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A Brief History of Housing Segregation in Baltimore

October 29, 2021
IMA Research Team

How a Baltimore garden suburb contributed to the popularization and legalization of historical segregation and redlining practices

By Sarah Jacobson

Garden Suburbs

In the 1890’s, planned and segregated housing communities had slowly begun to gain popularity in United States’ urban areas. The garden suburb, a community which focuses on incorporating the natural landscape into the community and preserving green areas, began to gain popularity. These neighborhoods were initially designed for and exclusive to upper-class, white families but were eventually made accessible to working class, white families in the 1950’s-1960’s.  

Snowy Roland Park, one of Baltimore City’s first garden suburbs. More historic pictures available from the Johns Hopkins University Special Collections.

While many may consider suburbs a definitively American concept, the movement was largely popularized by British investors who wanted to bring the industrialization and style of British imperialism to the United States. As the Civil War ended in the United States, freed Black men and women began to migrate to Northern cities, which emerged as hubs for work and opportunity. As a result, white elites began searching for an escape from the city life, without losing access to its convenience, job opportunities, and resources. With British investments in the American housing market, the suburb neighborhood began to gain popularity among the elitist and segregationist white class in the United States.

Introduction to Roland Park, Baltimore

Established in 1891, the community of Roland Park in Baltimore, Maryland was among one of the first and most influential garden suburbs in the nation. It was developed by a Baltimore landscaping and suburban development company, the Roland Park Company, that worked with some of the most popular architects and landscape artists of the time to design the neighborhood, receiving 75% of its funding from the Lands Trust Company, a London led and run investment corporation. For more on British investments in segregated suburbs in the United States, see “Building Suburban Power” by Paige Glotzer.

Roland Park, although not the first garden suburb, was one of the first to be an all-inclusive neighborhood offering various services to the community such as transportation via electric car lines, a free automobile service, fire protection, a variety of schools, local business and store fronts, and common grounds of green space, playing fields, and footpaths throughout the community connecting residents to varying regions of the neighborhood. 

“The Footpaths of Roland Park” from

The contracts that investors signed included strict regulation on what homeowners could change about the design, landscape, and utilization of property, allowing for the creation of a cohesive neighborhood. Roland Park Company was among the first construction companies to absorb the cost of installing running water, gas and a sanitary sewage system to appeal to upper class citizens. But it did nothing to contribute to infrastructure in neighboring communities who struggled with access to running water, which was necessary to prevent disease outbreaks and destructive fires. Additionally, when adjacent neighborhoods with little infrastructure began struggling with public health hazards like typhoid and tainted water, the Roland Park Company took no action until those outbreaks threatened to spread into their up and coming neighborhood in 1908. For more on infrastructure development in Roland Park see “Building Suburban Life: Roland Park, Baltimore and the Regulation of Space” by John Joseph Swab.

Despite some early hiccups, Roland Park continued to thrive, eventually becoming known as the Roland Park – Guilford District, with the Guilford area added as an extension between 1913 and 1914. The thoughtful and elaborately designed neighborhood gained extreme notoriety in the early 20th century, and the Roland Park Company designers were asked to work with housing developers across the nation’s largest cities, influencing the design, layout, and lifestyle of numerous suburban communities.

The Roland Park-Guilford District in north Baltimore City. More historic pictures available from the Johns Hopkins University Special Collections.

How Garden Suburb Development Contributed to White Flight and Segregation

At the start of its development in 1893, Roland Park executives questioned attorneys to see if it would be possible to create and include a deed restriction against “persons of African descent” and any other Black person, preventing them from purchasing a house or owning property in the neighborhood. In response, the lawyers stated it was unconstitutional, with the development eventually going as far as questioning a Maryland Court of Appeals Judge who also advised against it as it was illegal and wrong. For more on the beginning of restrictive covenants see Jacques Kelly’s article in the Baltimore Sun.

A portion of the 1893 letter from as depicted in “Building Suburban Power.”

