it was outlawed in 1968, redlining referred to practices that networks of financial institutions, insurance companies, and governments used to discriminate among neighborhoods with regard to home loans. In general, redlining meant that interested home buyers could not get a loan to buy a house in neighborhoods where Black people lived, or lived near. Redlining prevented most Black families from generating wealth based on housing appreciation, while supporting wealth generation for white families.

In Planning and Zoning we track Lexington's history with professional planning and its impact on our housing patterns. The main page text links to descriptions of Lexington's first zoning ordinance and 50+ years of planning milestones.

Urban Renewal (the link is to the overview page) presents Lexington's distinctive experience with federally funded projects, which mainly consisted of failures,  including these: Pralltown (twice) and East End. The one project ultimately implemented downtown affected few households directly. We describe other, similar efforts to raze neighborhoods, some of which partially succeeded.

Racial steering occurs when realtors show buyers homes in neighborhoods that mostly match the buyer's race. Such steering was legal—even required by professional codes—for decades in the 20th century, ending in 1968. Realtor steering contributed to White wealth development, and prevented Black wealth development,  resulting in ongoing grave disparities.