Notes on "Flight to the Suburbs: Suburbanization and Racial Change on Baltimore's West Side" Chapter 10 of The Baltimore Book: New Views of Local History ed. Fees, Shopes & Zeidman


  • During the 19th century Whites and Blacks had lived in relatively close proximity in Baltimore, but by the turn of the century residential segregation had been established by law as well as custom.
  • The development of new transportation technologies (first the trolley and then the car) led to the new availability of housing opportunities beyond the limits of the 'walking city' which became increasingly industrialized and congested during the first decades of the 20th century. Neighborhoods full of the classic Baltimore row house began to be developed.
  • Blacks lived predominantly in two neighborhoods in Old West Baltimore and in East Baltimore along the North Avenue corridor.
  • The population of these neighborhoods grew to the bursting point during the Great Migration of the first half of the 20th century; as a result on the Westside, blacks began crossing into previously white neighborhoods in the 1950's.
  • To the 1940's Fulton Avenue remained the dividing line between white and black neighborhoods on the West side.
  • Key Supreme Court decisions (Shelley v. Kramer; Brown v. Board of Education) led to the formal ending of de jure segregation. The expanding demand for  housing by blacks led to blockbusting real estate tactics and, from 1950 to 1970, a near total racial turnover took place in large sections of the city.
  • Older black neighborhoods east of Fulton Avenue deteriorate and lead the city to justify the construction of a new east-west highway ( I-170) through the old black neighborhoods in the 1960's.
  • Displaced residents move into new high-rise low income housing: Lexington Homes and Murphy Homes: the new centers for concentrated poverty in the city during the 1970's and 1980's.

Expansion of the City's West Side (1880-1940)

  • 1880's: Fulton Avenue was the Western border of the city. Beyond it was countryside where elite Baltimore businessmen built summer houses.
  • 1888- The city boundary is extended two miles west and Edmondson Village is opened up for development.
  • 1890's- Electrification of the laying of street trolley lines make rowhouses marketable to white middle income buyers.
  • 1910: Keelty Brothers take advantage of housing boom to develop Edmondson Village: "Splendidly convenient to street cars, churches of various denominations, schools, stores and banks, and but a quarter hour's drive to the city." (Orser 218)
  • 1915: Gwynn Falls Park is opened
  • 1940's Edmondson Village Shopping Center developed by the Meyerhoff family: one of the first regional shopping centers in the country: "a landmark of Baltimore progress" (Orser 218)

Blockbusting (1950-1970)

  • Pull: After WWII, huge federal investments in the nation's highway system and the GI Bill's provisions for low interest housing loans created a new vogue for detached housing units in suburbs within driving distance of the city center. In Baltimore, neighborhoods in Catonsville and Towson were opened up for development.
  • Push: The huge housing demand of black residents in Old West Baltimore combined with the fall of legal barriers to segregation and the desire of middle class blacks to participate in the suburban dream. The color line had moved further and further west to Poplar Grove Avenue, and finally in the ealry 1950's black families began moving into homes west of the Gwynn Falls in Edmondson Village.
  • Population of Edmondson Village:1950: 99% white; 1960: 62% black; 1970: 97% black
  • Blockbusting Methods:
  • Offer price over and above the median price to a few whites in the neighborhood
  • Rent those houses to black tenants
  • Purchase houses from frightened whites at discount prices.
  • Jack up the rates to above market value to black buyers.
  • Once the turnover had taken place, the new black community found it hard to maintain the middle income character of the neighborhood due to high demand and to limited career opportunities open to black middle class.
  • Slow steady decline of the median income rates, housing infrastructure.
  • Hoschild Kohn  closes in Edmondson Village Shopping Center and the Meyerhoffs open a new shopping center at Westview Mall.
  • By 1970 the new racial divide is at the Beltway.