The company held off for about 20 years, with white-on-black violence often being what maintained the “residential color line” of the neighborhood, along with marketing Roland Park to prominent and wealthy German-Jewish immigrants to gain notoriety and interest. The covenant returned in 1913 after Baltimore City Council passed the first enforced discriminatory deed restrictions in 1911; the result of white petitioners’ request that the Mayor and City Council “take some measures to restrain the colored people from locating in a white community, and proscribe a limit beyond which it shall be unlawful for them to go…”. These restrictions were eventually extended to exclude the white, Jewish families which Roland Park initially marketed to. 

In 1917, the Supreme Court struck down segregationist deed restrictions from Kentucky, not necessarily because it discriminated against Black Americans, but because it prevented white property owners from doing what they wanted with their property. In response, the Baltimore mayor, James H. Preston, told housing inspectors to “instead cite anyone who rented or sold property to black people in predominantly white areas for code violations.” 

The restrictions were continuously enforced and adapted into city policy with the creation of the Committee on Segregation, a private-public partnership of “city government, community organizations, and real estate industry representatives,” intimidating any agent who would be willing to cross the racial divide in the city (quotes from “‘The Black Butterfly’ Racial Segregation and Investment Patterns in Baltimore”).

For more details on the implementation and adoption of racial deed restrictions in Baltimore, see Elizabeth Dickinson’s post in the John Hopkins Magazine.

WWI & After

With the start of World War I in 1917, there was an increase in Black out-migration from the south to the north, often called the Great Migration, which continued for several decades. With an influx of Black residents moving into the city, white flight commenced with the movement of white families from dense urban areas to less populated, suburban areas.

Various factors played into white families moving en masse during this era such as predatory housing marketers and economic concerns over the housing market, but it was largely driven by fear, racism, and prejudice against any nonwhite residents, and the stereotypes of increased violence surrounding Black people and families. 

Crime did actually increase during this time, but it is incorrectly attributed to the Black families moving into neighborhoods. The systems that kept people in cycles of poverty, combined with the high tensions surrounding Black out-migration increased the amount of violence both against and within Black communities. The over-policing of Black neighborhoods, violence from white neighbors, and racist housing policies trapped people in homes and communities that were unsafe and unsanitary to live in, not at the fault of the Black homeowner but because of the predatory and segregated housing market which actively and systemically denied them access to housing in majority white neighborhoods that provided access to education, sanitary homes, and community spaces.

Racism & Redlining

After the Great Depression, many families struggled to afford owning a home and so in 1937, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) created a mortgage insurance program where the buyer would provide a 10% down payment on the home, and banks would be willing to issue a mortgage with low-risk. The Veteran’s Association (VA) also established their own mortgage insurance programs which, after World War II, caused a massive increase in housing demand. However, these programs were only available to white families with the small down payments and low monthly payments making it a “cornerstone of wealth creation for the white middle class.” Black and African American citizens were completely excluded from these policies, furthering the cycle of poverty.

In order to maintain segregated housing, the FHA and VA would develop maps that color coded city blocks and neighborhoods according to a risk assessment of their creditworthiness. Initially developed by the Home Owners Loan Corporation, the maps would use red to indicate risky neighborhoods that were ineligible for federally-insured loans, and any neighborhoods that were majority Black or were transitioning into becoming majority Black were automatically colored red, thus cutting them off from access to credit and institutionalizing the practice of “redlining.” 

The Federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) published what is known as the Baltimore redlining map in 1937 also called the “Residential Security Map of Baltimore Md.”

The FHA in its 1939 FHA Underwriting Manual states that in order for a neighborhood to maintain any stability, racially restrictive deeds and property laws were necessary, and it recommended the continued use of segregation. Continued white flight from Baltimore to developing suburbs meant that housing, for a short period of time, became more affordable and accessible to Black and Brown populations within large cities, with neighborhoods becoming majority Black, and beginning to expand to meet the demand.

