As we count down to the Critical Social Justice: Baltimore 365 keynote event “Baltimore in Action: Always Rising” on Tuesday, October 20th, we’ll be profiling all of our keynote speakers in our “What You Need to Know” series. This specific post will focus on a Baltimore neighborhood that plays an important role in the activism work of keynote panelist, Marisela B. Gomez.
Middle East Baltimore
Once a healthy working-class community, Middle East Baltimore has suffered from decades of disinvestment resulting in poverty, drugs, and violence. Just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, the area occupies 20 square blocks within East Baltimore. It is bordered by Madison on the south end, Broadway on the west, the Amtrak railroads in the north, and Patterson Park on the east end. Most of its community members identify as African-American and low-income.
In 2001, the neighborhood was targeted for rebuilding and the expansion of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution complex and would use the city’s powers of eminent domain to take over the properties to do so. Residents were not consulted about the proposed project and learned of it only through an article in the Baltimore Sun. Marisela B. Gomez and several others in the community organized together and formed the Save Middle East Action Committee to ensure the voices and experiences of residents being forced to move would be heard and considered by key stakeholders moving the project forward.
Quick Facts about Middle East Baltimore in the early 2000s: †
- Between 1990 and 2000 the population in the Middle East Baltimore community decreased by 45%. This was the greatest decline in population compared to any other area in Baltimore.
- In 2001, the reported rate of abandoned houses in East Baltimore was 13% but in Middle East rates were as high as 80%. Only 3 out of 10 houses were occupied in the area.
- Middle East residents had some of the worst health indicators in the United States.
- The local area public schools enrolled more than 70% of children qualifying for federally assisted free and reduced-price school meals.
- In Baltimore City, 25% of its residents had not graduated from high school. In Middle East, 49% of its residents had not graduated.
- The average household income for a Middle East resident was $29,000 compared to the Baltimore average of $55,000.
Depending on who you are or who you ask, you will receive a different story about Middle East Baltimore and its John Hopkins neighbor. Some will call it an investment, revitalization, and urban renewal. Others see it as destructive and unfair gentrification with deep racist and classist roots. To some it provides hope and to others it provides loss of community and a loss of home. It is a story worth unpacking and one that calls for a critical social justice lens.
“They argued that the law was allowing the city to take private property ‘for the pubic good.’ But exactly who is was the ‘public’ who would benefit if its residents were being forced to relocate with no plan for how they could return to benefit from this good?”†
For more on Middle East Baltimore, check out:
- Race, Class, Power, and Organizing in East Baltimore by Marisela B. Gomez (which is the source for all stats and information for this post)
- Rebuilding the Middle East – a November 2008 article
- The Great East Baltimore Raze-and-Rebuild – a July 2013 article
- A Baltimore Brew take on Gomez’s book and the history of Middle East’s dislocation
- To learn more about Marisela B. Gomez, visit her #CSJ365 What You Need to Know post