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Blockbusting in Baltimore

Blockbusting in Baltimore: The Edmondson Village Story

Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Blockbusting in Baltimore
    Book Description:

    This innovative study of racial upheaval and urban transformation in Baltimore, Maryland investigates the impact of "blockbusting" -- a practice in which real estate agents would sell a house on an all-white block to an African American family with the aim of igniting a panic among the other residents. These homeowners would often sell at a loss to move away, and the real estate agents would promote the properties at a drastic markup to African American buyers.

    In this groundbreaking book, W. Edward Orser examines Edmondson Village, a west Baltimore rowhouse community where an especially acute instance of blockbusting triggered white flight and racial change on a dramatic scale. Between 1955 and 1965, nearly twenty thousand white residents, who saw their secure world changing drastically, were replaced by blacks in search of the American dream. By buying low and selling high, playing on the fears of whites and the needs of African Americans, blockbusters set off a series of events that Orser calls "a collective trauma whose significance for recent American social and cultural history is still insufficiently appreciated and understood."

    Blockbusting in Baltimoredescribes a widely experienced but little analyzed phenomenon of recent social history. Orser makes an important contribution to community and urban studies, race relations, and records of the African American experience.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4831-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps and Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. 1 The Trauma of Racial Change
    (pp. 1-20)

    The recent reflection of two women illustrate the poiganancy and complexity of their experience in the west Baltimore neighborhood of Edmondson Village when racial change began to occur on a massive scale in the late 1950s, early 1960s. In an interview I conducted with a white former resident, Marilyn Simkins sought an explanation for the response of whites who panicked and fled the neighborhood: “They saw a very secure world changing very drastically,” she said, “and they couldn’t accept it. This was distasteful, and in some respects it was forced down their throats, and they felt they had no other...

  6. 2 The Making of a Rowhouse Neighborhood
    (pp. 21-47)

    In his now classic study of Boston’s late nineteenth-century streetcar suburbs, Sam Bass Warner, Jr., observed that developers had not built communities; they had built streets of houses. Yet, as Warner made clear, the results were neighborhoods whose social and economic structures distinctly differentiated them from older sections of the previous walking city. The new suburban metropolis of Boston by 1900 functioned as a “selective melting pot” in which “people were separated by income and mixed together with little regard to na.tional origin.”¹ The heyday of the streetcar era in the first decades of the twentieth century and the advent...

  7. 3 Continuity and Undercurrents of Change
    (pp. 48-83)

    When the Edmondson Village Shopping Center opened its doors in 1947 on the site of the former Hunting Ridge estate at the top of the Edmondson Avenue hill, it seemed to represent the culmination of the suburban ideal to which residents of the area had aspired. Almost overnight, “the Village” gained acceptance as the community’s focal point, providing both a commercial center and a point of reference—not just for shopping, but for meeting, for “hanging out,” for identifiability. Significantly, the name gained rapid acceptance as a designation for the community as a whole. Edmondson Village was now complete, as...

  8. 4 A White Community Responds to Change
    (pp. 84-130)

    Pressure for racial change was building up on the community’s borders, yet white residents of the Edmondson Village area continued to believe that their neighborhood was insulated and secure, a suburban haven. Nevertheless, in approximately 1955, the first African American settlers took up residence in rowhouses in the southeastern corner. (See map 2.) By 1960 the area south of Edmondson Avenue (census tract 2007) had changed from its 1950 count of 6,662 whites and 13 non-whites, to a population of 3,528 whites and 5,714 African Americans. In 1970 the same tract totaled 9,276 African Americans, 841 whites. North of Edmondson...

  9. 5 African American Pioneers
    (pp. 131-159)

    African pioneer Elizabeth Jones speaks about the current condition of the nearby park playground in her Edmondson Village neighborhood, but in a sense she speaks symbolically about a larger and extremely complex set of circumstances that have circumscribed the African American suburban quest for middle-class status and security in the American urban experience.

    Race and racial fears have had powerful explanatory force in American society, an assertion nowhere mOre dramatically demonstrated than in the scale and speed of racial change that rewrote the demographic maps of American cities during the three decades following the Second World War. Intensified African American...

  10. 6 The Legacy of Blockbusting
    (pp. 160-181)

    This study ends in 1980, twenty-five years after the first African American pioneers moved into Edmondson Village. Of course, the saga of the community and its inhabitants, past and present, is an ever-evolving one. Its meaning is tested daily in the unfolding demographics of the metropolitan region and within the boundaries of the Edmondson Village area itself. Have there been more Edmondson Village-type experiences of manipulated massive racial change, and are there likely to be in the future? Has there been social learning as a result of such traumatic episodes? And what has been the legacy of the wave of...

  11. Appendix A: Suggested Reading
    (pp. 182-185)
  12. Appendix B: Home Ownership Patterns on Selected Blocks, 1955-1973
    (pp. 186-189)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 190-225)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 226-233)
  15. Index
    (pp. 234-241)