African-American neighborhoods or black neighborhoods are types of ethnic enclaves found in many cities in the United States. Generally, an African American neighborhood is one where the majority of the people who live there are African American. Some of the earliest African-American neighborhoods were in New York City. There were also early communities in Virginia. In 1830, there were 14,000 "free Negroes" living in New York City.
The formation of black neighborhoods is closely linked to the history of segregation in the United States, either through formal laws, or as a product of social norms. Despite this, black neighborhoods have played an important role in the development of African-American culture.
The Great Migration
The Great Migration was the movement of more than one million African Americans out of the rural Southern United States from 1914 to 1940. Most African Americans who participated in the migration moved to large industrial cities, such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Minneapolis, Seattle, Detroit, Boston, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Long Beach as well as to many smaller industrial cities. Hence the Migration played an important role in the formation and expansion of African-American neighborhoods in these cities.
While the Great Migration helped educated African Americans obtain jobs, enabling a measure of class mobility, the migrants encountered significant forms of discrimination in the North. Because so many people had migrated in so short a period of time, the African-American migrants were often resented by working classes in the north, who feared that their ability to negotiate rates of pay, or even to secure employment at all, was threatened by the influx of new labor competition.
Populations increased so rapidly with the addition of African-American migrants and new European immigrants both that there were widespread housing shortages in many cities. Newer groups competed even for the oldest, most rundown housing, as it was what they could afford. African Americans competed for work and housing with first or second generation immigrants in many major cities. Ethnic groups created territories which they defended against change. More established populations with more capital moved away from the pressure of new groups of residents to newer housing being developed on the outskirts.
The migrants also discovered that the open discrimination of the South was only more subtly manifested in the North. In 1917, the Supreme Court declared municipal resident segregation ordinances unconstitutional. In response, some white groups resorted to the restrictive covenant, a formal deed restriction binding property owners in a given neighborhood not to sell to blacks. Whites who broke these agreements could be sued by "damaged" neighbors. Not until 1948 did the Supreme Court strike down restrictive covenants. The National Housing Act of 1934 contributed to limiting the availability of loans to urban areas, particularly those areas inhabited by African Americans.
In cities such as Chicago the influx of African-American migrants and other immigrants resulted in racial violence, which flared in several cities during 1919.
This significant event and the subsequent struggle of African-American migrants to adapt to Northern cities was the subject of James Lawrence's Migration Series. This series, exhibited in 1941, was responsible for bringing Lawrence to the public eye as one of the most important African-American artists of the time.
The Second Great Migration
From 1940-1970, another five million people left the South for Northern and Western cities and industrial jobs. Violence marked some of the pressure of this migration, too, such as in the Detroit Race Riot of 1943.
In response to the influx of black people from the South, banks, insurance companies, and businesses began redlining—denying or increasing the cost of services, such as banking, insurance, access to jobs, access to health care, or even supermarkets to residents in certain, often racially determined, areas. The most common use of the term refers to mortgage discrimination. Data on house prices and attitudes toward integration suggest that in the mid-20th century, segregation was a product of collective actions taken by whites to exclude blacks from their neighborhoods. This meant that ethnic minorities could secure mortgage loans only in certain areas, and it resulted in a large increase in the residential racial segregation and urban decay in the United States.
Urban renewal, including white flight, has also been a factor in the growth patterns of African-American neighborhoods. The process began an intense phase in the late 1940s and continues in some places to the present day. It has had a major impact on the urban landscape. Urban renewal was extremely controversial because it involved the destruction of businesses, the relocation of people, and the use of eminent domain to reclaim private property for city-initiated development projects. The justifications often used for urban renewal include the "renewal" of residential slums and blighted commercial and industrial areas. In the second half of the 20th century, renewal often resulted in the creation of urban sprawl and vast areas of cities being demolished and replaced by freeways and expressways, housing projects, and vacant lots, some of which still remain vacant at the beginning of the 21st century. Urban renewal had a disproportionate and largely negative impact on African-American neighborhoods. In the 1960s James Baldwin famously dubbed urban renewal "Negro Removal".
