How the Actual Property Increase Left Black Neighborhoods Behind

How the Real Estate Boom Left Black Neighborhoods Behind

As Martavius ​​Jones, a Memphis alderman, points out, construction outside of the city limits was heavily subsidized by the City of Memphis Light, Gas & Water, which supplied and generously subscribed to new electricity and gas lines in areas that did not pay city taxes eastward march of wealthy whites fleeing integrated schools. "My maternal grandmother lived in a little old house on Josephine Street," says Jones, referring to an Orange Mound address. "I think of all the little old ladies and little old men who kept paying their taxes, and those taxes went to building the infrastructure outside the Memphis city limits."

Americans are not used to viewing utilities and other public assets as drivers of segregation and inequality, says Louise Seamster, a University of Iowa sociologist who studies racial politics, but these obscure entities and small decisions can play an important role in the distribution of wealth and power play in the metropolitan regions. "So many rules for development have been built around a particular model that implies creating white suburban space and building through debt based on that promise for future growth," she says. "Being an existing black community doesn't fit this model."

In the decades after school integration, Memphis went increasingly black, but remained under largely white political control. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Shep Wilbun was one of three of 13 members of the Black City Council, and he recalls his feeling that the city didn't service black neighborhoods in the same way it did white ones. “The streets weren't paved, the lights weren't switched on,” says Wilbun. “The rubbish was picked up, but not in the same way. When garbage was picked up in some neighborhoods, they carried a broom behind the truck for sweeping. They didn't do it in black quarters. "

Memphis chased its swelling suburbs, approving annexation after annexation. The result is an exceptionally dense city with a population similar to Detroit – famous for its expanse itself – just spread over an area almost twice that size. The latest census showed a population decline, creating a context where it is almost inevitable that some neighborhoods like Binghampton will win the economic lottery while others lose. With so much space available for so few people, there is little incentive for private property developers or home buyers to bet on ailing communities.

The history of Memphis reflects a national approach to black neighborhoods that Princeton sociologist Patrick Sharkey describes as a pattern of "abandonment and punishment" in which federal politics shifted resources away from people and neighborhoods and into the criminal justice system. This has been our national approach to urban inequality for half a century, says Sharkey.

Home ownership is simply not enough to isolate black families or communities from these longstanding political and historical forces. "It's not just about home ownership," says Sharkey. “Communities that could be stable and prosperous places to live have not received the basic investments that are taken for granted in most cities across the country. And if a community doesn't get essential investment, it becomes vulnerable. ”Indeed, home ownership can not only create wealth; it can bind people to decaying neighborhoods and turn capital, which most of us see as the key to financial security, into an anchor that restricts mobility and ties individual fate more closely to that of the neighborhoods.

In losing weight For weeks of the winter just before the pandemic began, I stopped in front of a brick house two blocks south of Campbell's house on Cable Avenue, not far from Beulah Baptist Church, an Orange Mound institution known for promoting civil rights activism in the 1960s to support. The house was inhabited by Karita McCulley, who appreciated the hardwood floors and the fact that their youngest children, Keirra, who was 18 years old, and Kaylob, who was 10 years old, had their own rooms. Kaylob was doing homework, and McCulley had her slender figure wrapped in a long brown cardigan. Her four-year-old granddaughter – an older daughter's child – tugged at her sweater sleeve and waved a box of candy. "My eyes get me," McCulley said, opening the box and reluctantly handing out four sweet and sour. "And she knows."


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