Exclusive Covenants, Exclusively Arrived At.

Until the First World War, almost all African-Americans lived in the rural South.  By 1970, almost half of the African-American population lived in cities outside the South, while many others had migrated to Southern cities.[1]  That “Great Migration” fell in two parts.  From 1915 to 1930, about 1.5 million African-Americans moved out of the South.  From 1940 to 1970 another 5 million people moved North or West.

The migrants found no warm welcome from the white residents of cities.  Generally, white people did not want to live or work in proximity to black people.  Southern cities sometimes had ordinances that forebade people of one race to live in neighborhoods where the majority population belonged to another race.  However, in 1917, the Supreme Court held that such ordinances violated the 14th Amendment.[2]

As the “Great Migration” began during the First World War, it encountered violence from northern whites.  For example, in Chicago’s Washington Park between 1917 and 1921, bombings struck black-owned residences in traditionally white areas and the offices of realtors who sold houses to blacks between 1917 and 1921.  A bloody race riot shocked Chicago in Summer 1919.  Businessmen, and realtors in particular, saw violence as bad for business.  Integration led to violence.  So segregation had to be preserved.

A solution soon came to hand.  The “Great Migration” coincided with an effort at Republican “Progressive” reform launched by Herbert Hoover, the Secretary of Commerce in the Harding and Coolidge administrations.  In 1922, Hoover’s Commerce Department issued a model law for the states to pass called the “Standard State Zoning Enabling Act.”  The model law, subsequently revised, became the common basis for urban zoning.[3]

While the Commerce Department’s model law made no reference to racial segregation, it provided a framework within which city officials and real estate developers could use zoning and legal covenants attached to new subdivisions.  Immediately after a Supreme Court decision upholding covenants in 1926, the Chicago Real Estate Board promoted the use of covenants.

What was true in Chicago’s Washington Park section was true elsewhere.  Many real estate developers attached “exclusionary covenants” to each property in a sub-division.  They barred sale to or occupation by African-Americans.  For almost three decades, legally-enforceable residential segregation spread through much of urban America.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) mounted legal challenges to the covenants.  In 1926 the Supreme Court rejected NAACP arguments and affirmed the legality of the covenants as “private action” not covered by the 14th Amendment.  In 1940, the Supreme Court did reject one exclusionary covenant on technical grounds, but did not declare against covenants in general.[4]  In 1948, the Supreme Court essentially reversed the 1926 decision.  The Court held that private individuals could abide by the covenants, but that they could not use the courts to enforce their own views on others.[5]

In 1968, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.  Title VII of that act is known as the Fair Housing Act.  It barred discrimination on the basis of race, creed, gender, or national origin.

[1] By 1970, 40 percent lived in the North, 7 percent in the West, and well over half of African-Americans living in the South lived in cities.  See: Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (1991), and Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2010).

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buchanan_v._Warley

[3] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_State_Zoning_Enabling_Act

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hansberry_v._Lee

[5] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelley_v._Kraemer

City Lights.

The “Baby Boom” (b. 1945-1963) formed the first memorable demographic mouse to pass through the institutional-cultural snake of American society.  Then “Gen X” (b. 1977-1987) marked a low-birth saddle between the high-birth “Baby Boom” and “Millennial” generations.  .  The “Millennial” generation (b. 1980-2005) has stretched the snake even farther than their predecessors.  Neither big generation has fully run its course so far.  Yet both have had profound impacts.[1]

One feature of the “Baby Boom” appeared in the flood tide toward the suburbs.  In a sense, the children of the “Boomers” motivated this migration.  The “Boomers” wanted bigger, newer houses with yards to play in and good schools.[2]  The life-blood drained out of older American cities as a result.

The “Millennials” reversed this course to some extent by moving back to urban cores in search of a more cosmopolitan life style.  They wanted walkable neighborhoods, other young people who shared their own culture, and—for people on the far side of many rights movements–diverse communities.

Moreover, a sharp fall in the violent crime rate made cities seem much safer than when their parents fled in previous decades.  Violent crimes—and not just homicide—has been falling since 1991.[3]  Studies have begun to reveal that people with higher incomes and more education are alert to changing crime rates.  They have shown a greater willingness than other groups to “gentrify” re-claimed areas.[4]

Apartment houses, starter houses, and many services thrived as a result.  City governments that benefitted from this population movement crowed over their present revival and contemplated their future prosperity.