Highways to Nowhere

White homeowners within cities began to feel threatened by the continued expansion of Black neighborhoods and actively fought to block any further development by segregating areas of the city, restricting how much Black neighborhoods could expand, and allocating race specific outdoor areas and parks. This occurred specifically in Baltimore, where the Black population doubled between 1930 and 1960, but little to no new construction for Black housing occurred. During the same time period, an increase in demolition and rebuilding of the city occurred with primarily Black and impoverished neighborhoods seeing their homes and neighborhoods torn down to make room for expanding highways, schools, and other housing projects, displacing hundreds of Black and African American residents.

Baltimore’s “Highway to Nowhere” destroyed over 900 homes, displaced over 1,500 residents, and was never completed. Image from WBALTV11.

Between the years of 1951 and 1971, over 75,000 people were displaced, with 80-90% of them being Black people who were removed from their homes for the building of schools, urban renewal, highway expansion, and “slum clearing.” The city exacerbated the existing Black housing shortage by demolishing more houses than it built or allowed space for.

As a result, blockbusting became more and more frequent, where sellers would “break the real estate industry’s code of ethics and cheat on the cartel between white homeowners, real estate dealers, mortgage lenders, city government, and the FHA”, by selling homes to Black people in white neighborhoods. Those who engaged in blockbusting often manipulated white families into selling out of fear of low prices and then sold the house to a Black buyer marking up the price, and “exacting exorbitant profits.”

Fair Housing Act of 1968

Several bills attempted to end discriminatory housing practices, but it wasn’t until after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination and the ensuing riots that pushed conservative senators to break party ties and vote for the Fair Housing Act of 1968. This federal ban prohibited several discriminatory practices; however, the systemic removal of these practices would be difficult to achieve due to the numerous compromises made in the bill, often preventing justice for victims of housing inequities. 

As much as white communities tried to prevent it, legislation eventually changed, ending discriminatory practices with congress passing the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974, which stated that discrimination against Black people in mortgage lending is prohibited and in 1977, passing the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) which outlawed discrimination against black neighborhoods and ended the ability to redline on any legal basis.

Despite the legal improvements, Baltimore natives are still being highly affected by economic disparities, environmental health hazards, over policing, and other racist systemic issues that have been upheld as a result of economic and power imbalances caused by segregated housing and other racist policies enacted during the early 20th century. While the 1977 CRA outlawed discriminatory practices, no efforts were made to equalize cycles of poverty perpetuated by racist housing practices that were commonplace for most of the 1900s.

Effects of Housing Segregation, Redlining, and Discriminatory Lending Practices

The current connections between housing, poverty, and race in Baltimore are a direct result of the varying levels of discrimination and segregation throughout Baltimore and this country’s history. 

Studies done by Dr. Lawrence T. Brown, a Baltimore native, connects the geography of Baltimore to race and economic status, displaying a pattern he coined as the “Black Butterfly” effect. Based on the neighborhood and city block, regions of Baltimore are segregated by factors of economic status, housing, health, and race even if not explicitly segregated by law. Maps created by the Baltimore Neighborhood Institute Alliance clearly demonstrate the distinctions between predominantly Black and white neighborhoods, creating a butterfly shape consistent throughout each map of various socioeconomic factors. 

Dr. Brown agrees that the 1977 CRA “was never enforced in any real powerful way,” and since the murder of Freddie Gray in 2015, redlining has gotten even worse within the city, creating “bank deserts in redlined black neighborhoods” (In a 2019 Bloomberg article: “Are Reparations Baltimore’s Fix for Redlining, Investment Deprivation?“). The predominantly Black neighborhoods in Baltimore deal with extreme poverty with poverty rates at 23.1% compared to the 12.7% national average.

