Historical Context of Baltimore’s Neighborhoods
Essay by Erin Durham
The history of neighborhood segregation and redlining in Baltimore provides insight into major challenges the city and nation face today in neighborhood segregation and economic inequities. The archival documents provided by the Baltimore Mapping Inequality project tangibly bring to light Baltimore’s troubled racial history.
In its early history, Baltimore was an important center for maritime and rail trade. Construction on the Baltimore Ohio Railroad, the first intercity railroad, began in 1827. Baltimore was a multicultural city, with racially diverse neighborhoods in its early history. However, by 1835, white civilians had dominated most of the main streets, and that trajectory of neighborhood segregation only intensified into the twentieth century. A large steel plant at Sparrows Point was founded in 1897 and flourished for decades, contributing to Baltimore’s industrial success as a ship, weapon, and aircraft-building center during the two World Wars.
Racism plagued the political, economic and social policies of Baltimore throughout the twentieth century. In 1910, Baltimore city enacted legislation that promoted the racial segregation of neighborhoods. Housing developments and neighborhoods set up restrictive covenants that refused the admittance of Jews and blacks. A three-tiered real estate market developed in early decades of the twentieth century in which housing property was clearly delineated along racial lines. Housing policies in Baltimore remained very racially restrictive, with the real estate board disallowing black agents from joining until the 1960s, and banks declining to supply loans to African Americans.
Housing discrimination was a challenge on the national level as well. The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation mapped out the real estate property of major metropolitan cities city centers and assigned desirability grades for each. The least desirable areas were marked in red, thus originating the discriminatory practices in redlining. The desirability of a property was linked to race, thus making it very difficult for black homeowners to secure a bank loan in order to purchase property, or to purchase real estate at all in traditionally white neighborhoods. The Home Owners Loan Corporation system of assigning desirability grades was used by the Federal Housing Administration, thus institutionalizing discriminative housing polices. In fact, Homer Hoyt, selected as chief economist of the Federal Housing Administration in 1934, had included in his 1933 PhD dissertation from the University of Chicago a chart in which the ethnicities of homeowners were ranked by degree of desirability. Poles and Lithuanians were ranked 4 and 5 out of 10, “Russian Jews of the lower class” were given a ranking of 7 and “Negroes” and Mexicans at the bottom in the 9th and 10th designations respectively.  The discrimination was not subtle.
During the Civil Rights area following the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, Baltimore was the first major city to desegregate its public schools. However, given the racially divided neighborhoods of Baltimore, the majority of schools remained largely unaffected. The Gwynns Falls Parkway Elementary School experienced one of the largest shifts, with one sixth of white students withdrawing. Three years later, the black enrollment was 96 percent. White consumers did not largely patronize Mondawmin Mall, the large commercial center that opened in 1956, and many retailers withdrew from their contracts.
By the mid-twentieth century, suburbanization had resulted in large shifts of the population, and much of Baltimore’s middle class moved away from urban areas to Baltimore County. This shift was so dramatic, that “entire sections of the city went from being virtually all white to all black in a very short time.” Industries left as the demand for manufacturing declined, and the city’s economy struggled in the latter part of the twentieth century. Given that black workers were majority of those employed in the manufacturing sector, the decline of industry particularly hurt the black community.
During the 1960s Civil Rights movement, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) selected Baltimore as its first city in which to confront head on the challenges of economic and racial injustice. In 1966 the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was selected to receive the “Baltimore Community Relations Commission’s Man of the Decade” award, and spoke in Baltimore, declaring America was a land of split opportunities, where “thousands of work-starved men walk the streets every day in search for jobs that do not exist.”
In the 1960s and 1970s there was grassroots organizing in Baltimore’s poor communities for more equitable housing and economic opportunity. Activists organized a rent strike in the late 1970s to protest against poor housing conditions in many areas of Baltimore, with a center of activity being in the housing complex of O’Donnell Heights. Many of the activists and participants were women protesting against economically disadvantaged conditions.
The Baltimore of today is one with a thriving culture grassroots political organizations and activism. However, it is a city that is still very much plagued by racism. In a sociology study conducted in Baltimore in 2009, researcher Meghan Rich found that even in a Baltimore neighborhood that is quite racially diverse, the residents did not perceive their residence as being truly socially integrated. Today, there continues to be stunning disparity in economic opportunity, life expectancy and annual income in a stretch across Baltimore neighborhoods just nine miles in length. The median annual income of $100,000 a year and life expectancy of 84.4 years in an affluent neighborhood plummets to an income of $25,000 a year and a life expectancy of 69.7 years in Sandtown-Winchester, the row-house neighborhood of Freddie Gray, the 25 year old black man fatally injured in police custody in April 2015.
The Mapping Inequality redlining project speaks to the damage of racial housing policies in Baltimore in the twentieth century. It speaks to a reality that social activist organizations in Baltimore are working to overcome and create better opportunities in the neighborhoods of West Baltimore.
