Some Historical Ideas on Race, Class and Neighborhoods in DC


 

Map detailing borders of the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood in DC.

I am a board certified nerd. Meaning, I have library cards from three states, and I would get one more if they would let me.

Given my card carrying nerd credentials I am one of those people who takes pamphlets from museums and libraries. One recent pamphlet that I picked up is titled “Village in the City” Mt. Pleasant Heritage Trail, not from a museum, but from a library.

When I look at neighborhoods and their racial and class make up, I am not only concerned with the movement of raced bodies, but the movement of capital/money/investments as well.  Who is moving in, who is moving out, how much does it cost and who is paying for it. The development of cities and the development of the suburbs is  a narrative of certain raced bodies being allowed to move into certain neighborhoods, and other raced bodies being kept out.

Well, what does this mean?

I learned in looking at the historical development of Oakland pre-post crack that as Whites left cities before the onset of the crack epidemic, the local and federal governments funded the movements of working class and middle class Whites to the surburbs of Oakland such as San Leandro, Hayward, Alameda etc. This funding is in the form of home housing finance and loans. This often followed a pattern of divesting in “inner city neighborhood’s. There is a relationship here. Imagine my surprise when I heard Black activists in Oakland in the 1970′s describe Oakland as a daggumit colony.

Given my understanding of Oakland, it was really interesting to learn about the history of Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights.

Which brings me to the Mt. Pleasant pamphlet, published by the DC Cultural Tourism Board, which describes Mt. Pleasant in the 1890′s saying,

The new residential developers restricted commercial activities to the streetcar routes. Soon, the 14th Street corridor became an important, large scale business district…The arrival in the mid 1920′s of the grand new Riggs Bank building and the 2,500-seat Tivoli Theater sealed the deal.

These imposing buildings reflected the status of Columbia Heights residents, who were mostly Whites and upper-middle- class. Among them were senators, supreme court justices and an enclave of successful Jewish  business owners. Some builders wrote race-restrictive covenants  into deeds to keep areas west of 13th street white. In the 1920′s upper-crust African American families, many of them associated with Howard University, began moving to blocks just east of the divide.

Columbia Heights Central High school , at 13th  and Euclid streets, were considered the gem of DC Public Schools’ complexion had changed and Central’s student population had dwindled. At the same time many “colored” schools were practically bursting at the seams. After intense lobbying by African American parents, and despite strong resistance from white citizens and Central alumni, the school board transferred Central’s students elsewhere, and moved the African American  Cardozo’s Business high school  intro Central’s building.

A few years later legal school segregation ended. Soon most of the neighborhoods remaining  white residents, and much of the white business capital, had left for the Virginia and Maryland suburbs….

I chose this quote to illustrate the historical racial and class changes that occur in US cities.

I also chose this quote to demonstrate the connection between the overdelopment of suburbs and the underdevelopment of cities, especially in the 1960′s, 70′s and 80′s. This also leaves me wonder that given the rise of low income folks living the suburbs, how will this affect the racial make-up and raced influenced Bank finance in both suburbs and cities.

Did you know about the history of the connection between “restrictive covenants” and “illegal” racial segregation?

Are neighborhoods that “started off as White” in the early 1900′s in DC, that are now becoming more white, returning to the past? (Let me be clear here, I understand that this land had a history prior to White settlers and I acknowledge the ways in which Native Americans were systemically removed from Native land).

Thoughts?

Comments

  1. “I am a board certified nerd. Meaning, I have library cards from three states, and I would get one more if they would let me.” <——– Ditto

    What do you mean by returning to the past, in your second question?

    I think it will be interesting to see if/how the rise of whites in cities shapes government policy towards cities and if it can rise to the level of having an actual national urban policy. One area in which I've begun to see it is in K-12 education. The charter/voucher/reform movement is out to extract as much money as possible from public education, it also provides specific communities the opportunities to create/fund their own schools without having to deal with everyone in the district.

    On the flipside, the suburbs have very little infrastructure to to assist its growing low-income residents. Poor public transportation access, few shelters, food banks, etc.

    On a national policy level, I see a shift toward metropolitan-policy, focusing on the US metro areas without addressing the inequalities within each metro area and conveniently sidestepping cities.

    Good post m.dot

  2. Financial and social capital follows bodies. So, if affluent Whites are moving back to the city and they want their children to attend public schools within those cities then it makes sense that academic policies and budgets will be crafted to suite their needs.

