In his critical essay “The Tyranny of the Map: Rethinking Redlining,” historian Robert Gioielli asserted that many people have developed a distorted view of the Residential Security Maps drafted by the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC). Gioielli warned that HOLC maps often obscure the role of local actors in drafting and enforcing what are commonly known as “redlining maps.” He argued:
I fear that it’s become too easy to blame the architects of this system from a century ago, putting black hats on hundreds of faceless and nameless bureaucrats…emphasis on the federal sponsorship of the HOLC maps and segregationist residential policy masks how local private actors in every American city fully endorsed, sponsored, and assisted with the design and implementation of redlining policies.
Gioielli’s scholarly concern is certainly appreciated, however his analysis overlooks the fact that bureaucrats and realtors wrote their names on at least four HOLC maps. Additionally, local private actors are identified in the HOLC City Survey Files (Record Group 195) housed in the National Archives.
Written by: Lawrence T. Brown