There is a widespread feeling that the segregationists of yesteryear (in both North and South) were profoundly different than us: immoral, misguided, perhaps even brainwashed. We are unable to imagine what could have possibly pushed them to embrace these discriminatory policies. But it need it not be so: They wrote their reasons down in books. Let us then look more closely, and see
1) if their beliefs were based on fact or fantasy, and
2) if they are truly as alien to us today as we have been led to believe.
The first place we'll look at is the one closest to us--our neighborhoods.
After Emancipation and especially in the lead-up to WWI, Afro migration to cities (both North and South) exploded. Those Whites who had fought hard to end slavery sang a different tune when the objects of their affection moved in next door. A 1919 Chicago study found that:
No single factor has complicated the relations of Negroes and whites in Chicago more than the widespread feeling of white people that the presence of Negroes in a neighborhood is a cause of serious depreciation of property. When a Negro family moves into a block in which all other families are white, the neighbors object. This objection may express itself in studied aloofness, in taunts, warnings, slurs, threats, or even the bombing of their homes.' White neighbors who can do so are likely to move away at the first opportunity.
[...] A leading real estate dealer said that "when a Negro moves into a block the value of the properties on both sides of the street is depreciated all the way from $100,000 to $500,000 [$1,300,000 to $6,500,000 today], depending upon the value of the property in the block"; that it was a fact and that there was no escaping it. (1)
Highly desirable neighbors should send property values up; undesirable ones bring them down. Whence this negative reaction to Afros as neighbors? An irrational fear of dark skin? Or something else?
I. Neighborhood upkeep
From the same report:
The exclusive occupancy [in Chicago] of a block by Negroes is usually followed by less care of streets and alleys. This neglect is general between Twenty-second and Thirty-ninth streets and is beginning to appear in the territory between Thirty-ninth and Forty-third streets where recently blocks have been "turned over" to Negroes. Community associations are being formed in some of these areas to protest agamst this laxity, and stimulate neighborhood interest in neat premises.
[...] From the office manager of a South Side real estate firm: Much depreciation, he said, can be attributed to Negro tenants; they are much harder on houses than white tenants of the same station in life; they do not take proper care of the furnaces or plumbing, and the higher rents paid by them merely cover the cost of the additional repairs;... (1)
In April 1918, Charles S. Duke, a black Harvard grad who worked as a civil engineer, published a pamphlet with a list of "things that Chicago owes her colored citizens," followed by a list of "things that colored citizens owe Chicago," which tellingly include:
1. Better care of premises occupied by them, either as tenants or as landlords.
2. Formation of improvement clubs for the beautification of the neighborhoods in which they may live.
6. Spending less money for amusements and expensive clothing.
9. Ending of the practice of taking on real estate obligations beyond the purchaser's means. (2)
And today? From a study on urban blight:
According to Harris (1999:464), the "racial proxy hypothesis" maintains that
“… racial preferences simply represent a desire to live in areas free of crime, deteriorating buildings, ineffective public schools, and other social ills. Because of the concentration of many social problems in neighborhoods with relatively large black populations, selecting a “good” environment usually means choosing a predominantly white neighborhood.”
The study continues:
Whites report less satisfaction in neighborhoods with more minority residents[...] The racial proxy hypothesis applies more strongly to blacks' and Latinos' satisfaction. In some cases, especially for Latinos, higher levels of satisfaction in integrated neighborhoods can largely be attributed to the fact that these places have better socioeconomic conditions and fewer social problems than predominantly minority communities.
A long line of research has devoted attention to understanding individuals' preferences for neighborhood racial and ethnic composition. [...] In general, these studies find whites prefer neighborhoods with few or no African American residents, whereas blacks prefer integrated neighborhoods with a sizable black presence.
From a 2005 Chicago study on 'urban disorder':
White residents were far more likely to report disorder than black or Latino residents living in the same neighborhood -- sensitivities that might explain, they theorized, why whites are relatively scarce in many city neighborhoods.That is, what Blacks and Latinos consider 'normal' living conditions are seen as 'disordered' by Whites. One clue as to why the latter are so averse to living near the former?
The 'visual raters' watched video taken of city streets, judging purely by this cue how 'disordered' it was.
But then the number-crunching got really interesting. As the proportion of black residents in a neighborhood increased, white residents' perception of disorder also soared -- even in neighborhoods that the [visual] raters had judged to be no more ramshackle than others with a smaller proportion of black residents.
Much to the researchers' surprise, they saw the same patterns when they looked at the perceptions of black residents. As the percentage of African Americans in the neighborhood increased, the percentage of black residents who judged their neighborhood to be in disarray also rose -- out of proportion to the neighborhood's [visual] rating. Among Latinos, the pattern was even starker. They were far more likely than either blacks or whites to be negatively affected by the increased presence of black residents, the researchers found.
