Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review - Not In My Neighborhood, How Bigotry Shaped A Great American City

I often ponder, 'how did we get where we are now'?  This is true in many aspects of life.  I think it's especially true in politics.

I recently saw the movie Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis.  I often remind my friends that it was a Republican, Abraham Lincoln, that ended slavery, not a Democrat.  Yet the modern day Republicans are reviled as racist elitists in many circles, such as college campuses, the media, and urban governments.  Having freed slaves, how did Republicans become so hated?

On my flight to Hawaii I read a book called Not In My Neighborhood, How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City by Antero Pietila.  Mr. Pietila prefaces the book with saying that bigotry has shaped many big cities in the United States, but he picked Baltimore.  This is a fascinating book that I highly recommend.

Baltimore grew up as city torn between the North and South.  Baltimore was industrial like a Northern city, yet south of the Mason Dixon line, which many people, even today, view as the divider of the north and south.  If you ask people in Baltimore what they consider themselves few, if any, will consider themselves southerners.  What's wrong with being called Mid-Atlantic?  During the Civil War there were many Southern-sympathizers in the city, yet Baltimore, a short hour north of Washington, D.C., was occupied by the Northern Army.

After the Civil War, many blacks moved to the area in search of work.  Baltimore had a busy port and by the late 1800's a booming steel mill that eventually became the largest in the country, and the city was in need of cheap labor.  And with the great influx of people, someone had to manage where they were going to live.  Who better to do that the Democratic machine that ran the city?  Blacks and Jews were forced to live in designated areas of the city, which then became overcrowded and evolved into ghettos.  During the Great Depression, the banks came up with the concept of red-lining.  And all of these actions were not only sanctioned and endorsed by the Democratic machine, but also by The Sun, Baltimore's newspaper.

Here are some of the things that caught my eye:

Maryland U.S. Senator Millard Tydings, namesake of the Millard Tydings Memorial Bridge, which carries I-95 over the Susquehanna River between Harford and Cecil County, called for formal restrictions on the inflow of Negros into Baltimore.  Had he done this 60 years later, he probably would have ended up in jail for a hate crime.  Instead, his bigotry was during the decades of the 1920's through the 1960's, so he was awarded with a bridge in his honor.

The Baltimore Sun has made no bones that it hates Republicans.  Yet in 1910 one of their editorials read, "The White race is the superior race, and it will, of course, maintain its supremacy."  (page 38)  In another display of blatant racism, The Sun supported a measure to evict blacks from Roland Park at the turn of the century saying that it was better to bar blacks from neighborhoods using binding private agreements rather than with legislation. (page 36)  Not to be outdone, The Sun wrote that segregation would benefit taxpayers and prevent flight to the suburbs. (page 20)  It goes to show you that you can write some horrible things about people that you hate, but as long as you change your mind, you can still control the news and hate the opposing political party and do it successfully.

The bigotry was not exclusive to the blacks in Baltimore.  Jews were targets, too.  Many apartments would not rent to Jews.  The theory was that once you rented to Jews, the blacks weren't far behind.  Ironically, James Rouse, one of the pioneers of the suburbs and the architect of the extremely liberal Columbia area, was also a pioneer in bigotry.  Mr. Rouse maintained Jewish quotas for his properties.  Only 12% of a rental property could be rented to Jews until it was 75% occupied.  Yet he is celebrated in our area. (page 141)

One of the practices I mentioned previously was redlining, a practice where banks and lenders, often in cahoots with local government, drew lines around areas of the city and would not load money to people who didn't meet their criteria, usually that the applicant was a white Protestant (and they say Catholics are intolerant.  Ha!).  This practices was well established and perfected by the Democrats for half a century.  It wasn't until Baltimore elected a Republican, and perhaps last, Republican Mayor Theodore McKeldin, who would go on to be Governor, then Mayor again.  He made it his objective to bust-up the racist and bigoted practice of red-lining and advocated equal rights as early as in the 1940's.  (page 92)  This is the Republican mayor.

So as you can see, what you see now is not always what it was historically.  Examined with today's views on bigotry and racism, the Democratic Party was historically a bigoted racist party and no friend of the Jews and blacks.  The true pioneers of ending slavery and busting up Baltimore's racist policies were Republicans.  Yet today, the Republican Party is a stranger to the down-trodden, the non-whites, the non-Protestants, and the people of Main Street.  The Democratic Party successfully changed their image in the 1960's to be a party of the Civil Rights and have captured the votes of the blacks and Jews.  Perhaps they take them for granted, but those groups of people really don't seem to have any reason to come to the table of the Republican Party as they seem to be doing nothing to get their attention.

So, how did we get to where we are now?


sevin said...

"So, how did we get to where we are now?"

You say "we"....I'm assuming you mean the REPUBLICAN party?

I am 56 years old and was a registered republican from the age of 18 until after the first Bush term.

After witnessing the stolen election and the illegal invasion of Iraq I couldn't maintain my allegiance to the G.O.P. any longer.

The G.O.P. has become the party of the rich, white and extreme religious wackos. The almighty dollar gets a higher priority than their countrymen in need.

Closed minded and unwilling to compromise, the party is becoming stagnant and is losing members at an alarming rate.

I have not identified with this party for over 10 years and it gets worse as each day goes by.

So, how did YOU get here? I would look back to the Nixon presidency and review the legislation and policies he put in place. Reagan / Bush continued where "Tricky Dick" left off.

Eludius said...

I appreciate your feedback, Sevin. I often tell people that I am conservative and registered as Republican, though the two have little in common anymore. I was born during the end of the Nixon Administration, so don't share the feeling of betrayal that one may maintain having lived during that era. On the other hand, I think that BOTH parties are closed-minded and unwilling to compromise, so I detest them equally right now.

sevin said...


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