Growing up in San Diego- Redlining comes to the Freeman Family (Part 1)

I previously wrote that my family moved from the Glenncliff subdivision to the Emerald Hills area of San Diego during the summer of 1960. Emerald Hills was not my father’s first choice to build our home.  His first choice was La Jolla.  But because he was black, he was not allowed to purchase land there. So he went for his second choice, a plot of land across the street from Johnson Elementary school (now known as Johnson Magnet School) overlooking the newly constructed Hwy 94.  But once again he was not allowed to purchase land there because he was black.  Finally he was able to purchase land and construct his home at what would be the address of his home for the next 42 year; 5217 Roswell St.

This is what my father wrote about purchasing his land;

“We found very little discrimination in San Diego. But the difficulty was finding a nice house..Although many houses were being built at that time…but they would not sell to me or any other Black person. For me to have a nice home for me and my family it was necessary for me to find a lot and build my home myself. Finding a lot within its self, was a formative task because many lot owners would not sell to me as a Black man. My white working companions were able to buy new homes on the market at 4% interest. While I had to pay 7 1/2%

What my father didn’t write, but told to me one day while sitting on the porch and enjoying the night time breeze, was the home cost him $20,000 ($207,450.00 in 2023 dollars) to build, and, he had to put down 50% ($10,000 – $103,725.00 in 2023 dollars) so he could build it.

I learned later in life that this was known as Redlining.  In fact most people  don’t know how Redlining came about. And like many people I had never heard the terms “Redlining” or even “Passing” as those two words were related to African-Americans until maybe 10 years ago. By the way Redlining did not apply to just African-Americans but to any group of people who were not “White.” So in the words of  the late Paul Harvey, “This will be the rest of the story.”

This is a map of 1935 San Diego using 1936 street Home Owner’s Loan Corporation Data showing the desirable areas of the city and “not so desirable areas” – grades 1-4. Notice that a very large part of San Diego is colored red meaning those were undersirable places to live.

Notice in the  map on the right, that a very large part of San Diego is colored red meaning those were undesirable places to live. Redlining was part of FDR’s “New Deal.” And one of the biggest proponents of Redlining was an Austin, Texas Congressman named Lyndon B. Johnson, who later became the 37th President, and the one who signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This is the link (end of this post)I used to provide the following map. Using your mouse, scroll over different sections to read about that section of San Diego. Clicking on section D8 where I lived (4855 Guymon St) from 1955-1961 gave me this 1940 description.

“Topography badly cut up by canyons. Residents low salaried classes white and Mexican. Homes poorly maintained. Typical improvements one-story shacks and small houses. Cost range $600 to $1500. Approximately 15% developed. Heavy Mattoon assessments in this area. No flood or other hazards. Average fog condition.”

Boy-o-boy did I enjoy exploring those canyons. It was 1957 that Alonzo Horton Elementary School opened to help provide overcrowding relief on Chollas Elementary on Market street just west of 47th

Clicking on D10 (where I lived on Roswell St from 1960-1972) gave this description:

“This area rolling, hilly, many canyons. Sparsely settled. The homes as a rule are small but no conformity whatever to type and show little pride of ownership. This is due to heavy Mattoon Assessment in most of the area, which has retarded the growth and development for several years. Residents lower salaried classes, mostly whites and Mexicans with small earning capacity. The land was originally subdivided and sold off in very cheap lots and much of the area was used for small chicken and rabbit ranches, etc. The approach to the area is also detrimental to its future development as a good district. If the Mattoon situation did not exist in this area, it would be possible to pick out certain small districts that would probably take a higher rating than is herewith shown. However, the general attitude of local lending agencies is that the whole area is hazardous regardless of Mattoon assessments. No flood or other hazards. Fog condition very light, Portions of the area more or less remote from transportation and other conveniences, while other portions are fairly close to transportation, market, etc. The small town of Encanto having a small one-street business area of two or three blocks is also located herein. Soil is for the most part adobe.”

Clicking on the below link will bring up a map of U.S. cities with redlining issues.  Clicking on the San Diego area will bring up the above description.…

It is important to read the introduction to provide context to the map.

I use to ride my bike to Encanto to visit the my dentist, Seito Yamachuchi (sp).  He had been an Air Force dentist and would charge me $10.00 ($97.47 in 2023 dollars) for a filling.  I paid for my own dental work using money I made delivering the Independent Newspaper.

Part 2. How Redlining became a New Deal construct.

Back to Elementary School – Grade 5 – Part 4

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