Click here to view this free online exhibit!

The Noah Webster House& West Hartford Historical Society staff worked with six other organizations to create an online exhibit that looks at the history of systemic racism nationally and in their own communities. “Unvarnished: Moving History Organizations to Interpret De Facto and De Jure Segregation in the Northern and Western United States”, was funded by an IMLS National Leadership Grants for Museums awarded to Naper Settlement in Naperville, Illinois in 2017. The project brought together six organizations as a learning cohort to explore systemic racism in their towns as seen through real estate practices.

Unvarnished examines the history of residential segregation in America by spotlighting six communities from California to Connecticut and placing their histories within a national context. This exhibit is the result of a five-year journey undertaken by five museums and one cultural organization. Together, they crossed the Northern and Western U.S. to learn about exclusionary housing practices and segregation. The participating organizations were carefully selected and include the Brea Museum and Historical Society located in Brea, California, African Heritage, Inc. in Appleton, Wisconsin, Oak Park River Forest Museum in Oak Park, Illinois, The Ohio History Connection in Columbus, Ohio, The Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society in West Hartford, Connecticut and Naper Settlement in Naperville, Illinois. The teams at these museums traveled to each site to see the various communities and learn from local experts. The group met with scholars, practitioners, evaluators, and program specialists, to become thought leaders in advancing more inclusive narratives of systemic racial and religious de facto segregation, including restrictive housing covenants and sundown towns.

Online visitors will learn how housing discrimination, often based on race, ethnicity, or religion, was a large-scale system that resulted in segregation patterns across the Northern and Western United States that intensified over the twentieth century. Nearly two dozen interactive articles, accompanied by in-depth explainer videos, photos, interviews, and other primary sources, showcase how formal systems of segregation were developed through individual practices and expanded through federal policy, sustained over time, and continue to affect today’s communities.

The project serves as a model for the field and through its research and outcomes, will have a lasting impact on how history organizations do their work and engage with their communities.