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Old 05-13-2008, 05:22 AM
Location: Cheswolde
1,977 posts, read 6,184,268 times
Reputation: 565


Antero Pietila, Baltimore City Historical Society, May 9, 2008.


How race, class and antisemitism shaped Baltimore

Six years ago, I realized that two real estate brokers I had known for decades had been blockbusters. One was white, the other black; and they had made plenty of money from racial panic in the 1950s and 60s. Faced with the impending demise of their generation, they agreed to spill the beans. They persuaded their friends to do likewise and to dig up old documents, including listings and sales contracts.

This was the modest beginning of a journey that has produced a book that chronicles the history of housing discrimination in America, seen through the prism of Baltimore.

Why Baltimore? The answer is simple: Because this city was a trailblazer in the evolution of nationwide real estate bigotry.

In 1910, Baltimore became the first city in America to require, by law, that each block be segregated according to the majority of its residents. Many Southern cities copied that law, and the U.S. occupation authorities in the Philippines wanted to know how Baltimore had done it.

In 1917, the Supreme Court struck down such laws. As a result, neighborhoods throughout the nation began barring blacks through restrictive covenants. Deed restrictions had been used in California against the Chinese until a federal court threw them out in 1882 as a violation of the most favored nation treaty with China. Since African Americans enjoyed no favored nation status, other cities again copied Baltimore, where Roland Park had excluded blacks since 1910 as a condition of sale. Starting in 1913, the Roland Park Company also ended sales to Jews and no Jew could buy a home in that garden district for the next 50 years.

So by 1948, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to discriminatory covenants, such restrictions were so common that three of the nine justices asked to be recused from the case. They all lived in neighborhoods that excluded blacks, Jews and other minorities.

The remaining justices unanimously outlawed the enforcement of racial covenants. This was a watershed, just like Brown v. Board of Education would be six years later.

Shelley v. Kraemer, as the Supreme Court case is known, had its origins in St. Louis. Yet in a way it was a Baltimore case, too. Leading the charge against covenants was lawyer Philip Perlman, a former city editor of The Evening Sun, who had become the U.S. solicitor general. Thurgood Marshall argued the case for the NAACP. He had been a victim of such restrictions and seldom had anything good to say about Baltimore, his native city.

Also arguing against covenants was Alger Hiss, a promising diplomat and Johns Hopkins honorary doctor, who had lived just a few blocks from Marshall, but in the lily-white Bolton Hill. Two of Hiss’ erstwhile Bolton Hill neighbors also submitted a brief. They urged the court to uphold racial covenants, saying those had successfully kept blacks out of Bolton Hill.

One of those men was a progressive who in 1911 had founded the Legal Aid Bureau. At the time of the Supreme Court decision he ran Strom Thurmond’s segregationist presidential campaign in Maryland. An old fool, you may say. Well, the other author of the brief was the chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, a man who headed the Johns Hopkins board of trustees for 17 years.

Clearly, my effort had grown beyond an interview project. I met a lawyer who said, “My father was a judge and he told me never to throw away anything.” From his basement, he procured old complaints to the Real Estate Commission that are no longer on file anywhere else and copies of yellowing lawsuits and trial transcripts. The Jewish Museum of Maryland unearthed boxes and boxes of documents that offered probably the most detailed record of controversies prompted by residential desegregation that is available in any U.S. city. I had dozens of other helpers. One day I received an envelope containing disintegrating scraps of old federal rent control rulings from World War II.

As a result of such documentation and scores of interviews I am able to detail life, key personalities and shifting prejudices in Baltimore and Baltimore County between the 1880s and the mid-1970s, a crucial period in the evolution of all American cities.

Let me return to the formative event in 1910. I wanted to go beyond the apparent catalyst of the controversy -- how a black lawyer named W. Ashbie Hawkins bought a rowhouse at 1834 McCulloh Street from a white widow.

McCulloh Street ran just two blocks west of parallel Eutaw Place, one of the most prestigious residential addresses. “The colored people should not be allowed to encroach on some of the best residential streets in the city and force white people to vacate their homes,” the newly formed McCulloh Street-Madison Avenue Protective Association resolved. The City Council’s response was the segregation law.

I knew all this, and still couldn’t comprehend. After all, other blacks had been acquiring houses on white streets in West Baltimore without public outcry.

In searching for explanations I realized that McCulloh Street was the product of a larger local and national drama. In Maryland that drama had deepened in 1895, one year before the Supreme Court’s “separate but equal” ruling.

So what happened in 1895?

A volcanic eruption happened. Irate voters turned on the Democratic machine that had ruled Maryland for three decades. Republicans swept to power everywhere. Maryland had never seen such a revolt nor has it since. When Democrats regrouped and recaptured power four years later, under the leadership of political progressives, their campaign slogan in Baltimore was: “This is a white man’s city.”

The party acquired a distinctly anti-black character. Thus, in 1903, Edwin Warfield, the successful Democratic candidate for governor, declared: “This election is a contest for the supremacy of the white race in Maryland. I am not willing that an ignorant, prejudiced, irresponsible, non-taxpaying negro’s vote shall outweigh a vote cast by an intelligent, educated white man. The founders of this nation, when laying the cornerstone of our country never intended such monstrous perversion of the principle of manhood suffrage and of that principle that declared the right of the majority to rule.” Three times between 1905 and 1911, Democrats tried to disfranchise black voters by statewide referendums.

The very nature of race relations in Baltimore changed. About the same time in 1910 that Asbhie Hawkins bought 1834 McCulloh, a department store told blacks that it did not want their business. Other stores followed. Baltimore became a city that was segregated from cradle to grave. Hospitals were segregated, so were graveyards.

All this happened while suburbanization was remolding Baltimore. Thanks to railroads and streetcars and then the revolutionary automobile, so many well-to-do whites moved to areas that the city had annexed from Baltimore County – places like Roland Park and Forest Park -- that West Baltimore’s real estate market collapsed. At the time Ashbie Hawkins bought 1834 McCulloh, 1,407 vacant homes – out of a citywide total of 5,655 – were located near McCulloh Street, the highest number in eight sections recorded. Those houses stood empty. One real estate broker observed, “This property is doomed sooner or later to pass into the hands of the negroes. In a large number of cases it is not kept in repair and when it begins to go down the white people refuse to live in it, with the result that negroes are placed in the houses by the owners.”

That’s exactly what happened. Hawkins was able to buy 1834 McCulloh because an offer from a black man was better than no offer at all.

As a result of unrentable vacancies, streets like McCulloh, next to the existing black district, were taken over by blacks. Meanwhile, vacancies in adjoining but more distant areas kept attracting Jewish working-class immigrants who were eager to escape East Baltimore slums.

German-Jewish patricians had begun arriving in Eutaw Place in the 1880s, replacing a non-Jewish population that included some of the city’s leading families who were moving to the suburbs. Gradually the whole area became perceived as Jewish and other white homebuyers and renters shied away.

They were not only averse to living among Jews but also worried about the proximity of the black district that kept expanding. This aversion led to a peculiar Baltimore real estate tradition. In most American cities a dual real estate market existed – one for whites and a separate one for blacks. In Baltimore a separate real estate market also emerged for Jews who were limited to certain sections in the northwest and prohibited from neighborhoods east of the Jones Falls, a stream that divides the city.

This three-tiered real estate market produced situations in which blacks and Jews became uneasy neighbors. Whenever neighborhoods that were perceived as Jewish experienced real estate downturns, the lack of other white buyers and renters repeatedly tempted some owner – who may not have been Jewish -- to tap the black market. McCulloh Street was repeated time and time again.

After World War II, suburbanization resumed with a vengeance.With the federal government subsidizing homebuyers with FHA and GI mortgages, whites could escape cities like Baltimore, which were becoming increasingly black. After the Shelley v. Kraemer decision, the first epicentre of racial change was in the area of mostly working-class neighborhoods on both sides of West North Avenue, from Mount Royal Avenue to Smallwood Street. Those communities – from Reservoir Hill to Easterwood Park -- contained 29 percent of Baltimore’s 75,000 Jews, including the community’s oldest members. Within the next 10 years, the same ethnic recycling was repeated in wealthier Windsor Hills, Forest Park, Ashburton and Arlington. Those were in a northwest quadrangle that contained another 52 percent of the Jewish population in 1947.

One wonders what would have happened if the federal government had not made conditions ripe for such lightning-speed racial change. But during the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration prepared secret real estate risk maps for 230 cities. The purpose was to document existing lending practices and systemize them. As in Baltimore, each neighborhood was given a color code. The most desirable neighborhoods were colored green. Banks offered the best terms in such neighborhoods. The next hue, blue, was used for neigborhoods that the federal government considered “still desirable.” But in neighborhoods painted yellow the government advised banks to be very careful about making loans. Those were beset by an influx of “inharmonious elements,” meaning that they might have religious, ethnic or class mixing. At the bottom were neighborhoods smeared red; the federal government said banks might be better off not lending there.

This is how the term redlining came into being.

My book contains an exhaustive examination of redlining. I break new ground by linking redlining to eugenics, a scientific companion to the progressive movement that had its heyday between the 1880s and the 1920s.

Eugenics and the progressive political movement were among responses to the social conditions that industrialization and record-breaking immigration had created in big cities. Eugenics advocated selective breeding, birth control, sterilization and even euthanasia as ways to improve the white stock.

Some of the architects of Baltimore’s 1910 residential segregation believed in such solutions. And why not? That same year, the largess of industrialist Andrew Carnegie; railroad king E.H. Harriman, Corn Flakes inventor John Kellogg and oil baron John D. Rockefeller enabled the Eugenics Record Office to open at Cold Spring Harbor, in Long Island. Its vice chairmen were Dr. William H. Welch, the first dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Dr. Lewellys F. Barker, the chief physician at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. They directed research, serving as vice chairmen under Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.

Historians have long acknowledged that eugenicists were the midwives of the 1924 immigration law that closed the doors to Catholics and Jews from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe. That was in keeping with the eugenicists’ belief that Northern Europeans had the most desirable racial characteristics. Theodore Roosevelt, for one, had expressed concern that the United States was about to commit a race suicide unless immigration was halted.

By contrast, the decisive impact of eugenics on housing has been overlooked. Documents in the National Archives show that an ideal homeowner, according to the redliners, was a Protestant businessman of Northern European origins, a man of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s type. Other nationalities, religions and occupations carried a penalty that affected ratings in the scorecards with which redlining maps were prepared.

The mapmakers exhibited another bias. They declared that newness was a supreme virtue in housing, which meant that older neighborhoods became automatic candidates for redlining regardless of ethnicity, religion or class.

Black districts were redlined. This would eventually open the door to the blockbusters offering 100 percent financing at usurious rates because no bank lending was available. White immigrant neighborhoods also suffered the consequences. That’s when hundreds of ma-and-pa building and loan associations emerged as the glue that kept them together, postponing their decline amid continuing post-World War II suburbanization.

Instrumental in the redlining exercise was the Federal Housing Administration’s chief economist, Homer Hoyt. In his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Chicago in 1933 he offered a list of nationalities that either increased values in a given neighborhood or depressed them. Here is his pecking order in his own words:

(1) English, Germans, Scots, Irish, Scandinavians;

(2) North Italians;

(3) Bohemians or Czechoslovakians;

(4) Poles;

(5) Lithuanians;

(6) Greeks:

(7) Russian Jews of the lower class;

(8) South Italians;

(9) Negroes,

(10) Mexicans

Hoyt allowed that some whites in the lower rungs could become less objectionable once they “conform to the American standard of living.” Blacks and Mexicans, on the other hand, were doomed to their inferior status, he wrote.

Hoyt’s list was reflected in instructions to redliners. Appraisal handbooks kept repeating it until the late 1950s. Thus the federal government’s leadership fostered the biases of the lending and real estate industries, with consequences we can see in Baltimore and in all American cities.
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Old 05-13-2008, 07:18 AM
258 posts, read 928,579 times
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A fascinating article.

I was able to listen to David Simon speak about "the death of American cities" at Loyola a year ago. That was the first time I had ever heard of "Blockbusting"...and have been on the trail to learn more about it ever since. Not much unlike the practices Nazis, in my eyes.

He noted that American had a brief window to make everything "alright" in the early part of last century with the black migration north to America's big cities. Instead of living in harmony...folks scrambled for the burbs. Leaving behind the blight we see today.

I do think, however, we are seeing another Great Migration..which is probably just beginning due to the gas prices. Many young professionals, like VA2bmore , are tired of the life in the burbs and the commute and are moving back to the cities...living among folks they have never lived among before. With gas prices ever increasing..and the real estate market prices going down again...I think we will see A LOT more people doing this.
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Old 05-13-2008, 09:25 AM
Location: Pigtown!! Washington Village Does NOT Exist.
689 posts, read 2,998,882 times
Reputation: 127
Interesting fact -- when we were looking for a neighborhood here in Baltimore (while living in DC) -- almost every neighborhood I suggested to the two realtors I was working with (one was black, one was white) -- they would refuse to take me there to see houses. One even had the nerve to drive me all the way to Catonsville to see a house when I specifically told her "CITY ONLY". And this was in 2000, not the 1960s.

I was so mad I dumped both realtors and struck out on my own. And thank God I did, too, otherwise I would have never made the friends I have now and I would have a totally different life -- one that I would have ended up resenting.
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Old 05-13-2008, 01:55 PM
Location: Portland, Maine
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Blockbusting was a major issue in many cities. Both in Detroit and Boston for example, it has been the subject of much debate.
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Old 05-13-2008, 09:25 PM
258 posts, read 928,579 times
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Interview with David Simon. Folks should watch this when considering this city,,the good, the bad, the ugly. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Visit My Baltimore: Watch Video (http://www.visitmybaltimore.com/video/449/ - broken link)
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Old 05-14-2008, 03:35 PM
Location: Portland, Maine
4,180 posts, read 13,424,341 times
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thank you for posting that link to the interview with d. simon bemore--very appreciative.
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Old 05-14-2008, 10:17 PM
Location: Bodymore
156 posts, read 722,451 times
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Originally Posted by Be More View Post
Interview with David Simon. Folks should watch this when considering this city,,the good, the bad, the ugly. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Visit My Baltimore: Watch Video (http://www.visitmybaltimore.com/video/449/ - broken link)
I, for one, like the quirkiness
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Old 05-15-2008, 12:40 PM
29 posts, read 107,827 times
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Default Redlining

So now maybe we understand how bias are passed on and never really deal with the total reality and perhaps the true sense of being. Now-we can clearly understand why Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods and when you cross a street-the market value changes and so does the flavor of the area. You can continue to wonder why African Americans were not able to purchase and perhaps looked at purchasing in places that were occupied by other groups (the belief that where are groups live is better). This exist only because those making the rules made it that way-not because it is that way. As a native Baltimorean-I know there are desirable and undesirable neighborhoods. But what I know for sure is that living in a community is different from living in a specific neighborhood. The real life of the good, the bad, and the indifference exist in "a community". This is real. This is not an illusion of what is better and pretending that it is because of cost, of a certain kind of supermaket or restaurant. The idealism in me waits for the human race to become real "human".
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Old 05-16-2008, 05:58 AM
258 posts, read 928,579 times
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There was a great article in the "Urbanite" a year or so ago called "The Elephant in the Room". It basicly talked about the racial issues in this city..and how often times they really aren't brought up. The article talked about the liberal quakers that moved from the north into the city...and how they conducted business with business owners already here, that also happened to be slave owners. They didn't want to rock the boat on any business deals...so all the anti slave talk was never brought up...and some of that has carried into today. That was just a tiny piece of the whole article..it was really interesting.
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Old 05-16-2008, 06:48 AM
Location: Pigtown!! Washington Village Does NOT Exist.
689 posts, read 2,998,882 times
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Originally Posted by zesty waters View Post
But what I know for sure is that living in a community is different from living in a specific neighborhood. The real life of the good, the bad, and the indifference exist in "a community".
This is so true, and I never understood the difference until I lived in Baltimore. In DC, you live in neighborhoods...here you live in communities.
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