The creation of highways in some cases divided and isolated black neighborhoods from goods and services, many times within industrial corridors. For example, Birmingham's interstate highway system attempted to maintain racial boundaries established by the city’s 1926 racially based zoning law. The construction of interstate highways through black neighborhoods in the city led to significant population loss in those neighborhoods. It was also associated with an increase in neighborhood racial segregation.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act removed racial deed restrictions on housing. This enabled middle-class African Americans to move to better housing, in some cases in the suburbs, and to desegregated residential neighborhoods. In some areas, however, real estate agents continued to steer African Americans to particular areas.
The riots that swept cities across the country from 1965 to 1968 damaged or destroyed additional areas of major cities, for instance Detroit's 12th Street, and the U and H street corridors in Washington, DC.
Late 20th century
By 1990, the legal barriers enforcing segregation had been replaced by decentralized racism, where whites pay more to live in predominantly white areas. Some social scientists suggest that the historical processes of suburbanization and decentralization are instances of white privilege that have contributed to contemporary patterns of environmental racism.
At the same time, however, middle-class and upper-class blacks have also paid more to live in the suburbs and have left the inner cities of former industrial powerhouses behind. In the New Great Migration, black college graduates are returning to the South for jobs, where they generally settle in middle-class, suburban areas. This includes states such as Texas, Georgia, and Maryland, three of the biggest gaining states of college graduates.
Despite these pervasive patterns, many changes for individual areas are small. Thirty years after the civil rights era, the United States remains a residentially segregated society in which both blacks and whites inhabit different neighborhoods of vastly different quality. Cities throughout history have contained distinct ethnic districts. But rarely have they been so isolated and impoverished as the African-American districts found in U.S. cities today.
Black middle class and white-collar areas
Due to advancements caused by the Civil Rights movement, the social and political activism of the African-American community (religious and educational institutions), there has been a strong prominent advent of the black middle class and black white-collar professionals. This has produced many urban and suburban communities with black majorities populations or significant middle class black or "buppie" neighborhoods, including the communities of Southfield, Michigan; Warrensville Heights, Ohio; Bloomfield, Connecticut; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Country Club Hills, Illinois. The residents of these communities are highly educated and work in white-collar professional jobs. Such communities have also developed in many of the larger cities of the United States. Even those that have traditionally have statistics of high crime and poverty have also had neighborhoods with middle class and affluent blacks. Cities' policies of gentrification has also played a factor.
Racial segregation in the United States is most pronounced in housing. Although people of different races may work together, they are still unlikely to live in largely integrated neighborhoods. This pattern differs only by degree in different metropolitan areas.
Due to segregated conditions and widespread poverty, some black neighborhoods in the United States have been called "the ghetto" or "the projects." The use of this term is controversial and, depending on the context, potentially offensive. Despite mainstream America’s use of the term "ghetto" to signify a poor urban area (predominately African-Americans), those living in the area often used it to signify something positive.
The black ghettos did not always contain dilapidated houses and deteriorating projects, nor were all of its residents poverty-stricken. For many African Americans, the ghetto was "home", a place representing authentic blackness and a feeling, passion, or emotion derived from the rising above the struggle and suffering of being black in America. Langston Hughes relays in the "Negro Ghetto" (1931) and "The Heart of Harlem" (1945): "The buildings in Harlem are brick and stone/And the streets are long and wide,/But Harlem’s much more than these alone,/Harlem is what’s inside." Playwright August Wilson used the term "ghetto" in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) and Fences (1987), both of which draw upon the author’s experience growing up in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, first a neighborhood of early European immigrants, then a black ghetto. Depending on the context and social circles, the term 'ghetto' or 'hood (short for neighborhood) can be a term of endearment for where the individual person has been brought up or lives.
Institutions within black neighborhoods
Although some black neighborhoods may suffer from civic disinvestment, with schools assumed to be of lower quality due to some schools showing lower test scores, less effective policing and fire protection, there are institutions that help to improve the physical and social capital of black neighborhoods. And with the social mobility of many African Americans, there has been the rise of many communities with better schools and safe neighborhoods. But these issues may be more due to economics than race since middle class blacks with middle-class neighborhoods tend to live in better neighborhoods and children attend better schools than those from lower income neighborhoods or schools districts.
