Census data show segregation goes on


Nearly a quarter-century after the civil rights movement dismantled the legal barriers to integrated housing, Baltimore area residents still largely live apart, separated by skin color, according to an analysis of 1990 census data by The Sun.

The vast majority of blacks in Baltimore live in highly segregated areas while most whites in the metropolitan area's five suburban counties reside in neighborhoods where blacks are only a modest presence.

In Baltimore County, an increasing number of blacks -- more than one in three in 1990 -- live in majority-black areas, which may portend the coming of city-style segregation to some suburbs.

"Baltimore is still a city that has de facto segregation. It's really almost by habit at this point," said Ruth Crystal, executive director of the Maryland Low Income Housing Coalition.

More than four of five black city residents live in areas that are 70 percent or more black -- and nearly two of three live in areas that are 90 percent or more black.

By this measure, the extent of segregation is almost unchanged from 1980 and only slightly less than 1970.

The belt of almost all-black neighborhoods crosses much of the city's midsection, extends up the northwest corridor and covers a patch of South Baltimore -- 19.5 square miles in all, about a quarter of the city's area.

By that measure, the city is considerably more segregated than in 1970, when such areas covered 14.4 square miles.

If anything, the census data may understate the extent of segregation. The Sun studied census tracts -- which average 4,000 residents and often cross neighborhood lines.

Some tracts may mask pockets of segregation by lumping predominantly white and predominantly black areas together and making them appear integrated.

Yet significant change in racial housing patterns has also occurred over the past two decades, the data show. Among The Sun's findings:

* Enclaves that were virtually all white have steadily disappeared across the metro area as housing has been opened to blacks and other minorities. In 1970, more than 4 in 10 whites lived in areas that were less than 1 percent black. Now only one in seven does.

* Blacks and whites both have left Baltimore in large numbers, as the city's population declined sharply from 905,759 in 1970 to 736,014 in 1990 and changed from majority-white to majority-black.

* The black population of the five metropolitan counties -- Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard -- has grown by 152 percent since 1970, more than five times the rate of white population growth there. Still, more than 7 in 10 metro area blacks lived in the city. The suburban counties were 11 percent black in 1990.

"There has been a revolutionary change," said George Laurent, executive director of Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc., a group that monitors housing bias. "Today I fully believe blacks could move to most parts of the area without significant trouble. The real estate industry may discriminate and steer, but if a black family wants to move to a particular area, if they're determined, they can move there."

Nevertheless, Mr. Laurent added, "We're still a pretty segregated society; there's no question about that."

A University of Chicago study, based on the 1980 census, showed that Baltimore was one of a half-dozen large metropolitan areas in the nation that suffered from "hypersegregation." The Sun's analysis indicates that it still does.

In a hypersegregated area, the researchers found, many blacks live in "small, densely settled, monoracial neighborhoods that are part of large agglomerations of contiguous tracts clustered tightly around the city center. . . . Blacks without jobs would rarely meet, and would be extremely unlikely to know, [a white] resident of the same metropolis."

The 1990 census data released so far don't include information about income, education and other factors that would help explain the Baltimore area's changing housing patterns.

The population count also is thought to have missed many city blacks. The Census Bureau estimates that 4.7 percent of Baltimore residents were uncounted. The U.S. secretary of commerce must decide by July 15 whether to make a national adjustment of the count.

But the figures do show that houses in nearly all-white areas are worth about three times as much as those in nearly all-black areas -- a hint of the huge gap in income between residents of the mostly white suburbs and the mostly black inner city.

The gap is not strictly racial: The homes of blacks living in nearly all-white areas are worth almost four times as much as those of blacks in nearly all-black areas.

The greater access to housing that has allowed middle-class blacks to seek better homes in areas formerly off-limits to them has also "left the inner city almost devastated by poverty," said George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"Those persons who could afford to move out into the suburbs . . . were the middle- and upper-income among us and that left behind those who could not afford to escape," Mr. Buntin said.

What has been left behind is a highly concentrated group of poor people living in tattered neighborhoods bereft of jobs and stuck with poorly financed, segregated schools.

"The problem is really so economic now," Ms. Crystal said. "There is a growing discrepancy between the available housing and people's income."

As a result, the language used to describe the segregated inner city has changed. The "ghetto" of the 1960s is now home to the "underclass" of the 1990s.

The emphasis has switched from race to class, although the nearly all-black inner-city neighborhood exists in nearly as pure a form as it did a quarter-century ago.

Similarly, the 1960s ideal of "integration" is seldom mentioned in the 1990s, although surveys show that most blacks would prefer to live in racially mixed neighborhoods -- if only to avail themselves of what they perceive as better schools and municipal services.

Substantial residential integration remains nearly as elusive as inner-city segregation remains persistent.

Racial makeup changes

The most significant change in the Baltimore area's racial makeup since 1970 has been the 25 percent growth in the black population. By contrast, the white population has only increased by 7 percent in the same period.

But it was not black population growth that transformed Baltimore from a majority-white city (46.4 percent black in 1970) to a majority-black one (59.2 percent in 1990). The city's black population edged up a scant 3.7 percent in two decades.

Instead, white population decline -- a drop of more than 190,000 residents, or about 40 percent -- changed the city. The white withdrawal, due to deaths and migration, was nearly twice as fast in the 1970s as in the 1980s.

Blacks also left the city in large numbers -- perhaps as many as 90,000 since 1970.

The biggest population losses have come in city neighborhoods that were the most segregated two decades ago.

Areas that were more than 90 percent black in 1970 -- confined largely to the city's core -- had lost more than a quarter of their population by 1990.

