Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Integration: Are We Finally Making Progress?

Integration is something that Baltimore, like many cities has been avoiding for centuries. Whites have always wanted to live near other whites and blacks have always tried to move into white neighborhoods causing the neighborhood to change from white to black. The 2000 census shows certain neighborhoods as bring very diverse and integrated. Could this be permanent integration or the beginning of resegregation?
After the Civil War Baltimore's black population exploded. Former slaves and free blacks alike migrated from the south looking for work. The same can be said about whites from the south. At the turn of the century, the city drew lines of where blacks can live that generally "hugged" Downtown on the east and west. What is now known as "Old West Baltimore" was one of these areas. Old West Baltimore consists of Harlem Park, Franklin Square, Sandtown Winchester, Upton, Madison Park, and Druid Heights. Blacks lived in areas near Old West Baltimore with whites in Poppleton and Penn North as well. On the East side, at first consisted of what is now known as Oldtown, Penn Fallsway, Oliver, Johnston Square, Gay Street, and Dunbar Broadway. A few other black neighborhoods came in to existence like Mount Winans, Morgan Park and Cherry Hill. The city's original black settlement is Sharp-Leadenhall which is in the midst of the gentrified neighborhoods of Otterbein and Federal Hill. Not sursprisingly, as was the case with other cities Baltimore's black neighborhoods became overcrowded, once grand row homes were divided into apartments allowing for denser living conditions. Deterioration set in as well and after World War II blacks were on the move.
Those who could afford it moved into white neighborhoods in hopes of integration. Post World War II America was not ready for integration and Baltimore was no different. As blacks began to show up in white neighborhoods change was afoot. In a few short years entire neighborhoods turned from completely white to black. West Baltimore's demographics changed much quicker and covered more ground than the east side where it was more gradual. First on the west side from 1945-1955 was the Greater Rosemont/Coppin Heights area up to Gwynns Falls Park and Park Circle. From 1950-1955 it was the Walbrook/Mondowmin area. From 1955-1960 it was Allendale, Uplands, Forest Park, and Windsor Hills. From 1960-1965 it was Edmondson Village, Rognel Heights, Penrose/Fayette Street Outreach and Reservoir Hill. From 1965-1970 it was Park Heights, Upper Howard Park, and Westport Homes. From 1970-1975 it was Lower Howard Park, Irvington, and Carroll South Hilton. The sudden change from white to black was no accident, this was carefully planned by a few greedy real estate agents looking to cash in white fear and the housing shortages for endured by blacks. The agents were known as "Blockbusters", they got whites to sell low and blacks to buy high and they kept the difference. Knowing that a black family on their block would instill panic in the white neighborhoods the block was "busted" and within five years the block would be resegregated as a black neighborhood. In 1968 blockbusting was outlawed but the behavoir similar to blockbusting would continue for decades to come.
On the east side, as I said before change was more gradual. A big reason for this was the white neighborhoods were poor to working class rather than the middle class ones in the west side. Whites couldn't afford to pick up and move to the suburbs. On the other hand, like their westside cohort, they didn't like the idea of integration so eventual resegregation was the order of the day. From 1950-1960 it was Berea, Broadway East, Barclay, and East Baltimore Midway. From 1960-1970 it was Coldstream Homestead Montebello and Harwood. From 1970-1980 it was Jonestown, Washington Hill, and Middle East. In the 1980s and into the 1990s it was Govans, Waverly, and McElderry Park. During the 1990s it was Bealir Edison and Upper Reisterstown Road.

During the 1990s is when there was a turning point in integration. The trend of black settlement in all white neighborhoods continued but white flight was much less evident. There may have been initial flight by a few but long time white residents stayed as well as new white settlement. This can be attributed to a new generation of urban pioneers staking their claim in Baltimore. These new urban pioneers could have come from Washington D.C., Philadelphia, or New York where race relations are a little better. Not all neighborhoods are privy to black settlement but the tide has certainly turned. Neighborhoods who have embraced black settlement include Union Square, Hollins Market, Pigtown, The Neighborhoods of Greater Lauraville, Hamilton, Mount Vernon, Charles Village, Hunting Ridge and Ten Hills. It hasn't just been blacks settling in white neighborhoods there has also been white settlement in black neighborhoods as well. Reservoir Hill, Jonestown, Station North, Govans, Washington Hill, and McElderry Park have seen new white residents buying vacant homes or warehouse spaces and rehabbing them. The increase of diversity within neighborhoods is not just confined to blacks and whites. Both east and west of Patterson Park there has been a huge Hispanic population surge. Unfortunately this may not be permanent. The soaring property values of the real estate boom may price this new Hispanic population out of these neighborhoods.

Baltimore has made huge strides toward integration in the past 15 or so years but the fact of the matter is many neighborhoods are still segregated. However, I do think that this trend of integration will continue into the future. Black settlement will continue into outer city neighborhoods and white flight will be minimal. White settlement will continue in inner city neighborhoods as the Inner Harbor momentum spreads and projects like the East Baltimore Biotech Park, Transit Oriented Development, and artist designation continues. As far as integration making progress I believe we've made progress but not perfection.