In black neighborhoods the churches have been important sources of social cohesion and activism. For some African Americans, the kind of spirituality learned through these churches works as a protective factor against the corrosive forces of racism. Churches may also do work to improve the physical infrastructure of the neighborhood. Churches in Harlem have undertaken real estate ventures and renovated burnt-out and abandoned brownstones to create new housing for residents. Churches have fought for the right to operate their own schools in place of the often inadequate public schools found in many black neighborhoods.
The African American Museum Movement emerged during the 1950s and 1960s to preserve the heritage of the black experience and to ensure its proper interpretation in American history. Museums devoted to African American history are found in many black neighborhoods. Institutions such as the African American Museum and Library at Oakland, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, and The African American Museum in Cleveland were created by African Americans to teach and investigate cultural history that, until recent decades was primarily preserved through oral traditions.
Theatre and arts
Major movements in literature, music and the arts have their roots in African American neighborhoods: Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Harlem renaissance, Soul, Hip hop, Rap, Rock 'n' roll and others. Cities were the places where young artists could meet and study with other artists and receive recognition, as did Jacob Lawrence when his "Migration Series" was featured by the Museum of Modern Art in New York when he was still in his 20's.
African American neighborhoods have also generated African American theater and numerous dance companies in a variety of styles. After his career as a classical ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet, Arthur Mitchell founded a school and dance company in Harlem. Alvin Ailey created dances out of the African American experience with his Alvin Ailey Dance Company.
Chicago stepping is a name given to a dance that has evolved over the years from various other dances. Originally created in Chicago's predominately African American neighborhoods, the dance has morphed from its beginnings with the Jitterbug in the 1930s and 1940s, to the Offtime in the 1950s, to the Walk and the Chicago Bop in the 1960s and 1970s.
Hip hop is both a cultural movement and a music genre developed in New York City starting in the 1970s predominantly by African Americans. Since first emerging in the South Bronx and Bedford-Stuyvesant, the lifestyle of hip hop culture has spread around the world.
Many African American neighborhoods produce their own newspapers, including the South Fulton Neighbor in Atlanta, the Capitol Update in Tallahassee, and the Star in Omaha.
Segregation in schools and universities led to the creation of many Black schools. Public elementary, junior and senior high schools across the United States during the period of legal segregation. Students that attended this school went through either vocational classes or regular high school. This school offered several vocational such as cosmetology, tailoring and welding.
Festivals and Holidays
In the U.S. city of Philadelphia, the Odunde Festival (also known as "African New Year") claims to be the largest gathering of African Americans which happens annually on the second Sunday of June in the Southwest Center City section of town.
Many African American neighborhoods are located in inner cities or part of an urban center. These are the mostly residential neighborhoods located closest to the central business district. The built environment is often 19th- and early 20th-century row houses or brownstones, mixed with older single-family homes that may be converted to multifamily homes. In some areas there are larger apartment buildings.
Shotgun houses are an important part of the built environment of some southern African American neighborhoods. The houses consist of three to five rooms in a row with no hallways. This African American house design is found in both rural and urban southern areas, mainly in African-American communities and neighborhoods (especially in New Orleans).
The term "shotgun house," is often said to come from the saying that one could fire a shotgun through the front door and the pellets would fly cleanly through the house and out the back door. However, the name's origin may actually reflect an African architectural heritage, perhaps being a corruption of a term such as to-gun, which means "place of assembly" in the Southern Dohomey Fon area.
During the periods of population decline and urban decay in the 1970s and 1980s many African American neighborhoods, like other urban minority neighborhoods, turned abandoned lots into community gardens. Community gardens serve social and economic functions, providing safe, open spaces in areas with few parks. Organizations such as Philadelphia Green, organized by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, have helped communities organize gardens to build community feeling and improve neighborhoods. They can be places for socialization, fresh vegetables in neighborhoods poorly served by supermarkets, and sources of traditional African American produce.
- List of African American neighborhoods
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