Segregated housing exhibit on display in June

Exhibit at church features photographs, documentation of housing discrimination

By Justin A. Hinkley
Battle Creek Enquirer

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — Because of decades of discriminatory practices and policies in the housing market, Detroit is the most segregated city in America, a recent study found.

And, with an exhibit scheduled for June, the Women’s Co-op hopes to show Battle Creek isn’t much different.

From June 7 to 14 at Trinity Lutheran Church, the Co-op will host “We Don’t Want Them: Race & Housing on Trial,” a traveling exhibit put together by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion.
The Co-op partnered with Creating Change and the church to bring the exhibit to Battle Creek, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer.

According to a brochure for the exhibit, it features photographs, documentation and stories of housing discrimination throughout Detroit’s past.

The stories cover everything from “Sundown Towns,” which were parts of Detroit that, though never explicitly written, blacks were expected to leave before dusk, to explicit policies by government officials and real estate agents that defined the areas blacks were allowed to purchase homes. It tells the story of blacks who faced relentless persecution by their neighbors if they dared to live outside the confined spaces.

Using U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by Brown University researcher John Logan and Florida State University’s Brian Stults, Business Insider recently labeled Detroit the U.S.’s most segregated city. A map compiled by Business Insider clearly shows blacks relegated to the inner city while the suburbs are dominated by whites.

During the Co-op’s exhibit, visitors will be asked to select push-pins representing their ethnicity and mark on a large map of Battle Creek where they live, said Teresa Phillips, executive director of the Women’s Co-op. She said the exercise would show segregation in the Cereal City.

But Census data already shows a divided community here.

Census maps of Battle Creek show blacks in this city are almost exclusively confined to city center, bordered on the south and north by Goguac Street and Yawger Road and on the east and west by Waubascon Road/Limit Street and North Avenue. Neighborhoods in that area are as much as 100 percent black, while bordering neighborhoods never top 30 percent black and our suburbs are 90-or-more percent white.

The maps show virtually no change from at least 1970, challenging any idea that we are part of a post-racial America.

And, because of inequities in the job market and other factors, racially segregated neighborhoods  also tend to be economically segregated.

While the Census neighborhood maps didn’t have economic data, Census data on the city’s school districts did. And those numbers show the gap between the richest and poorest neighborhoods is getting wider.

In 2000, the poorest households in the Battle Creek area fell within the borders of Battle Creek Public Schools, where the median household income was $30,797, according to Census data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. With a median household income of $47,919, the richest neighborhoods were within Harper Creek Community Schools’ borders. The gap between the two was $17,122.

A decade later, BCPS still contained the poorest neighborhoods and Harper Creek the richest, but the income gap between the two had grown 16 percent.

BCPS housed 81 percent of the city’s blacks.

Phillips, who works with some of the city’s neediest women, said such racial and economic segregation stifles opportunities for those trapped in poor, minority neighborhoods. Grocery stores aren’t built there, nor are quality jobs created. And the concentrated poverty makes such neighborhoods more prone to crime.

Becoming involved in crime or staying impoverished “isn’t something that anybody teaches me,” Phillips said. “It’s something that I see. So if I don’t get to see other things, it’s very limited what I might become . You create generations and generations and generations, so it’s easy to see how we could be looking at a problem that was created 100 years ago.”

But she said she hopes the exhibit also addresses the untrue stereotype that only criminals live in segregated neighborhoods.

Phillips said she hasn’t researched whether some of the discriminatory practices seen in Detroit were happening here, but she said she was more interested in the “ripple effects” being felt today than the cause.

“Obviously, we see it,” Phillips said. “Do we know how it got there? No. But that’s not really the point . the point is, where we are and where we need to be.”