Baltimore 101

Our kickoff event for CSJ 2015 just ended and our brains are still buzzing. Dr. Kelber-Kaye, Associate Director of the Honors College, gave us a history lesson about Baltimore to give context to and explain why things are the way they are in Baltimore City. This information is an excellent foundation of knowledge to have when talking about Baltimore and to take with you to all of our other CSJ events.

Missed the event? No worries! If you click here, you can view the event on livestream. Below is a recap of all the important information. It’s a little longer than most of our blog posts, but all of the information is important. We’ve written it in an outline form to make it easier to read.

Books you absolutely need to read about Baltimore:

  1. Black Baltimore: A New Theory of Community
  2. The Baltimore Book: New Views of Local History
  3. Baltimore ‘68

The Kerner Report, published in 1968, was the first report of its kind to blame structural inequalities for issues like crime, poverty, and public health among African American communities. Previously, these issues had been blamed on individual communities and black people themselves. This excerpt from the Kerner Report sets the tone for the information you need to know about Baltimore and Baltimore history:

“What White Americans have never fully understood– but what the Negro can never forget– is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

As Dr. K said, when we blame people and not structure, we’ve decided we didn’t cause it and we don’t have to do anything about it. This history lesson shows how structures built on racism led to today’s conditions.

    • 1700s
      • Baltimore is very small; it is made up of mostly Fells Point and Harbor East.
      • Grain production increases in northern Baltimore County.
        • Grain producers begin using the port of Baltimore to export grain.
        • This activity inspires the rise of the shipbuilding industry in Baltimore.
        • Industrial jobs draw free Blacks and ethnic whites (Irish, Eastern European, etc) to the city.
        • Whites begin to move to the city in search of entrepreneurial endeavors, many involving the utilization of slave labor.
    • 1800s
      • In Baltimore City in 1810, the number of free blacks equals the number of slaves. (Baltimore is the only place in the US where this occurs.)
      • 1830 saw the decline in slavery in Baltimore City.
        • Whites realized paying ethnic whites small wages for jobs was cheaper than keeping slaves.
        • Competition for jobs and housing created a rift between blacks and ethnic whites.
          • Mobs and gangs of ethnic whites begin to form among groups in the manufacturing industry. These mobs use violence and intimidation to keep free Blacks out of the industry and out of the competition for jobs.
          • South Baltimore became predominantly ethnically white because people lived where they worked and the white mobs and gangs had intimidated African Americans out of the industry in that area.
        • Increases in industry increased population
          • Overcrowding and poor living conditions in Baltimore City “slums” lead to disease and poor sanitation.
          • Estates north of the harbor sell their land to developers who build neighborhoods to house the growing population.
          • Using the rhetoric of “Public Health” and blaming individuals for the poor conditions in industrial “slums,” developers are able to keep ethnic whites and blacks out of these new neighborhoods.
    • 1900s
      • In 1910, the first residential segregation law in the US was passed in Baltimore City.
        • Blacks could not live on a majority white block; whites could not live on a majority black block.
        • This law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1917, but racist segregation practices continued. (Some examples are below; this happened in a lot of other ways, too.)
          • Relators would not sell houses to blacks on white blocks or discouraged whites from buying in black areas.
          • Police and home inspectors would seek out and trouble white landlords renting to black people in white areas.
      • 1937: Post-Great Depression Redlining
        • The Federal Home Loan Organization, which later became the Federal Housing Association, worked with local mortgage brokers to outline housing districts.
        • Redlines were drawn around poor, black neighborhoods and divided the city into districts
          • Districts were classified based on crime, sanitation, median income, and “undesirable populations” aka black people.
          • Redlining policy explicitly condoned and encouraged the continuation of the racist and biased housing practices which resulted from the end of Baltimore housing segregation legislation.
          • Mortgage brokers gave different interest rates to different homeowners based on race and district.
          • Neighborhoods within redlines, the poor and/or black neighborhoods, received higher interest rates which made it significantly more difficult for the people in those areas to buy homes.
      • Why is home ownership so important?
        • It’s part of the “American Dream.”
        • Gives people stable housing conditions
        • Allows for wealth accumulation
          • Houses can be passed down through generations. Once it’s paid off, a house is pure asset. Even when someone is cash poor, they will still have housing and a form of wealth.
      • WWII
        • The wartime economy booms.
          • Bethlehem Steel brings more jobs to Baltimore City.
          • People live where they work, integrating some of the neighborhoods around industrial centers.
          • Unionization brings fairer wages to industrial workers.
          • Bethlehem Steel has the first integrated union.
      • Post war economic downturn
        • Population increases
        • Manufacturing jobs decrease
      • Urban renewal plans of the 1940s and ‘50s
        • After the post war economic decline, Baltimore City policymakers create programs for “Urban Renewal.”
          • The city purchases older, more run-down homes at low, unfair prices.
          • City blocks are flattened and new homes are built.
          • The original homeowners who were displaced are not able to afford the newer, more expensive homes.
          • As a result of urban renewal plans across the county, hundreds of thousands of people are displaced. 58% of them are black.
      • 1960s
        • Anger is building as unfair housing conditions worsen in Baltimore City and the Civil Rights Movement grows.
        • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in April of 1968.
          • Anger, exhaustion, and desperation trigger riots in Baltimore city.
        • People leave the city in droves and head for the county.
          • Whites move north, centrally.
          • Everyone else moves outward into the suburbs.
      • 1970s economic downturn
        • Public housing projects are implemented to better the housing conditions.
          • Old public housing is torn down and replaced, but with less units than before.
          • More people are displaced and begin to overcrowd neighborhoods again.
        • Banks use the opportunity to provide subprime mortgages to vulnerable populations desperately looking for housing.
          • People who got mortgages they couldn’t afford lose their homes and even more people are displaced and left with massive debt.
    • Today
      • 2010-2013
        • Median household wealth for Black folks in Baltimore is one third of what it used to be.
        • The income gap between whites and blacks is the widest it’s been in 30 years.
        • Life expectancy can vary by as much as 20 years between baltimore city neighborhoods.
          • Life expectancy varies based on factors like living conditions, rates of violent crime, access to water and healthy food, and access to healthcare, among others.
          • The median annual income in the state of Maryland is $73,538 compared to Baltimore City at $41,000. 23% of Baltimore city residents live below the poverty line compared to 9.8% of Maryland overall.

If you want to know more about structural inequality in Baltimore City, check out these links:

  1. A large, interactive archive of information and personal testimony surrounding the Baltimore ‘68 riots.
  2. Original 1937 Redline Districting Map (click to download)
  3. Interactive map of inequality in city neighborhoods
  4. Another, more in-depth interactive map of inequalities
  5. Map of life expectancy by neighborhood

What You Need to Know While Walking in Baltimore (a CSJ Walking Tour Sneak Peak)

A guest post from Dr. Kate Drabinski

As someone who doesn’t own a car, I travel my bike and foot, bus and train, the occasional ride thrown in by a generous driver. Truth is, even if I had a car, I’d still travel without one, because that’s how you get a sense of where you live. Walking and biking in Baltimore has helped me understand how neighborhoods are organized, segregated, and cut off from each other by streets, transit systems, and urban planning policies. Cities look like they do not by accident or as the result of a series of individual choices, but because of planning decisions and the choices that follow. Even when we “choose” where to live, work, and play, our choices are circumscribed by stories space tells us about whether or not “we” belong. In a car you don’t have to see that, but walking or on bike, you become intimately familiar with the changes that take place as you get from here to there.

MLK Blvd separates and isolates the west side of Baltimore from downtown.  Read more at the Baltimore Brew by clicking on the image. 

The separation of West Baltimore from the downtown area is particularly striking to me, the two sides of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard like two different worlds. UMBC’s downtown shuttle drops students, faculty, and staff on the east side of that divide, but both sides are integral to our lived sense of the city, belonging, and who are our neighbors. This walking tour will take us along MLK and both east and west as we learn about the history of this stripe that has made all the difference for difference.

To learn more about the neighborhoods we’ll be visiting during the walking tour, check out these resources:

To learn more about Baltimore be sure to check out the kick-off to #CSJ365, Baltimore 101: Why Baltimore Matters on Monday, October 19th at 12pm.

Tickets for the #CSJ365 walking tour are going fast! If you want to join us on Friday, October 23rd, pick up your free ticket at the Commons CIC desk asap!