New special exhibit at Johnson County Museum examines long and complex legacy of redlining


Redlining: A word that is loaded with meaning – and a long, complex history. 

Redlining is connected to a web of topics, and its legacies continue to define our lived experiences and our built environment. The federal policy of redlining that was implemented 88 years ago and found unconstitutional 54 years ago continues to shape our lives in ways ranging from access to greenspaces to life expectancy. It is critical to learn the history of redlining in order to empower us to address the lasting legacies of it. 

Redlining is defined as the systematic disinvestment of some neighborhoods and populations by the federal government and private lenders in favor of other neighborhoods and populations based on race. Redlining was built from private practices dating back to the late 19th century and turned into a federal policy in the 1930s. While the private-practice-turned-federal-policy was invisible to some, it was oppressive to others and defined the lives of all regardless of race and if you lived in a city or suburb. 

A new special exhibition titled, REDLINED: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation, at the Johnson County Museum in Overland Park, Kansas, examines the long and complex history of redlining. It explores redlining’s foundations set between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Great Depression, the merger of private practice with federal policy, expansion in the postwar era, failed attempts to dismantle the system during the Civil Rights movement, and the system’s continuing legacies that shape our community and those across the nation. 

Museum staff researched for more than a year before writing an exhaustive history of redlining in this special exhibit. The extensive impact of redlining cannot be overstated — the entire special exhibit script (written details provided by the museum to add context to visuals) uses nearly as many words (approximately 23,000) as the entire history of Johnson County in the museum’s signature exhibit (approximately 24,000 words). Using more than 120 books, dissertations, scholarly articles, media accounts, and thousands of pages of primary source documents located in regional and national archives, the exhibit occupies some 2,000 square feet of wall space inside the museum’s special exhibit gallery. The story is punctuated by more than 120 images, objects in display cases, large-scale visualizations, a video featuring leaders from previously redlined communities, and a touchscreen exhibit comparing historical and modern maps. 

The exhibit also features a micro art exhibit featuring pieces by members of the African American Artists Collective in Kansas City in response to the topic of redlining. Together, their pieces convey what words cannot and provide opportunities for visitors to see the artists’ perspectives and reflect on how the history of redlining is still shaping experiences today.

In addition to the full-scale special exhibition, the Johnson County Museum has planned a full slate of programming throughout 2022, including history talks, panel discussions on legacies of redlining, and school-based programs. 

But museum staff quickly realized that the story is too large for just one site to share and engaged more than a dozen partner museums, libraries, and cultural organizations from across the region to bring programming to their spaces in 2022 for a metro-wide conversation about the history and legacies of redlining. 

Health Forward Foundation will join United Community Services and the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment on September 21 for a panel discussion on redlining’s legacies through social determinants of health.

To learn more about REDLIND: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation and related programs and partnerships, visit and follow the Johnson County Museum on social media (@JoCoMuseum on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), or search the exhibit’s dedicated hashtag, #RedlinedKC. 

The Johnson County Museum is located at 8788 Metcalf Ave., in Overland Park, Kansas. Museum hours are 9am – 4:30pm, Monday through Saturday. The exhibit is included in regular museum admission: $6 adults, $5 seniors, $4 children, and free for Museum Members. Contact with questions and to learn more about field trips, tours, and other offerings.