 “Mapping Inequality: Baltimore.” Project of the Digital Curation Innovation Center at the School of Information Science, University of Maryland. http://dcicblog.umd.edu/redliningbaltimore/ (accessed April 27, 2016).
 Mitchell, Alexander D. Baltimore: Then and Now. London: PRC Publishing Ltd., 2001.
 Pietila, Antero. How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2010, 5.
 Mitchell, 5.
 Pietila, 61-74.
 Pietila, 122.
 Levy, in Baltimore ’68, 12.
 Mitchell IV, 5.
 Levy, Peter B. “The Dream Deferred: The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Holy Week Uprisings of 1968.” In Baltimore ’68, ’68 Riots and Rebirth in an American City. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011, 13-14.
 Williams, Rhonda Y. 2001. “”We’re Tired of Being Treated Like Dogs”: Poor Women and Power Politics in Black Baltimore”. The Black Scholar 31 (3/4). Taylor & Francis, Ltd.: 31–41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41069812. (Accessed February 25, 2016).
 Levy, 11-12.
 Williams, 2001.
 Rich, Meghan Ashlin. “”It Depends on How You Define Integrated”: Neighborhood Boundaries and Racial Integration in a Baltimore Neighborhood. Sociological Forum, Vol. 24, No. 4. (Wiley, Springer), 2009, 828–53. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40542598 (accessed February 25, 2016).
 Kresh, Nate and Madeleine Deason. “Drive Nine Miles Across Baltimore, Life Expectancy Drops 15 Years.” In Poor Health. Capital News Service, a project of University of Maryland Phillip Merrill College of Journalism and Kaiser Health News. February 15, 2016. http://cnsmaryland.org/baltimore-health/story/drive-nine-miles-across-baltimore-life-expectancy-drops-15-years.html (accessed April 27, 2016); Baltimore Sun interactive “Timeline: Freddie Gray’s Arrest, Death and the Aftermath” The Baltimore Sun, http://data.baltimoresun.com/news/freddie-gray/ (Accessed online April 16, 2016.
These readings and contextual sources address issues of racial tension, inequality, and police brutality in America and Baltimore specifically. These topics are examined through the context of the past and how they are being addressed today. Thus, this Bibliography includes historical scholarship as well as recent nonfiction works that probe into racial tensions in America today.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: New Press, 2010.
Alexander discusses the inequality and over representation of black males convicted and incarcerated in the United States prison system. His research examines institutionalized discrimination and provides insight to the magnitude and complexity of race relations in America.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015.
Coates’s text, written in the form of a letter to his son, addresses the trauma and harsh reality of being a black male in America. He exposes the dehumanization of black bodies, and shares autobiographical experiences of growing up as a black individual in Baltimore.
Elfenbein, Jessica I., Thomas L. Hollowack, and Elizabeth M. Nix. Baltimore ’68 Riots and Rebirth in an American City. Philedelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.
Baltimore ’68 comprises of a collection of eleven articles and four oral histories regarding the civil unrest in Baltimore immediately following news of the assignation of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The anthology covers areas relating to the uprising of ’68 and its impact on community organizing, urban development, and school segregation, offering historical context and a point of comparison from the movement in ’68 to the uprising in 2015. It serves as a resource that reveals techniques of weaving oral history interviews within an anthology of historical scholarship.
Fullilove, Mindy Thompson. Root Schock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It.New Work: Ballantine Books, 2004.
Fullilove explores the psychological distress that impacts communities in the wake of neighborhood destruction for urban renewal building projects.
Holcomb, Eric L. The City as Suburb: A History of Northeast Baltimore Since 1660. Staunton, Virginia: Center for American Places, Distributed by the University of Virginia Press, 2005.
Holcomb describes Northeast Baltimore from its origins in the seventeenth century through the twenty-first century. By tracing Baltimore’s historical roots, Holcomb’s work offers an expansive overview of the city as it has existed through the decades. It provides a greater understanding of the history of the city itself, and is helpful in providing orientation to the physical setting.
Fee, Elizabeth, and Linda Shopes, et al. The Baltimore Book: New Views of Local History. Philadephia Temple Press, 1993.
A collection of essays discussing the history of Baltimore, including the Railroad Strike of 1877, segregation in West Batlimore, union workers in Baltimore, and Baltimore’s mill villages.
Nelson, Jill, ed. Police Brutality: An Anthology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000.
In this anthology of twelve articles, Nelson provides a critical examination of excessive force used by police in the past and in America today. Nelson’s introduction delves into historic background of police brutality and explores the issues from the perspective of victims and those within the police force. This anthology is vital in providing context to community and police relations in the past and as they continue in this day.
Orser, W. Edward. Blockbusting in Baltimore: The Edmondson Village Story. Lexington,KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1994.
