Virginia Tech professor receives fellowship to study historical discrimination in U.S. housing

By Andrew Adkins

virginia techA Virginia Tech historian has earned a prestigious fellowship to continue exploring the historical intersection of race and real estate in the United States.

LaDale Winling, an associate professor in the Department of History, was awarded the Lloyd Lewis Fellowship from the Newberry Library in Chicago.

Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation, the Chicago-based fellowship is slated to begin in January.

Winling will use the opportunity to research redlining, a term for discriminating against a community by refusing to offer credit or insurance on the basis of race or ethnicity.

Research during the fellowship will inform Winling’s newest book project, “Chicago and the Making of American Real Estate.” He will explore the careers of two economists, Richard T. Ely and Robert C. Weaver — one white and one African American; one an academic and one a public policy figure — to detail the rise, fall, and transformation of redlining over the course of the 20th century. Ely created the field of real estate economics and many of the ideas that made redlining possible, while Weaver spent his career from the 1930s through the 1960s trying to unravel redlining and racial segregation in housing.

In Winling’s prior research on redlining, he and collaborators launched the widely acclaimed Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America project. The online resource details the work of the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation to grade the credit worthiness of neighborhoods in cities across the United States during the 1900s. The American Historical Association awarded the digital atlas its national digital history prize, and National Geographic named it one of the top mapping projects of the year.

“Redlining maps are the Rosetta Stone of American cities,” said Winling. “They helped influence and codify a financial system that favored white neighborhoods and prioritized the values of white-owned homes. By looking at the maps and other materials, we can examine why certain neighborhoods became less desirable, saw less investment, or were demolished for public housing or interstate highways.”

In his new research, Winling will use redlining maps to research and write the history of American home finance, real estate economics, and urban policy.

“This fellowship will aid my book project in two ways,” Winling said. “First, being in Chicago will allow me to visit several archives there, such as the archives of the National Association of Realtors and the papers of Governor Frank Lowden, who served from 1916 to 1920 during the Chicago race riot. Second, it will allow me time to write and share ideas with the other fellows.”

Winling called the Newberry Library a great institution and community, and he said participating in the fellowship feels like a homecoming.

“During graduate school, I took part in a monthly dissertation group on urban history at the Newberry,” he said. “It was a valuable community, and I’m still in contact with several of the friends and colleagues in the profession I met there. In some ways, this is familiar territory, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Winling’s first book, “Building the Ivory Tower,” explores the role of American universities as real-estate developers in the 20th century, and it was based in part on some of his earlier research in Chicago. The Urban History Association named it the co-winner of the 2018 Kenneth Jackson Award for Best Book in Urban History on North American cities.

The Newberry Library’s Lloyd Lewis Fellowship is named for a longtime Chicago journalist who authored several Chicago history publications.

Winling’s fellowship is scheduled to span from January to April 2021.


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