Other effects of redlining include drastically hotter temperatures in redlined neighborhoods with summer temperatures being nearly 6 degrees hotter than the city average. This is, in part, due to the large disparity in the amount of tree coverage as well as an increase in paved surfaces which absorb heat. Researchers went block to block, measuring temperatures during a heat wave and found a 16 degree difference between the hottest and coolest blocks in the city. Communities like Roland Park work to incorporate and maintain nature, and as a default have access to cooler spaces, unlike redlined neighborhoods which have historically been neglected and void of green spaces. Redlining has impacted city neighborhoods in related but more general ways like tree coverage and access to green spaces, all of which have negative health outcomes.

Redlined neighborhoods also have increased levels of pollution and vulnerability to natural disasters with heavier rainfalls overextending the ability of Baltimore’s drainage system to function which causes flooding, the closing down of roads, and an increase in sinkholes. Those who cannot afford to rebuild their homes or businesses after such catastrophes are forced to live without water, heat, A/C, and could possibly lose their homes or businesses. For more on the environmental impact of redlining see the Baltimore Sun’s article “Summer is hotter in Baltimore neighborhoods that have seen racial ‘redlining.’ And the difference is more extreme here.

Redlined neighborhoods also have increased rates of health risks, increased prevalence of poor mental health, and lower life expectancy at birth. The homes in these neighborhoods are often old and neglected with residents dealing with various hazardous conditions such as mold throughout the home, and lead in the paint and pipes. The asthma hospitalization rate in Baltimore is one of the highest in the country, with rates being 50% higher for families below the poverty line. The houses and communities next to busy commuter streets and highways are often impoverished and previously redlined communities that, in combination with extreme heat, have to deal with extremely high ozone levels, increasing the asthma inducing effects.  The Baltimore Magazine has an article about climate change in Baltimore, which is predicted to have worse outcomes in formerly redlined neighborhoods.


Today, the Roland Park – Guilford District lives on as Greater Roland Park/Poplar Hill, and continues to be a predominantly white and wealthy neighborhood.  A study done in 2016 by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance found Greater Roland Park to have the 2nd lowest overall and violent crime rates and is third lowest for property crime rates in Baltimore. It has some of the lowest rates of adult arrest, domestic violence calls, shooting calls, and assault calls. These are just a few of the reported indicators that demonstrate how investing in a community’s access to public transportation, sanitary water and waste management, and community oriented areas such as schools, parks, and businesses create safer, healthier neighborhoods for people to live in. However, these communities and resources are primarily still only accessible to white people in Baltimore, with income disparities and historical segregation exasperating the racial class-divide that exists today.

Time and time again, policy change and legislation has tried to end systemic discriminatory issues within Baltimore, and time and time again it has failed. In Baltimore, the most successful way to fight against the systemic inequities has been through local, mutual-aid efforts led by members of the community. Baltimore has always been a center for local activism within the community, and today we see organizations such as the Black Yield Institute, Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, and more actively making a difference within their communities, providing access to healthy food resources and empowering Black residents to enact change in Baltimore. In order to address the many issues that racist and prejudiced policies have caused, we have to listen to those who have been exploited and neglected the most.

The community of Roland Park is just an example of one neighborhood that flourished and thrived as a direct result of racism and classism. Through the understanding of how our current society has been, and still is, shaped by the convoluted policies of a time ruled by segregation and racial violence, we can actively work to dismantle those systems still present within our own institutions and relationships. 

Old Maps, Modern Influences

May 21, 2021
IMA Research Team

What historical maps leave out and how it impacts our perceptions

By Zander Bamford-Brown

Deanwood is an exceptional working class Black neighborhood on the edge of Washington DC. In spite of structural racism and a lack of infrastructure and material wealth, Deanwood was a relatively prosperous community in the early 1900s. Deanwood had a robust autonomous economy in which many residents grew and processed much of their own food. I am working with professor Kate Brown from M.I.T.’s Department of Science, Technology, and Society to better understand this community and what made it so successful. We have been using census records and deeds to help us quantify Deanwood, but unfortunately, we have limited information to help us visualize this neighborhood before the 1940s.

