LOVECRAFT COUNTRY and the History of Redlining

Spoilers for Lovecraft Country’s “Holy Ghost” episode

Lovecraft Country‘s ability to blend real-life inequities with fictional horror elements is pure perfection. “Holy Ghost” picks up three weeks after the events at Ardham Lodge as Leti, Tic, and Montrose process Uncle George’s death. Tic and Montrose are in a dark place but Leti seems to have hit a stroke of luck. She receives a surprise inheritance (or, so she thinks) and finds a Black realtor who helps her secure a huge fixer upper home on Chicago’s North Side. Leti is optimistic about creating a safe haven for her Black tenants but ends up grappling with supernatural forces along with racist neighbors.

It’s no surprise that Leti’s neighbors weren’t giving her a friendly welcome. But a larger reason behind their vile actions and the lack of Black access to certain neighborhoods lies in housing redlining.

The Origins of Redlining

According to CBS News, redlining is the systemic practice of denying mortgages or loans to Black and other people of color to prevent them from buying homes in certain places. In the 1930s, The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation sought to measure the creditworthiness of properties in several American cities, including Chicago.

Predominately minority neighborhoods were assigned a lower grade than white neighborhoods. The measurements reflected the social and legal attitude of the time. Banks and other lenders could reject loans because of a person’s race or current residency area. The term redlining is a reference to the red ink used by lenders to draw boundaries separating the “desirable” white neighborhoods from “risky” neighborhoods.

A neighborhood’s grade could quickly drop if any “undesirable” people (Black and other minorities) moved in the neighborhood. Lovecraft Country addresses this in a short, simple scene. Leti’s new neighbors quickly put up signs saying, “We are a White community—Undesirables MUST GO” on their front lawns. The episode later reveals her neighbors complained to authorities about Black people simply living and existing in the same space.

Areas with low grades didn’t have funding access to invest in the vitality of their neighborhoods. They couldn’t get to better funded schools and job opportunities that fell outside of heavily segregated neighborhoods. And, if they tried to move to “higher grade” area, they were often denied funding to do so. The intent behind it all is clear: to keep Black people “ in their place” and at a socioeconomic disadvantage.

Redlining’s Effects In Real Life & Lovecraft Country

This made home ownership a tough task in Black and other minority neighborhoods. First, it was difficult to own a home at all if you didn’t have the personal funds nor a loan. The only reason Leti is able to access this part of the proverbial “American Dream” is because she came into an unexpected amount of money.

Homeowners in minority neighborhoods also didn’t get funds to maintain and/or renovate their property. In the series, Leti and her sister Ruby team up with several tenants to begin to revitalize their home. It’s highly likely that a portion of the “inheritance” funds is used to make the house livable. And even then, Leti remarks that the elevator will remain broken because she can’t find a Black repairman to fix it.

If a financial crisis or other emergency arose, Black homeowners could not get relief nor new mortgages. Their homes were often grossly undervalued, leading to a generational wealth gap between them and their white counterparts. For most families, a large amount of net worth and wealth comes from being a homeowner and the equity in the home. A MarketPlace profile reveals the ripple effects of redlining that led to white people fleeing their desegregated neighborhoods, housing values crashing, wealth gaps, and future foreclosure crises. As a result, white families have nearly 10 times the wealth of Black families.

Jurnee Smollett as Leti Lewis sits in back of a car

Elizabeth Morris/HBO

This makes Leti’s determination to fight for her home even more powerful. She knows that society and the legal system are against her but she pushes back at the walls that society desperately try to build around her as a Black woman. Leti also does this during a time when a Black single woman owning a home is truly outside the norm. She’s proven herself to be a brave and bold woman and this is her way of trying to effect change in a harrowing time.

Redlining became illegal following the 1968 Fair Housing Act. This act prohibits race discrimination when a person seeks to rent or buy a home or apply for a mortgage. It protects people from incredibly high interest rates and fees. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 also played a part in legally eradicating redlining. Lenders now have to track their approval and denial rates for low-income people. Like many issues stemming from systemic racism, legal changes do not equal immediate social change. There’s evidence to support continual racial discrimination in housing.

In addition to the aforementioned MarketPlace profile, a 2018 article by The Chicago Tribune detailed the inequities in lending to Black and Latino people based on research and interviews from Chicago and beyond. The post reveals an analysis by The Associated Press showing Black applicants denials at a significantly higher rate in 48 cities. At the time, the median net worth for Black families was $9,000—much less than $132,000 for white families.

Leti’s Resistance
Jurnee Smollett Lovecraft Country redlining

Elizabeth Morris/HBO

Of course, Leti’s story takes place in 1955, so redlining is still very much legal. So she deals with harassment from neighbors and abuse by police. Her neighbors tie bricks to their car horns to create a constant nuisance. It’s an inherently stupid act considering they also have to listen to the horns because, well, they live there too.

The police ride by and, as expected, do nothing to stop what’s going on. The neighborhood harassment escalates when a man burns a cross on Leti’s front yard. She retaliates by smashing their car windows and ends up in the back of a police van. She goes through an abusive interaction with a police captain named Lancaster, who taunts her with racial slurs.

He mocks her question about the many complaints she filed against her awful neighbors. Instead, Lancaster drills her about what she’s seen in the “Winthrop house” and the source of her money.  The encounter is horrific but also eye-opening because Leti discovers some needed information. She aims to free the souls of eight people who Lancaster gave to the former homeowner Hiram Epstein. The latter is a scientist who used his basement for grotesque human experiments on Black people. Leti has to do all of this while grappling with the daily stresses of being Black in a white neighborhood.

Two men and a woman sit inside of a red diner booth

Elizabeth Morris/HBO

In the end, Leti aids in releasing the tortured Black souls in her home by banishing Epstein’s spirit. And three of her neighbors get what they frankly deserve after breaking into the house and dying by supernatural forces. But the mysteries of the Winthrop house are beginning to unravel. The episodes final moments indicate that Christina coerces the realtor to push Leti towards getting the Winthrop house. It remains to be seen why but it’s clear that Leti will stay and defend her property through all odds.

Leti’s story of buying a new home may intersect with secret societies and dark experiments on Black people. But, it’s also an act of resistance against redlining as she takes ownership of a space used to brutalize innocent Black people.

Featured Image: Elizabeth Morris/HBO

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