At the other end of the scale, areas that were less than 10 percent black in 1970 -- large chunks of North, East, South and Southwest Baltimore -- had lost more than a third of their white population by 1990.

Many areas, particularly in Northeast and Southwest Baltimore, changed from majority-white in 1970 to majority-black in 1990. Those neighborhoods of change now house one in six city dwellers. Nowhere in metropolitan Baltimore did an area flip from majority-black to majority-white.

Still, segregation of whites persists. About one in eight city whites still lives in scattered areas such as Hampden, Morrell Park and parts of East and South Baltimore that are less than 1 percent black. Nearly half the city's white residents live in areas less than 10 percent black.

White enclaves vanish

As small numbers of blacks integrate formerly all-white areas, nearly all-white enclaves are gradually disappearing across the metropolitan area.

However, stable neighborhoods with more than a token black presence still are rare.

From 1970 to 1990, not one of nearly 500 census areas examined both grew in population and consistently mirrored the Baltimore area's racial makeup -- now 71.5 percent white, 26.1 percent black and 2.4 percent Asian and other races.

The process by which a neighborhood is transformed from majority-white to majority-black is familiar: Aging white homeowners -- a third of the city's homeowners are 65 or over -- or their heirs put houses up for sale, and black buyers in search of better housing move in.

Speculators may speed the process of racial change, snapping up houses from whites at bargain prices and renting them as absentee landlords to blacks.

Soon a "tipping point" in the racial balance is reached -- typically 20 to 30 percent black -- and whites come to believe that the neighborhood is "changing," that property values will drop, schools will worsen, and crime will increase.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Once whites believe a neighborhood will become predominantly black and refuse to buy there, its racial makeup naturally changes.

Ask John List, 62, a retired cannery worker, why he just sold his home of 30 years in the 400 block of North Ellwood Avenue in East Baltimore, and you'll get an angry reply:

"Because of goddamn slum landlords and trashy people, that's why," he said.

His wife, Sylvia, a part-time waitress, said the couple was moving to Dundalk "because we had to. We're getting out while we can. I'm tired of going up and down the neighborhood giving out rat poison."

The Lists, who are white, say white neighbors have given them more trouble than blacks.

Ann Veal, a black homemaker who rents in the 600 block of North Curley Street nearby, expressed similar complaints about some of her black neighbors.

"It was fine when I came here," said Mrs. Veal, who moved into the neighborhood five years ago with her husband and three school-age children. "I love the neighborhood; it's just the people that's in it.

"Look in some of those yards -- there's dog mess; the house smells terrible. The kids are out early in the morning making noise and disturbing old people," she said. "Some of these [white] people are running away. I tell them: 'Don't run; stay here; this is your home; you can't let people run you out.' "

However, the area's white population dropped by nearly a third in the 1980s, as its racial mix went from 5 percent black in 1980 to almost 40 percent black last year.

A neighborhood that looks "integrated" to blacks often is perceived as "changing" by whites, surveys have shown. The integrated neighborhood that most blacks prefer to move into -- one, like the Lists' and Veals', that is roughly half-black, half-white -- is often exactly the kind that most whites want to move out of.

Not many whites make a conscious choice to live as the minority in integrated city neighborhoods such as Waverly, Northwood or Windsor Hills. And few blacks want to be the first to integrate an all-white neighborhood.

Such racial attitudes create a momentum that often leads

neighborhoods that were integrated for a time to quickly "resegregate," even in leafy, prosperous areas such as Forest Park, Lochearn or Woodlawn.

When store owner William Obriecht moved to Woodlawn in 1963, "somebody said, 'You know, you're moving into a checkerboard neighborhood.' I moved from the Midwest, and I wasn't even sure what checkerboard meant. I can remember my response, 'We've got civil rights laws; we're taking care of that problem; it's no big deal.' "

Now that the area has tipped from roughly 80 percent white in 1970 to 70 percent black in 1990, Mr. Obriecht, an advocate of integrated neighborhoods, said, "My reliance on civil rights law was not justified. But I have no regrets. We're planning to stay."

County blacks increase

The largest black population growth in the Baltimore suburbs has taken place in Baltimore County. City blacks, in search of better housing and schools, have moved into older suburban neighborhoods near the Beltway in the Liberty Road corridor.

The county, only 3 percent black in 1970, now is home to more than 85,000 blacks -- 12.4 percent of its population. The county's white population has actually decreased over the past two decades while the number of black residents quadrupled.

Housing activists contend that racial steering is partly responsible for the concentration of blacks in the Liberty Road corridor; but county planner Ervin McDaniel said it's also "a natural process. People have moved into areas where they feel comfortable."

The county recently unveiled a plan designed to counter the Liberty Road area's "image problem." The bad image surfaces, Mr. McDaniel said, when white homebuyers are told that Woodlawn is a "good starter neighborhood," then warned that their children won't be at home in the predominantly black local schools.

In the other Baltimore suburbs, white population growth outpaced the increase of blacks from 1970-1990 only in overwhelmingly white Carroll County.

Black growth in Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties kept pace with the population booms in those suburban areas.

Few nearly all-white enclaves were left in Anne Arundel by 1990. In some rural areas, particularly South County, traditional black farm worker communities were surrounded by fast-growing subdivisions offering stylish country living and inhabited mostly by whites.

Harford County developed a few concentrations of black residents, mainly in and around Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Howard County became, as of 1990, the first Baltimore area jurisdiction where no census tracts were less than 1 percent black.

Racial stability and population growth rarely advanced together elsewhere. But those elements did coincide in Baltimore's fastest-growing census area of the 1980s, remaining 80 percent black as its population more than doubled. The area was the Maryland Penitentiary and the Baltimore City Jail, where the residents don't choose their neighbors.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad