Condemnations for Private Parties Destroy Black Neighborhoods
From the 1950s through the early 1970s, cities busily engaged in “slum clearance” or “urban renewal.” This largely meant clearing areas that city leaders thought were dirty and disorganized in favor of nice, clean, orderly housing projects. The result was a massive relocation, often of black and integrated neighborhoods. People who owned their own houses and lived in neighborhoods with friends and family were forced into small cookie-cutter apartments in giant cement buildings cut off from their previous community.1
Eminent domain these days is more ecumenical—everyone suffers. But modern condemnation practices still destroy black neighborhoods in order to benefit private parties. In one project in Detroit, the City bought up property in the neighborhood for years and then left it abandoned and deteriorating until few residents remained. Then the City condemned for private upscale residential development. Atlantic City removed a long-standing middle-class black neighborhood to install a tunnel to a new casino that was never built. American Beach, Florida, the only Florida beach that was open to black people before integration, is looking at condemning its smaller landowners in favor of luxury hotels and condominiums. Jacksonville, Florida, also is condemning an historically black neighborhood, this time for a local law firm’s headquarters. And Charleston, West Virginia, keeps coming up with plans to replace its black neighborhoods with stadiums and retail projects. Land-hungry development agencies are always looking for strategically situated older neighborhoods. Long-established black communities are often centrally located and thus particularly vulnerable to condemnation for private development projects.
1 See Martin Anderson, The Federal Bulldozer (M.I.T. Press 1964) for an account of the legacy of urban renewal programs. All of the cases discussed appear in this report in the sections for their respective cities.