How then to explain the fact that Whites, Blacks, and Latinos all felt less at ease as the number of their black neighbors soared? One possibility is that they are all confused. Another is that they are all racist (in Blacks' case, against themselves). Or maybe it is that daily unpleasant interactions with these Blacks--not captured on the 'visual raters' videos--lead to a belief one's neighborhood is, in fact, more unpleasant.
The more Blacks in a neighborhood, the more unsafe its residents feel--be they White, Black, or Hispanic
From a study of urban blight in modern Brooklyn:
Some of the black pioneers in [Brooklyn's] Lefferts Manor evidence resentment over the fact that the neighborhood is now predominately black. Most have moved from other areas of the city that were virtually all black. After attaining middle-class status, they desired to move into a white or "integrated" community. Later they found that an "integrated" community is merely one that is changing from white to black.
Their explanations for wanting to relocate in white areas are universal. A common theme is that past experience has taught them that in black neighborhoods there is a gradual decrease in the quality and quantity of city services -- sanitation, police, and protection from landlord abuses and real estate speculation. The abandonment by city authorities of black neighborhoods, they saw, led to the growth of slums in what were once stable, middle-class neighborhoods.
Confusing cause and effect, these black-flighters claimed to not understand that garbage men were less careful in neighborhoods that dumped their refuse everywhere, and that police were less motivated to work where citizens routinely menace them and practice 'no snitching.'
II. Health threats
Though it may seem strange to us today, Euro-Americans of yesteryear often felt living near Afros carried health risks. They saw this as a legitimate reason for separation. On what were their fears based?
Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital, 1900
W.H. Collins wrote near the turn of the century:
Again, the susceptibility of the Negro to disease is another very potent reason for segregation laws. The Negro's manner of living since his emancipation irregular in every way, sometimes half-starved together with their immoral habits, have so weakened the constitutions of a great part of them that they easily become victims to disease.(See below for a possible genetic predisposition to tuberculosis.)
The "Negro Year Book" for 1914-15 makes the statement that 450,000 Negroes in the South are seriously ill all the time, and that 600,000 of the present Negro population will die of tuberculosis. When one recalls that thirty-five years ago tuberculosis among Negroes was scarcely heard of, he may the better appreciate the full force of the above statement [...] And strange as it may now seem, in slavery times Negroes were thought to be practically immune from tuberculosis.
According to De Bow, the mortality of the free Negroes before the War was a hundred per cent greater than that of the slaves. It even appears that the death of the Negroes in the South at that time was less than that of the whites. In Charleston, S.C., the average death-rate from 1822 to 1861 was 25.98 a thousand for whites and 24.05 for Negroes. About the same was true of some other cities. From 1865 to 1894, however, the average death-rate at Charleston was 26.77 a thousand for whites and 43.29 for Negroes.
Again, in thirty-three Northern cities the death rate among Negroes was 25.1 a thousand and 15.7 among whites, while in twenty-four Southern cities the death-rate was 29.6 for Negroes and 16.9 for whites. ... Thus, it is seen that the death rate among Negroes is not far from twice as great as among whites, but contrary to the general impression it is less in the North than in the South. (3)
Today, there remain significant differences in disease outcomes by racial group.
For HIV in women:
Of the total number of new HIV infections among women in the United States in 2010, 64% occurred in blacks [who were 13% of the population], 18% were in whites, and 15% were in Hispanics.
For HIV in men:
In 2010, black men accounted for 70% of the new HIV infections among all adult and adolescent blacks [they were 13% of the population]. The estimated rate of new HIV infection for black men was seven times as high as that of white men, twice as high as that of Latino men, and nearly three times as high as among black women.
It turns out there may be a genetic aspect to this:
New research suggests that people of African descent are much more likely to have a genetic trait that makes them more susceptible to infection with the HIV virus. Scientists estimate that the trait -- which also provides protection against a form of malaria -- might account for 11 percent of the HIV cases in Africa, the continent hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic.
Also true for tuberculosis:
The convergence of these epidemics is particularly prominent on the African continent, which has the highest rates of TB cases and deaths—80 percent of which occur in people living with HIV. Globally, a higher incidence of tuberculosis is known to occur in Africans and African-Americans than in American or European Caucasians, and genetic susceptibility has long been suspected.
The Yale-led team found that a low-expressing version of the immune response gene known as macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF)—a cell-signaling molecule secreted by the body’s innate immune system—conferred a two-and-a-half fold increased risk for severe tuberculosis in a group of patients from Uganda. Low-expressers of MIF are almost twice as common among people of African ancestry as Caucasians.