Orser provides the history of a community in Baltimore that was affected by the discriminatory policies of city development. Orser’s work presents the devastating reality on communities that were destroyed by urbanization projects in the 1940s.By presenting racial tensions in city development in the 1940s, Orser’s work promises to provide vital context for the race relations in the neighborhoods of Baltimore in the twenty-first century.
Pietila, Antero. How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2010.
Pietila examines the discriminatory forces and policies that have influenced Baltimore from the late nineteenth century to the twenty-first century. Pietila’s work provides a dynamic look at urbanization in Baltimore and how housing policies have crippled socioeconomic conditions. This work will serve to help trace the impact of living conditions and racial tensions in Baltimore in the past and in current struggles.
Friedersdorf, Conor. “The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore.” The Atlantic April 22, 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-brutality-of-police-culture-in-baltimore/391158/ (Accessed February 25, 2015).
Friedersdorf provides a critical examination of police and community relations in Baltimore. This article was published in the midst of the uprising in Baltimore in 2015 and serves as an example of the news reporting and coverage of large-scale racial issues that were brought to light in the national news during April and May 2015.
Nightingale, Carl H.. 2006. “The Transnational Contexts of Early Twentieth-century American Urban Segregation”. Journal of Social History 39 (3). Oxford University Press: 667–702. http://www.jstor.org.proxy-um.researchport.umd.edu/stable/3790284. (Accessed February 25, 2016).
In his article, Nightingale explores city segregation as it was influenced by colonial oppression in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and western expansion in the United States. Nightingale examines Baltimore’s process of urbanization and how it relates to broader issues of race and bias in the United States and other nations. It promises to give a broad history of and perspective and also sheds some specific insight into Baltimore itself.
Puente, Mark. Photography by Algerina Perna. “Undue Force.” The Baltimore Sun. September 28, 2014. http://data.baltimoresun.com/news/police-settlements/ (accessed February 25, 2016).
Puente’s investigative journalism examines the reality of police brutality inBaltimore. This story was published six months before the Baltimore Uprising, and provides a background of violent incidents that had shadowed community relations with the Baltimore police force. The article examines the toll of distrust between law enforcement and Baltimore residents.
Rich, Meghan Ashlin. “”It Depends on How You Define Integrated”: Neighborhood Boundaries and Racial Integration in a Baltimore Neighborhood. Sociological Forum, Vol. 24, No. 4. (Wiley, Springer), 2009, 828–53 http://www.jstor.org/stable/40542598 (accessed February 25, 2016).
Rich contributes her findings on Baltimore residents’ perceptions of race in their neighborhoods. In this qualitative research study, Rich conducted fifty interviews with Baltimore community members and critically examines the reality of segregation in Baltimore in the last decade. This study proves valuable to an understanding of race relations in Baltimore’s neighborhoods today.
Williams, Rhonda Y.. 2001. “”We’re Tired of Being Treated Like Dogs”: Poor Women and Power Politics in Black Baltimore”. The Black Scholar 31 (3/4). Taylor and Francis, Ltd.: 31–41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41069812. (Accessed February 25, 2016).
Williams examines the political activism of black women in Baltimore during the 1960s and 1970s. Williams discusses the organizing ability of these women and their concerns regarding welfare policies and housing. This article provides a look into the history of community organizing of women in Baltimore and will give insight into social movements of the 1960s and 1970s as compared with the Baltimore Uprising in 2015.
The Marc Steiner Show: Provocative Talk, Intelligent Discussion. WEAA 88.9 FM, public radio show, Baltimore. http://www.steinershow.org/ (accessed February 27, 2016).
Steiner’s radio show provides insight into current discussions of social issues in Baltimore today. The website provides podcasts and archived recordings of coverage during the events of the uprising in the spring of 2015. Steiner hosts public discussions of the Baltimore protests, city policies, and analysis of events in Ferguson. The radio show is vital as a source for listening to public discourse by community members before, during, and after the Baltimore crisis.
Preserve the Baltimore Uprising: Your Stories. Your Pictures. Your Stuff. Your History. Website, . http://www.baltimoreuprising2015.org/ (accessed February 29, 2016).
By providing online archival space for community photographs, oral histories, and material culture from the events of the Baltimore uprising in April and May 2015, this website serves as a community repository for individual and collective memory in Baltimore. This website serves as the repository of the oral history interviews I will be conducting in Baltimore. It provides a rich resource of community history through the perspective of Baltimore community members and is vital to my understanding of the significance of the uprising to local residents.
This American Life. “Cops See It Differently” parts one and two. WBEZ radiopodcast episodes 547 and 548, February 6 and 13, 2015.
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/548/cops-see-it-differently-part-two (accessed February 24, 2016.)
This two-part episode provides a compelling examination into the perspectives of law enforcement officers and community members regarding issues of excessive police force. The podcast covers stories of positive and negative city relations with police forces across the country, and looks at police reform efforts. The coverage helps to show the pressures faced by police officers and residents in confronting crime and racial tensions across the United States.
Enoch Pratt Free Memorial Library Podcast