Now, however, there are signs that this process may be cresting.[5]  Two factors may be at work.  First the number of “Millennials” moving into cities has fallen short of rose-tinted projections.  Second, the in-flow of younger “Millennials” is being off-set by the out-flow of older “Millennials”—those who are married with children and in their Thirties.  Many “Millennials” entered the job market during the “Great Recession.”  They’ve faced slow income growth and tight competition for affordable housing.  Many of them may have delayed starting families.  As they do, however, they may well hear the siren-song of more affordable housing and better schools in the suburbs.  Piling on to these forces, at least in some cities like San Francisco, are sharp rises in rents as the very well-off crowd out the only moderately well-off and everyone lower on the income ladder.[6]

It remains to be seen whether the urban renaissance of the early 21st Century will be sustained or will begin to retreat.  Sustaining the renaissance probably will require a complicated mix of school funding coupled with school reform, effective policing that keeps crime rates down without alienating people predisposed to see the police as a problem, and a thoughtful approach to keeping housing prices within reach of ordinary people.

[1] Conor Dougherty, “Cities May Be Starting to Run Out Of Millennials,” NYT, 24 January 2017.

[2] It seems foolish, if indelicate, to ignore the reality of “white flight” as an important factor.  See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/05/21/white-flight-from-baltimore/

[3] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/01/16/legacies-of-the-violent-decades/

[4] Emily Badger, “To Predict Gentrification, Look for Falling Crime,” NYT, 6 January 2017.

[5] Still, nothing’s set in cement except Bo Weinberg.  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Weinberg

[6] See: What Government Can Accomplish 1.  https://waroftheworldblog.com/2016/12/29/what-government-can-accomplish-1/

White Flight from Baltimore.

Racism is widely deprecated. People of virtually all political stripes decry racism. Some Democrats deploy accusations of racism against their opponents in the sort of public shaming campaigns that other Democrats deplore when applied to other cases. However, one truth not much acknowledged in politics, the media, or scholarship is that—under most circumstances—racism isn’t illegal.[1]

The city of Baltimore offers an example of this inconvenient truth. After the Second World War, the other City by the Bay lost population, jobs, and the economic base needed to make the place run effectively. One important part of the problem arose from accelerating “white flight” from the city to the suburbs. Between 1950 and 1960, Baltimore’s population fell from 950,000 people to 939,000 people. From 1960 to 1970, Baltimore’s population fell from 939,000 people to 906,000 people. So, from 1950 to 1970 Baltimore lost 4.6 percent of its population.

Then came the riots of April 1968. Over a thousand businesses were looted, damaged, or burned down. The damage totaled about $79 million in today’s dollars. Virtually all of the businesses were owned by whites. One activist later reflected that “the riots really weren’t personal: They were against the system, not individual white people. There was only property loss.” However, property belongs to individuals. White flight accelerated, businessmen took their insurance money and moved to suburban locations, and landlords backed even farther off from maintaining property in a city where two-thirds of African-Americans rent their homes.

To make matters worse, Baltimore’s economic base declined. The Bethlehem Steel Company’s Sparrows Point complex of steel mill and shipyard provided high-wage jobs to a huge number of people in the area. During the 1970s and 1980s, Bethlehem Steel encountered all sorts of problems that it failed to master. Repeated rounds of retrenchment led to huge losses of jobs. Moreover, both the steel mill and the shipyard formed the center of networks of local suppliers of goods and services. Job losses at Sparrows Point rippled outward through the community. The decline of Sparrows Point and the attendant job loss cost the city an ever-growing amount of revenue.[2] From 1970 to 1980, Baltimore’s population fell from 906,000 people to 787,000 people. Decline continued until it reached 651,000 people in 2000. All told, Baltimore’s population fell by 28 percent between 1970 and 2000. Most the emigrants were whites. As a result, the “non-white” population in Baltimore rose from 24 percent in 1950 to 44 percent in 1970 to 65 percent by 2000.[3]

If 76 percent of the Baltimore’s population was white in 1950, that would mean that about 725,000 white people lived in the city. By 2000, whites constituted 35 percent of the population. That would amount to about 228,000 people. Almost half a million whites left the city. Property taxes pay for schools; business and operations taxes and licensing fees pay for city government functions like police and fire departments, and trash collection.

If the population was 950,000 in 1950 and half a million people left, then the city’s population should be about 450,000 people. However, the city’s 2000 population was actually 651,000 people. In all likelihood, the extra 200,000 people were African-Americans from farther South who moved North in hopes of finding greater opportunity. Need grew as resources shrank. Bitter must be their tears.

[1] Some racist actions are illegal. Racist belief, however, is not illegal and many racist actions are not illegal.

[2] See Mark Reutter, Making Steel: Sparrows Point and the Rise and Ruin of American Industrial Might (2005).

[3] http://www.baltimoremagazine.net/2007/5/1/100-years-the-riots-of-1968?p=2007/5/100-years-the-riots-of-1968