Diane Sugimura’s family moved to Seattle in 1955 when redlining — the discriminatory practice of effectively barring certain racial groups from securing housing in certain areas by refusing them loans and mortgages — was still rampant in the city. Sugimura remembers her parents being rejected several times from buying a home when she was just 8 years old.
“We were told, ‘Oh, that house you were interested in amazingly just sold,’ or, ‘We can’t sell you that house that we just showed you because we’d be out of business if people found out we sold to you,’ or, ‘No, we can’t sell you anything,’” said Sugimura, who is of Japanese descent. “It’s always been in the back of my head.”
Several decades later, that experience became part of Sugimura’s work. She worked for the city of Seattle for 38 years, 14 of which were spent as the director of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development. Though she no longer works for the city, she continues to be involved with issues of city planning and housing exclusion.
This past year, Sugimura served on the community advisory committee that helped design the Wing Luke Museum’s “Excluded, Inside the Lines” exhibit. The exhibit, which opened in March 2019, explores Seattle’s history of redlining and its impacts today.
Although “Excluded, Inside the Lines” closes on Feb. 23, the issues examined by the exhibit remain relevant today as Seattle changes under the impact of gentrification, extensive development and an influx of newcomers to the city.
Cynthia Brothers, text writer for the “Excluded, Inside the Lines” exhibit, says this isn’t new — that people have been displaced from their land and culture since the first colonizers arrived on this land.
“It’s kind of the same game, but the rules got switched up. People are still fighting to stay in their homes, it just looks different,” said Brothers, who is also founder of Vanishing Seattle, a project that “documents the displaced & disappearing institutions, small businesses, & cultures of Seattle.”
The exhibit includes personal stories of Seattleites who have faced housing discrimination in the past or are currently affected by gentrification. It also features maps and timelines that reveal how redlining has influenced what the city looks like today.
According to Sugimura, maps of Seattle’s demographic distribution today look very much like demographic maps of the 1940s, when the practice of redlining and discriminatory housing practices limited homeowners of color to certain segments of the city.
The exhibit’s community advisory committee, which included individuals like Sugimura who have experienced housing discrimination themselves, had a clear vision for “Excluded, Inside the Lines,” according to Cassie Chinn, Wing Luke Museum’s deputy executive director. They wanted to include personal stories, show how history is reflected in today’s housing issues, and also inspire action by highlighting the organizing efforts of Seattle activists in the past.
“They wanted to show the uniqueness of Seattle, especially when it came to cross-community organizing, community collaborations,” said Chinn. “The experience in Seattle is perhaps different from other cities in the nation because we have the African American community, Native American community, East Asian American communities all coming together.”
“Excluded, Inside the Lines” is part of an ongoing collaboration among Wing Luke, the Northwest African American Museum and the National Park Service, which will launch a Redlining Heritage Trail Tour on April 25 exploring the city’s history of redlining and the legacy of displacement and disinvestment occurring today in neighborhoods like the Central District and the Chinatown International District.
On a preview of the unfinished tour last year, NPS community planner Stephanie Stroud highlighted several sites that may be a part of the final tour, including the Douglass-Truth branch of the Seattle Public Library in the Central District, the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM), and the site of the former Red Apple on South Jackson Street.
The building that now houses NAAM was once a school that activists protected from being destroyed to build Interstate 90. The site of the former Red Apple offers a look at community backlash to development of the area that was previously home to a foods store that was a community cornerstone.
“They’re all related to this issue of ‘What is home, what is community, what is gentrification?’” said Stroud.
Stroud says NPS doesn’t claim to have expertise on issues of displacement and intends for the tour to be told from the perspectives of the communities affected by redlining and gentrification.
In conversations with the community advisory board for the Redlining Trail Tour, Stroud said, several community members complained that newcomers to their neighborhoods would ask them if they were lost in their own communities.
Stroud says she hopes the tour will help newcomers learn why “those types of behaviors are problematic.”
For Brothers, efforts like the exhibit at Wing Luke, her own work capturing community sites that are being displaced, and the tour are intended to encourage people to take action by looking back at the past.
“There’s so many different things people can do,” said Brothers. “But I think it’s important to start with the history.”
“Excluded, Inside the Lines,” through Feb. 23; Wing Luke Museum, 719 S. King St., Seattle; free; wingluke.org