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Unvarnished: Housing Discrimination in the Northern and Western United States is a free online exhibit examining the history of residential segregation in America by spotlighting six communities from California to Connecticut and placing their histories within a national context. Visitors will learn how the large-scale system of housing discrimination based on exclusionary practices defined by race, ethnicity, or religion intensified in the 1890s and over much of the twentieth century. The exhibit features articles, videos, expert interviews, oral histories, primary documents, and photographs that showcase how informal localized systems of segregation became national policy and were sustained over time, culminating in the mid-twentieth century Fair Housing Movement.
Topics covered include segregation, immigration, The Great Migration, sundown town legacies, discriminatory zoning, restrictive covenants, suburbanization, the fight for open housing, and their contemporary legacies.
To view the online exhibit, please visit UnvarnishedHistory.org
Along with an overview of the national context, the following communities are spotlighted:
· Appleton, WI
· Brea, CA
· Columbus, OH
· Naperville, IL
· Oak Park, IL
· West Hartford, CT
These six communities demonstrate how housing discrimination manifested itself in different ways across the United States often based on race, ethnicity, or religion. Each of the six communities was selected because their history museum or cultural organization is dedicated to doing the work of researching, understanding, and acknowledging their community’s history of exclusion.
Unvarnished: Housing Discrimination in the Northern and Western United States online exhibit was funded by a prestigious Museum National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the primary source of federal support for the nation’s museums. The $1.5 million project was a grant for $750,000 with a 1:1 match met through consortium member staff efforts and the Healing Illinois Grant Program.
From 2016 to 2022, a team of public historians, scholars, academic advisors, subject-matter experts, museum practitioners, and educators were dedicated to researching and developing Unvarnished and its teacher resources. In addition to providing the national context, the project’s consortium did extensive research into their own community’s legacies of segregation and housing discrimination. Following best practices, a team of nationally recognized scholars peer-reviewed the exhibit content.
The project also had an extensive audience research component. Nearly 15,000 teachers, museum professionals, museum-goers, and the general public participated in the research component of the exhibit and curriculum development. Fifty museums participated in the audience research, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Historic New England, History Nebraska, National Civil Rights Museum, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Dennis Cremin, Ph.D., Lewis University, Romeoville, IL
Estevan Rael-Gálvez, Ph.D., Creative Strategies 360°, Santa Fe, NM
Gretchen Sorin, Ph.D., Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta, Cooperstown, NY
Thomas J. Sugrue, Ph.D., New York University, New York City, NY
Noelle Trent, Ph.D., National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN
Charmaine Jefferson, J.D. Kélan Resources Los Angeles, CA
Susie Wilkening, Wilkening Consulting, Seattle, WA
William Adair, Museum Education Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Melanie Adams, Ph.D., Consultant, Washington, D.C.
Dina Bailey, Consultant, Mountain Top Vision, Atlanta, GA
Sarah E. Doherty, Ph.D., Historian, North Park University, Chicago, IL
International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, New York City, NY
Paige Glotzer, Ph.D., Historian, University of Wisconsin, WI
James W. Loewen, Ph.D., Sociologist, Washington, D.C. (1942-2021)
Michelle Moon, Saltworks Interpretive Services, Atlantic Highlands, NJ
Night Kitchen Interactive
A section of UnvarnishedHistory.org is dedicated to educators and includes resources for utilizing the online exhibit in middle and high school lesson planning. The Unvarnished educator resources are organized into four modules that can be used individually or combined into a full unit of study. The development of the educational resources was guided by extensive teacher research, including surveys, focus groups, and a teacher review team. The teacher resources were developed using the Common Core Standards for Literacy in History and Social Studies by the National Council on Social Studies.
Until the late 1960s, like nearly all of DuPage and Will County, Naperville, was virtually all White. It is estimated that over 70% of towns and cities in Illinois with over 1,000 residents were sundown towns — all white communities or counties that purposefully maintained their status through harassment, custom, discriminatory laws and ordinances, and violence or threat of violence.
The mission of the Naperville Heritage Society is to collect, document, preserve, and support the history of Naperville, Illinois past and present. It is our responsibility and purpose to research, collect, and share the stories of our community throughout time. When Naper Settlement expanded its mission 15 years ago to include Naperville’s history through today, our research into twentieth and twenty-first century history asked core questions including: Why did Naperville have such significant demographic change over a fifty-year period, beginning in 1970? What local, regional, and national factors played a role? Do other communities have similar stories? Why or why not?
This historical knowledge builds an informed and educated public which is a critical component of any healthy society. By studying history, we gain a deeper understanding of the people, circumstances, actions, norms, and events that shaped us as a community and nation. This insight deepens our understanding of where we’ve been (and why), where we are now, and most importantly how we can do better.