And possibly for prostate cancer:
In the United States, African-American men have the highest incidence of prostate cancer and are known to have more aggressive disease when compared with other racial groups. Although young healthy African-American men have consistently been reported to have higher levels of total and free serum testosterone, a correlation between these observations and prostate cancer risk remains theoretical at best.
As well as for hypertension:
Compared to Americans of European-ancestry, African-Americans’ increased hypertension prevalence contributes to a greater risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and end-stage renal disease.
“We anticipated that individuals of African ancestry share similar biology to other populations. However, differences in genomic make-up between African ancestry and other populations have uncovered additional genes affecting blood pressure, in addition to genetic variants that are specific to individuals of African ancestry,” said Nora Franceschini.
And for obesity:
The largest genetic search for "obesity genes" in people of African ancestry has led to the discovery of three new regions of the human genome that influence obesity in these populations and others. University of Louisville researcher Kira Taylor, PhD, and her team today published their findings in Nature Genetics. The study involved more than 70,000 men and women of African ancestry, making it one of the largest genome-wide association studies.
...And possibly for Valley Fever:
It is not clear why certain populations are more prone to the infection than others. But from 2008 to 2010, at least 355 [California] prisoners required hospitalization, and the receiver reported 34 deaths related to valley fever from 2006 to 2011, most of the victims African Americans. Health officials say they don't know whether African Americans are more apt to contract the fungus, or more likely to become seriously ill when they do.
Diverse neighborhoods have been reported to have negative health correlations for Whites...
With the exception of males ages 1–9, the fraction of the population that is black is a significant risk to mortality at all ages. It is particularly high for 15–19-year-old males, falling off for the following 15 years, but rising again rapidly thereafter. The correlation is present for all age groups of women. These results are consistent with work by Miller and Paxson (2001) that finds the fraction black is correlated with mortality among whites aged 25–64 across a wide range of diseases.
...as well as for Blacks and Hispanics:
Diversity may be killing older African-Americans and Hispanics, according to a new peer-reviewed study published in the America Journal of Public Health, which shows that people suffer less cancer and heart disease when they live among their racial or ethnic peers.
“Living in an ethnically dense neighborhood is beneficial when it comes to heart disease and cancer,” said Kimberly Alvarez, a co-author of the new study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Alvarez’s phrase, “ethnically dense,” describes a community in which at least 50 percent of people are from the same ethnic group.
III. Morality threats
In addition to perceived health threats, Whites of yesteryear (as well as middle-class Blacks) felt that the Afro underclass was lacking in morality and that this made them poor neighbors.
1) Single-parent families
W.E.B. DuBois, writing of Philadelphia in 1899:
The number of deserted wives, however, allowing for false reports, is astoundingly large and presents many intricate problems. A very large part of charity given to Negroes is asked for this reason. The causes of desertion are partly laxity in morals and partly the difficulty of supporting a family.
The result of this large number of homes without husbands is to increase the burden of charity and benevolence, and also on account of their poor home life to increase crime. Here is a wide field for social regeneration. (4)
W.H. Collins, in 1918:
Huffman says that in 1894 more than one-fourth of the colored births in the city of Washington were illegitimate. Many prominent Negroes admit that above ninety per cent of both sexes are unchaste. A negro may be a pillar in the church and at the same time the father of a dozen illegitimate children by as many mothers. (3)
2) Sexual mores
DuBois again, on Philadelphia:
There can be no doubt but what sexual looseness is to-day the prevailing sin of the mass of the Negro population, and that its prevalence can be traced to bad home life in most cases. Children are allowed on the street night and day unattended; loose talk is often indulged in; the sin is seldom if ever denounced in the churches. (4)
T.N. Page, in 1904:
Unhappily, the fountain is tainted at the source. The great body of the race have scarcely any notion of the foundation principles of pure family life. They appear not only to have no idea of morality, but to lack any instinct upon which such an idea can be founded. It is usually charged that slavery was responsible for the absence of morality throughout the race. Some of the Negro writers even speak of "the ancient African chastity" having been debauched by slavery. (5)
Reporters declared in 1897 that--
"Policy playing [gambling] is rampant in Philadelphia. Under the very noses of the police officials and, it is safe to say, with the knowledge of some of them, policy shops are conducted openly and with amazing audacity. ... Hundreds of poor people every day place upon the infatuating lottery money that had better be spent for food and clothing. They actually deny themselves the necessaries of life to gamble away their meagre income with small chance of getting any return. Superintendent of Police Linden ... said: 'There are not words enough in the dictionary to express my feelings upon this matter. I regard policy as the worst evil in a large city among the poor people.'" (4)
Afros' love of gambling in popular culture: "Prince Chawmin", from Warner Bros' "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves"
W.H. Thomas, a mulatto writer at the turn of the century, had this to say about southern Blacks:
There is also allied to this brutal, morbid instinct a domineering spirit, which utterly unfits the freedman [freed slave] for rational self-control or the sane supervision of others. This characteristic, which is fully exemplified in the attitude of the negro ministry toward inferiors in station, and in the treatment of pupils by teachers, pervades every section of racial life. The freedman, therefore, is constantly on the lookout for something to domineer that is subject to him, as, for example, his wife, child, horse, mule, cow, or dog, upon whom he mercilessly inflicts brute force, as undeterred whim or temper inclines. (6)
Afro women in particular are still renowned for their 'domineering spirit': at the grocery, the gas station, the mall, McDonald's, the zoo, on the train, the bus, the plane...