In order to get a sense of the neighborhood as a whole, I turned to the Baist Atlases. The Baist Atlases (like the Sanborn Maps) are detailed real estate maps of cities. They include the location, shape, and construction material of every building in the city along with street material, train and tram lines, property lines, lot numbers, and the names of some property owners. I wrote a separate post talking about my experience with these little known maps.

The atlases, one from 1907 and another from 1921, provide the most detailed neighborhood-wide information we have about Deanwood during this period. In order to better understand the community we were researching, I used the atlases to take imaginary Google Street View-esque walks through historic Deanwood. However, I was walking through a very distorted version of Deanwood.

The trap I fell into was forgetting just how much information was left out of the Baist Atlases. Take this section of the 1921 atlas, it shows a subdivision in Deanwood called Linwood Heights. From the map, this sub development looks like a classic early American suburb complete with a crescent shaped precursor to the cul-de-sac. It is easy to imagine the low white picket fences that the residents of Linwood Heights might erect along the lines dividing their properties. Their gardens may look like the victory gardens of World War 2, a few raised beds with rows of vegetables surrounded by children playing on a well trimmed electric green lawn. But, as you look for the yellow, pink, and gray squares that represent houses, you may notice that the subdivision is barely inhabited.

Not only does this map make Linwood Heights out to be much more populated and developed than it was, it also projects (sub)urbanity onto a place that was far from it at the time. The photographs below were taken in 1948 at the intersection of 53rd St. and Clay St., directly in the middle of the map above. John P. Wymer captured the neighborhood 27 years after this atlas was published when the number of houses had increased by about 800% and the neighborhood had been almost entirely developed. 

From the John P Wymer Photograph Collection

The stark contrast between the empty gridded subdivision of Linwood Heights presented in the Baist Atlas and the verdant semi-rural community shown in the photographs taken a quarter century later serve as a reminder of how limited a perspective maps alone can provide.

Even when it came to property lines, which was the main focus of the Baist Atlases, the maps produced a distorted picture of life in Deanwood. By looking through the original deeds we found that households in Deanwood tended to buy many consecutive lots (six was not uncommon) which often neighbored undeveloped and unoccupied lots owned by the developer. This made most of the property boundaries that were so central to the Baist Atlases meaningless in the everyday lives of people in Deanwood. Similarly, the plants like tomatoes, greens, corn, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and fruit trees, which were meaningful to the residents (and to our research), were not mapped at all.

A map like those in the Baist Atlas, which presents itself as an objective survey of the area, is not neutral. How information is simplified and represented as well as what information is not included impacts how we conceptualize the areas represented on the map. Since so much information must be left out of any map, the user will generally fill in the gaps in a way that perpetuates their preconceived notions of what they are studying. For example, many Deanwood residents were only able to afford to build a home because they built it themselves from cheap and salvaged materials. However, the atlas lumps all wood frame houses together making it impossible to determine the cost or state of repair of the houses. Since the map is so crisp and professionally done it gives the impression that the houses it mapped could be categorized the same way. In doing so, the atlas covered up a central part of what made Deanwood prosperous.

This experience served to remind me of how suspicious we must be of historical documents. Both the biases of the author and our own biases can greatly impact how we interpret documents. So even apparently benign sources like the Baist Atlas can end up obscuring the pivotal aspects of a community. The task is then on us to be aware of our prejudices and make the effort to reach a more informed conclusion.

Using Baist Atlases

April 5, 2021
IMA Research Team

A contemporary of the Sanborn Maps with an eye on the future

By Zander Bamford-Brown

This blog was created using ArcGIS StoryMaps, and we recommend using that platform for the best reader experience. Check it out!

Mapping Black-owned Businesses in Charm City

February 22, 2021
IMA Research Team

By Safania Romas

The History of Black History Month

February is African American History Month in the United States, in which the historically underrepresented achievements of African Americans are celebrated. Black History Month was founded in November 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. It was created by a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson. While earning his Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago and Ph.D. from Harvard, both in History, Woodson witnessed how underrepresented African Americans were in the books and conversations that shaped the study of American History. He co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History with a friend, Jesse E. Morland. The organization, now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, promotes studying Black History and celebrates African Americans’ achievements.

Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, founded Black History Month with a friend, Jesse E. Morland.

Baltimore City

About an hour from Washington D.C., the port city of Baltimore, Maryland has a rich African American history. With a population today of 61% African Americans, Baltimore is and was home to some well-known public figures. The first African American Supreme Court Judge, Thurgood Marshall, was born in Baltimore in 1908. Former U.S. Congressman and Civil Rights Activist Elijah E. Cummings named Baltimore his hometown. Baltimore City was once home to abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, who was an escaped slave turned activist promoting the end of slavery. You can visit the Reginald F. Lewis Museum to learn more about his work.

Baltimore City in 1865, extracted from Martenet’s Map of Maryland from the Library of Congress.

The Great Migration

Baltimore’s draw to African Americans relates to its geography in a variety of ways. Maryland, though a southern slave state before and during the Civil War, never left the union, and it was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, which facilitated the escape of slaves from the deep South to safety in the North or Canada. Baltimore is also located on a fall line and was, therefore, home to a variety of industries like textiles and manufacturing. Baltimore was such a successful industrial city because of its port located in the deep waters of the Chesapeake Bay, which made it a shipping powerhouse, a status Baltimore works hard to maintain.

More than six million African Americans migrated from the southern United States to the northern United States during the early twentieth century in what is known as the Great Migration. African Americans left their homes to escape racism and seek better opportunities in the industrial cities, of which Baltimore was then a prominent member. If you’re interested in learning more about the Great Migration, check out the ‘further readings’ section below.

An African American family on their way north from Florida. Their destination may have been Baltimore City. Photo from the Baltimore Magazine.

Baltimore’s Black-owned Businesses

Today, African Americans own about 47% of Baltimore’s small businesses. African American business owners have long faced discrimination in accessing loans, which is just one example of the United States’ broader systemic racism problem, which others have discussed recently and extensively. In looking at lending specifically, see Forbes’s “Why Minorities Have So Much Troubles Accessing Small Business Loans” which describes the racism and discrimination faced by minorities, and especially African Americans, in detail.

The Covid-19 global pandemic forced local Black-owned businesses in Baltimore to shut down in April 2020. Even when lockdown orders lifted, many businesses struggled to bring back customers to the stores. To celebrate Black History Month, International Mapping is highlighting some of the Black-owned businesses in Baltimore. Using a variety of sources, we have gathered the locations of 200+ businesses. Businesses are sorted based on their categories. Please scroll down to check them out.

For a full screen version of the map, click here.

Beyond Black History Month

International Mapping feels a deep connection to Baltimore. Our office is located in Ellicott City, a short drive from downtown Baltimore, a commute some of us know well. All of our cartographers, researchers, and GIS professionals went to UMBC, which lies just outside Baltimore. Many of us took classes on the history of Baltimore, or studied the trees of Baltimore, or used Baltimore housing availability for GIS projects. For more on our work in Baltimore check out our ‘Visualizing Baltimore City’s Trees’ blog post.

If you have a favorite Black-owned business in Baltimore that didn’t make it onto our list, please fill out this form! We will continue to grow the project and support local Black-owned businesses. For more information about the data sources used in this story map, please visit the following articles below.

Further Reading Editors. “Black History Month,”, A&E Television Networks, January 14, 2010. 

Zorthian, Julia. “Black History Month: How It Started and Why It’s in February,” Time, January 29, 2016. 

Cassie, Ron. “The Great Migration,” Baltimore Magazine, February 1, 2021. 

Tuck, Ashlee. “100+ Black-Owned Restaurants You Need to Visit in Baltimore,” WILL DRINK FOR TRAVEL, February 1, 2021. 

Turner, Tatyana. “Amid Pandemic, Baltimore’s Black-Owned Businesses Struggle – but Some Are Finding New Support,” Baltimore Sun, August 7, 2020. 

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