In the summer of 2018, I received a grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation to fund a project for the Jefferson School African-American Heritage Center (JSAAHC) that maps inequities in Charlottesville from past to present.

Ultimately, this project will live online, as an exhibition at the JSAAHC, and as part of a broader curriculum unit in area schools. It will have many different maps and layers for people to interact with, so that we can see how the patterns and decisions of the past impact our realities and outcomes today. Through maps, I’m hoping that we can begin to see the bigger, more complicated, structures and decisions that have gotten us to where we are today — so that we may better think about where we want to go tomorrow.

The project will undoubtedly span many years, evolving in ways both predicted and unforeseen, so this blog will chronicle that journey, noting its progress along the way as well as some of the more interesting discoveries and developments.

I’m using ArcGIS as our software, and Chris Gist and the team at UVA’s Digital Scholars Lab have graciously given me a thorough crash-course in how to geo-reference old property records.


For our first map, I’m plotting every single deed in the city that contains a racist covenant within it. (There are thousands.) These covenants prohibit the sale of homes to African-Americans. See clause #2 in the above deed in the Park Plaza neighborhood in North Downtown.

“No property in this subdivision shall be sold to any person not of the Caucasian race.”

This deed is from 1928, and yet here we are, 90 years later, and the vast majority of residents in this neighborhood are still white. As we’ll show throughout the life of this project, this isn’t by accident or coincidence.

Next up: Our first mapped racially restrictive covenants….

5 thoughts on “Mapping inequities

  1. What an EXCELLENT project! The top-level superficial “lessons” are pretty well expected, but the specifics which will emerge from the actual detail work will be different for every community where it is actually performed. This would be a MOST valuable project to be done in every community in the US! Social Studies departments in colleges, and even high schools — please take note!


  2. I am so glad you presented at the Albemarle County Lunch and Learn series. One area you might want to include at some future point is how differently the areas in the County changed once they were not part of the City of Charlottesville. There are a number of neighborhoods in the urban ring that use to be part of the City of Charlottesville but are now part of Albemarle County. Investments in neighborhoods is managed very differently and this may demonstrate that focusing different government departments on different aspects of managing growth may in the long term actually benefit more people over larger geographical areas. Housing units built at the same time but separate by a boundary on a map and a differing system of governing will never see equal water/sewer infrastructure investments.


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