While 'immorality' is less cited as an undesirable trait in neighbors today, most of us still prefer to live around those who practice 'bourgeois values'--thrift, hard work, traditional family structure. There remains a perception that Afro-America is deficient in these values--a perception not wholly unfounded:
Afro-Americans have a lower marriage rate:
And a higher divorce rate:
They have a higher rate of unwed motherhood:
Their family structure is alien to Euro norms:
Their STD rate is considerably higher than other groups:
They are less thrifty, as seen by their loan reimbursement rate
They are far more prone to engage in gambling:
Their children create more discipline problems than other ethnic groups:
And they themselves commit more violence against their own children:
It appears that the different values practiced by Afros made them less-desirable neighbors yesterday, and continue to do so today.
One of the most frequent reasons given for avoiding Afros as neighbors was the high crime level found among them.
Another reason for segregation is the criminality and immorality of the Negro race. Even if it would benefit a few Negroes or satisfy their vanity to travel with whites or to live on the same street with them is little reason why the comfort, property values, health and morals of the whites should be endangered thereby. The better elements of society have rights as well as the worst and the majority should receive consideration as well as the minority. It is in strict accord with sound ethical principles that laws should aim to level up rather than to level down. (3)
The 'Great Migration' bore bitter fruit for Euros. Progressive writer Louise Kennedy in 1930 admitted:
Due to the widely held belief that the tendency toward crime is greater among Negroes than among other population groups, many expected the recent migration to result in a tremendous increase in the problems of crime and vice in northern cities. A study of the latest information available leads to the conclusion that this pessimistic prophecy was justified, for practically every important center to which migrants flocked witnessed an increase in the number of Negro cases brought before the police courts. Furthermore, in the North as well as in the South, Negroes undeniably show a larger proportion of arrests and convictions than do white people. (7)
Chicago, East St. Louis, and a number of other industrial centers have experienced numerous serious outbreaks as a result of race friction and maladjustment since the World War....The rapid expansion and spread of Negro settlements in Indianapolis, Tulsa, Pittsburgh, Newark, Columbus, Dayton, Cleveland, Detroit, and Cincinnati created new and serious situations. (8)
In the city of Philadelphia the increasing number of bold and daring crimes committed by Negroes in the last ten years has focused the attention of the city on this subject. There is a widespread feeling that something is wrong with a race that is responsible for so much crime, and that strong remedies are called for. (4)
These perceptions were not unfounded. A snapshot of imprisonment rates by region throughout this era
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These concerns of a century ago have not lessened. Despite fifty years of anti-discrimination laws and quotas of all kinds, Afro criminality remains a grave concern for Euro-Americans.
It is a statistical reality that the strongest indicator of crime in your neighborhood is how many Afros and Hispanics live there:
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Housing segregation was desired by most Euro-Americans in times past. Was it because of an irrational fear of skin color? If it were, that would allow us to feel righteous indignation towards them, sure in the knowledge that we are their moral superiors. In fact, this desire was based on the perception that Afro neighbors posed a threat in terms of neighborhood upkeep, disease, morality, and crime.
As we have seen, fifty years after the end of legal segregation, Whites (including progressives) are running as fast as ever to escape Black neighbors. Euro-Americans of yesteryear said with their mouths what we today seem only willing to say with our feet. Who, then, is the more honest?
(1) Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago, Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1922.
(2) Sandburg, Carl, The Chicago Race Riots, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1919.
(3) Collins, W.H., The Truth About Lynching and the Negro in the South, New York: Neale Publishing Co., 1918.
(4) Dubois, W. E.B. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1899.
(5) Page, T.N. The Negro: The Southerner's Problem. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1904.
(6) Thomas, W.H.. The American Negro: A Study in Racial Crossing. New York: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1901.
(7) Kennedy, Louise V., The Negro Peasant Turns Cityward:Effects of Recent Migrations to Northern Centers. NY: Columbia University Press, 1930.
(8) Muntz, Earl E. Urban Sociology. NY: Macmillan, 1938.