Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Shades of White Flight

Shades of White Flight: Evangelical Congregations and Urban Departure

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 198
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Shades of White Flight
    Book Description:

    Since World War II, historians have analyzed a phenomenon of "white flight" plaguing the urban areas of the northern United States. One of the most interesting cases of "white flight" occurred in the Chicago neighborhoods of Englewood and Roseland, where seven entire church congregations from one denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, left the city in the 1960s and 1970s and relocated their churches to nearby suburbs. InShades of White Flight, sociologist Mark T. Mulder investigates the migration of these Chicago church members, revealing how these churches not only failed to inhibit white flight, but actually facilitated the congregations' departure.

    Using a wealth of both archival and interview data, Mulder sheds light on the forces that shaped these midwestern neighborhoods and shows that, surprisingly, evangelical religion fostered both segregation as well as the decline of urban stability. Indeed, the Roseland and Englewood stories show how religion-often used to foster community and social connectedness-can sometimes help to disintegrate neighborhoods. Mulder describes how the Dutch CRC formed an insular social circle that focused on the local church and Christian school-instead of the local park or square or market-as the center point of the community. Rather than embrace the larger community, the CRC subculture sheltered themselves and their families within these two places. Thus it became relatively easy-when black families moved into the neighborhood-to sell the church and school and relocate in the suburbs. This is especially true because, in these congregations, authority rested at the local church level and in fact they owned the buildings themselves.

    Revealing how a dominant form of evangelical church polity-congregationalism-functioned within the larger phenomenon of white flight,Shades of White Flightlends new insights into the role of religion and how it can affect social change, not always for the better.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6484-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 INTRODUCTION: The Irony of Religion and Racial Segregation
    (pp. 1-14)

    Racial inequality and oppression are persistent themes in the study of the urban United States. In-depth analyses have revealed persistently segregated cities and suburbs that offer disparate opportunities on the basis of race and location. Concealed behind the gleaming skyscrapers of the downtown business districts and the SUV-flooded parking lots of P. F. Changs, Pottery Barns, and megachurches in suburbia reside bleak and depressed communities. Inarguably, the vast majority of these neighborhoods tend to be populated by racial minorities.¹ Dilapidated homes and closed-down industrial plants and warehouses dot the landscape of these districts. The detritus and shadows of a long-gone...


      (pp. 17-31)

      To fully understand the exodus of these seven Christian Reformed Church (CRC) congregations from Englewood and Roseland and how the story lends itself to the discussion of race, religion, and residential patterns, one must know the history and context of these people. Since the late 1950s, when confronted with neighborhood change, members and congregations of the CRC persuasion have demonstrated a high degree of mobility. In Chicago, whole congregations tended to move. In contrast, a few hours to the north in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the smaller scale of the city allowed the numerous CRC congregations there to remain in the...

      (pp. 32-41)

      In Chicago, the CRC’s history and precedent of fissure and schism mutated into a highly systematized pattern of social insularity. Almost all social activity was conducted under auspices of the church or the school. Because of that isolation, the Chicago CRC community of Roseland remained stable and homogeneous for over one hundred years and the Englewood community for about eighty. The social forces of the middle half of the twentieth century would eventually overwhelm the CRC in these neighborhoods, however. Leaders of the faith community would have to make a decision regarding the maintenance of isolation and homogeneity and whether...

    • 4 A CASE STUDY OF THE CLOSED COMMUNITY: The Disrupted Integration of Timothy Christian School
      (pp. 42-52)

      As already noted, the church alone did not claim the entirety of CRC members’ social lives. Instead, the church and the Christian school worked in concert. Leaders of the CRC understood the Christian schools they established to be “feeders” or “nurseries” of the church and vital links in the CRC social chain. A test of the closed CRC community would occur in the 1960s when African American parents att empted to enroll their children at Timothy Christian School—an institution on the West Side of Chicago founded and supported by CRC families. The African American families quickly and resolutely found...


