City Life

How Baltimore was Shaped by Racism

The New Yorker's Jelani Cobb writes on the city

City Life

Midway through the twentieth century, cities—especially those, like Baltimore, which were sustained by ports—connoted a kind of American swagger. Today, the population of Baltimore is six hundred and twenty-three thousand; in 1950, it was nine hundred and fifty thousand. The Second World War diminished ethnic rivalries among White Americans and, with them, the tribal allotments of urban neighborhoods, but that process was accelerated by the fact that those areas were already becoming less appealing. When, in 1910, a Black attorney bought a house on a White block in Baltimore, the Sun reported that the presence of Blacks would drive down property values. That helped bring about a city ordinance—the first of its kind—establishing block-by-block segregation. It is generally assumed that White flight was a product of the political tumult and the spiking crime that afflicted American cities in the nineteen-sixties, but it may well have been the other way around. Baltimore, three-quarters White in 1950, is now two-thirds Black. As the surrounding suburbs became increasingly White, transportation networks that once connected the city and the outlying county crumbled. Industry and employment relocated to the surrounding areas. By the late sixties, the city was marked by poverty, a persistent lack of opportunity, and violent crime.







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