    With regard to charter schools, the investment banking class set out to privatize education nearly 15-20 years ago, because there is money to be made, aka corporate profits, in privatizing schools. Peep the link it’s a little abstract and wordy but she connects the rise of free market/neo liberal doctrines and the privatization of public services. http://louisville.edu/journal/workplace/issue5p2/boesenberg.html #Blackgirlsfollowthemoney.

    On the flipside, the suburbs have very little infrastructure to to assist its growing low-income residents. Poor public transportation access, few shelters, food banks, etc.
    ——————–
    Yup. It will be like Paris, in some ways.

    On a national policy level, I see a shift toward metropolitan-policy, focusing on the US metro areas without addressing the inequalities within each metro area and conveniently sidestepping cities.
    ———————-

    Now that is fucking interesting.
    Questions
    How is this idea of metropolitan policy different than how policies (rules and money) are carried out now?
    Does current policy attend to systemic inequalities within “metro areas” or do they mostly keep the status quo floating?
    If the some cities become more affluent and more white, how can they be sidestepped?

  3. So, if affluent Whites are moving back to the city and they want their children to attend public schools within those cities then it makes sense that academic policies and budgets will be crafted to suite their needs.

    ————————–

    Do they want their children to attend the public schools is the key question.
    Right now, I see an interest & investment in a few specific public schools, not the public schools writ large. For example, 2 Philly elementary schools that receive a lot of attention & praise from white families are Penn Alexander and Andrew Jackson. Penn Alexander is a partnership school between the district and UPenn. Parents camped out overnight last week to sign up for one of the 50 first come, first serve slots in Penn Alexander’s kindergarten class. Jackson is a school where area families have invested above and beyond what the school district provides.

    These same parents are generally not interested in the other neighborhood elementary schools and are apt to send their children to private schools or move out of the city.

    “Financial and social capital follows bodies.” My question is how far does capital follow bodies? or what is the radius of capital per body? Is it tight, limited only to the person or does is spread throughout the community? If it spreads throughout the community, then at what point do we see that financial and social capital injected into the public sphere more broadly, including the school system.

    On metropolitan policy:
    -The aim is to address the metro region, which means coordinating the policy and funding goals of multiple states, cities, municipalities, etc. Right now money is usually given from the states to the local governments without regard to the goals in neighboring states. Although metro policy is the goal, there is little money distributed to metros, so there hasn’t been much of a change yet.
    -Right now it mostly keeps the status quo intact, there hasn’t been much implementation due to the recession & tighter budgets. I can’t get a handle on what the White House Office of Urban Policy is interested in pursuing

    “If the some cities become more affluent and more white, how can they be sidestepped?”
    ———————————-
    They won’t sidestep the whole city, just the non/less-affluent parts, see DC’s ward 8 versus ward 3.

  4. Some affluent whites want their children to go to schools in the city, some don’t. Segregation is a process.

    “Financial and social capital follows bodies.” My question is how far does capital follow bodies? or what is the radius of capital per body? Is it tight, limited only to the person or does is spread throughout the community? If it spreads throughout the community, then at what point do we see that financial and social capital injected into the public sphere more broadly, including the school system.
    ================
    When I say that financial and social capital follows bodies and referring to two things. With regard to financial, I am looking at how the banking industry, realtor industry and neighbor institutions collude to keep certain neighborhoods “Black” or “White” or “Latino” etc.
    For example in the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s developing suburbs outside of cities used restrictive covenant to keep certain races out. Or how Black men were not allowed to use their GI bills to buy housing in “White neighborhoods” after they returned from WWII and Vietnam. By social capital I mean having accesses to relationships with people within social networks through a common affiliation such as college, church, work or another social group. This is why people say that going to certain schools will set you for life because of the social capital that you will gain from being an alumni.

    How to quantify how financial capital follows bodies. I don’t know gina, and honestly I am not interested in counting it. For me, it is important to know that capital follows bodies, and that the inner cities didn’t “just” end up looking the way they do, it was deliberate. I mean there is a reason why there is a YES market voltroning all over DC and not Wegmans. I will tell you that one way of looking at how capital follows bodies is by examining the discrepancy in California between state spending on K-12 and college education versus spending per prisoner in California prisons.