    • 5 CHICAGO: A Brief History of African American In-Migration and White Reaction
      (pp. 55-64)

      The closed and insular CRC congregations in Chicago would eventually become actors in a drama that had begun decades earlier. The changing demographics in Englewood and Roseland were part of a larger social phenomenon that drastically altered the residential patterns of Chicago and other core cities across the United States. The creation of the African American ghetto in Chicago that would eventually subsume both Englewood and Roseland began during World War I. At that time, African Americans from the South, attracted to the work available in northern steel mills and packinghouses, became participants in the Great Migration. Thousands of African...

      (pp. 65-74)

      Though government policy and the animus of white homeowners limited their mobility, African Americans who did have some economic success tended to move from the heart of the Black Belt to its fringes—slowly advancing into adjacent white neighborhoods. By the 1950s the neighborhood residents of Englewood began noting the demographic changes advancing southward. Shortly thereafter, the same contiguous expansion of the Black Belt would have a dramatic effect on Roseland as well. The CRC congregations in those two neighborhoods would soon find themselves in rapidly changing communities.

      While the CRC congregations on the west side of the city endured...


      (pp. 77-95)

      In this chapter I argue that the rapid departure of these seven CRC congregations was dependent, at least in part, on a poor conception of place that manifested in weak ties and affiliations to the neighborhoods surrounding the churches. In other words, although the typical white flight issues of racial change and concerns over property values certainly played a role in the rapid departure of these CRC congregations, a more careful examination of this case offers evidence about the historical importance that the concept of place played in the process of white flight. That is, within these highly socially isolated...

      (pp. 96-109)

      The phenomenon of “white flight” beset U.S. cities throughout the twentieth century, and the pattern of African American movement into certain neighborhoods and subsequent white emigration from the same locus has been well documented.¹ Both historians and sociologists have studied these incidents and have come to varying conclusions. The consensus, however, seems to be that such patterns of residential relocation based on race have led to and, indeed, have been factors in the continuing American urban crisis. That is, present patterns of residential segregation have been shown to have antecedents in the so-called “white flight” of the 1950s, 1960s, and...

      (pp. 110-122)

      The departures of the CRC congregations from Englewood and Roseland are separated by time (roughly ten years apart) and space (roughly forty city blocks). Three CRC congregations left Englewood 1962–1964, whereas the four in Roseland had departed by 1972. In contrast, the RCA’s congregations in these same neighborhoods remained in their locations longer. The two RCA congregations in Englewood remained until 1973 and 1978, and the four in Roseland left in 1971, 1974, 1977, and 1989. The departures of the CRC congregations will be examined more closely in this chapter, and compared with the moves of the RCA congregations...

      (pp. 123-140)

      As we have seen, comparison of the CRC (a thoroughly congregational denomination) with Catholics and Lutherans (less congregational in polity) reveals that religious polity had a role in changing urban and suburban residential patterns and helps to complicate notions of white flight. Under the Americanized polity of the CRC, the congregations in Englewood and Roseland stood in stark contrast to the Catholic parishes. There existed no authority structure to ensure that the congregations remained responsible for and involved in their local communities. The CRC polity allowed congregations to act only in terms of self-preservation. The survival impulse seemed to permeate...

  9. 11 CONCLUSION: The Continuing Resonance of Religion in Race and Urban Patterns
    (pp. 141-148)

    Residential segregation has, inarguably, been a vital factor in engendering multiple platforms of inequality in U.S. cities. The failure to integrate continues to haunt the urban United States, and as populations continue to shift around metropolitan regions, careful attention needs to be given to the social practices that influence residential choices. Thus the relevance of the experience of CRC and RCA congregations in the neighborhoods of Englewood and Roseland and how they responded to African American in-migration in Chicago endures.

    Scholars have been consistently searching for the answers as to how racial residential segregation became so institutionalized and entrenched. In...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 149-170)
    (pp. 171-178)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 179-182)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-184)