This is the seventh in a series about the continuing disappearance of whites from American cities (see our earlier entries for Birmingham, Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, Richmond, and Milwaukee). Many people still pretend that The Great Replacement is a myth or a conspiracy theory, but the graphs that accompany each article in this series prove them wrong. Every city has a different story but all have seen a dramatic replacement of whites by minorities.
“A Baltimorean is not merely John Doe, an individual of Homo sapiens, exactly like every other John Doe,” wrote H.L. Mencken. “He is John Doe of a certain place — of Baltimore, of a definite house in Baltimore. It is not by accident that all the peoples of Europe, very early in their history, distinguished their best men by adding ‘of this or that place’ to their names.”
Baltimore isn’t just another American city. It’s linked to our national anthem. It’s Edgar Allan Poe’s city. The first blood shed in the American Civil War was of pro-Confederate demonstrators whose “patriotic gore. . . flecked the streets of Baltimore.” Of course, the “Sage of Baltimore,” the greatest newspaperman this country ever produced, called it home.
Baltimore retains a special place — but of a different kind — in American culture. Baltimore wasn’t just the setting of the television series The Wire; the city was the main character . When Americans think of crime, corruption, and incompetence, they think of Baltimore. Once a unique and idiosyncratic place combining Southern tradition and Northern industry, the Charm City’s value now lies in its cautionary example.
Baltimore was not paradise before it became majority-black. In Mencken: The American Iconoclast, Marion Elizabeth Rodgers writes that Baltimore was the “largest unsewered city of the country” until the early 20th century and had “one of the largest urban black communities of the United States.” The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 also devastated the city. However, Miss Rodgers admired Baltimore’s fierce civic pride, prosperous merchants, and many parks. We could also add Baltimore’s patriotism. In 1914, Baltimore schoolchildren collected pennies to pay for a statue honoring the “Star-Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key. From 1910 to 1940, Baltimore was more than 80 percent white.
Some whites wanted it to stay that way. Even after The Great Fire, immigrants from overseas and whites and blacks from the South came looking for work. They created slums. A 1907 report called The Housing Conditions in Baltimore said black neighborhoods were especially bad. “This is not a study of social conditions,” it read, “but it is impossible to observe these gregarious, light-hearted, shiftless, irresponsible alley dwellers without wondering to what extent their failings are a result of their surroundings, and to what extent the inhabitants, in turn, react for evil upon their environment.”
Where blacks moved in, whites fled. In 1910, Councilman Samuel L. West, prompted by whites worried about a successful black lawyer moving into their neighborhood, introduced an ordinance that stated “no negro can move into a block in which more than half of the residents are white.” On a party-line vote (Democrats in favor, Republicans against), the ordinance passed, and Mayor J. Barry Mahool signed the “West Amendment.” It went through several revisions, but it was a model segregation law for other Southern cities.
However, organizers chipped away at it. The Baltimore Afro-American, the longest running black family-owned newspaper in the country, inveighed against it. In the 1920s, the Communist Party held interracial dances in the city. The NAACP was also active. In 1942, Private Thomas Broadus, a black soldier, argued with a white police officer. When Pvt. Broadus reportedly resisted arrest, the policeman shot and killed him. The result was the 1942 “March on Annapolis” by black civil rights groups, in which they called for more jobs and more black police and magistrates. Addressing Governor Herbert O’ Conor, one speaker said that appointing a “colored active magistrate” would mean the governor could write his name “among the immortals like Roosevelt, LaGuardia, Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson.” The march resulted in a 1943 state “Commission on Problems Affecting the Negro Population” that called for more jobs and other benefits for blacks.
In 1917, the NAACP, using a white plaintiff from Louisville, Kentucky, won the Supreme Court case Buchanan v. Warley, which ruled government-instituted racial segregation unconstitutional. However, restrictive covenants and what the Maryland Law Review called a “conspiracy which restrained residential sales or rentals to Negroes in white neighborhoods” prevented real integration. But in the end, the weight of numbers prevailed. Between 1930 and 1960, Baltimore’s black population grew from 142,000 to 326,000. During that time, the Supreme Court also outlawed restrictive covenants and segregation in public schools. In 1950, the white population was down to just 76 percent, and city schools “voluntarily” desegregated in 1954. White enrollment started falling in 1956, and the school system was majority black by 1960.
Around this time, blacks began a political takeover. In 1966, Victorine Quille Adams became the first black elected to the Baltimore City Council. Radical groups including Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee set up offices in 1968. That same year, blacks rioted after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Six people died, 700 were injured, and more than a thousand businesses were damaged or destroyed. The riots fueled white flight. Meanwhile, the black population almost doubled from 1950 to 1970. “Baltimore never really recovered from the riots,” said City Journal in 2005.
White flight hurt the city, but it increased black political power. In 1960, Baltimore was still 65 percent white. By 1970 it was about half white, and in 1980 it was just 43 percent white. Clarence Burns became Baltimore’s first black mayor in 1987, though he lost re-election to a fellow black, Kurt Schmoke. Mayor Schmoke got national headlines when he hired the Nation of Islam’s security agency to patrol public housing.
In 1991, the Baltimore City Council approved a plan to create five majority-black districts with just one white-majority district. Councilwoman Sheila Dixon took off her shoe and waved it at white colleagues, telling them that though they used to run things, “now the shoe is on the other foot.” Baltimore was less than 40 percent white.
A white Democrat, Martin O’Malley, succeeded Mayor Schmoke, but Miss Dixon succeeded him in 2007. She was the first of three successive black female mayors. Two — Miss Dixon and Catherine Pugh — resigned because of financial crimes. (A white reporter lost her job in 2019 when she noticed a pattern.) Another, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, presided over the 2015 Freddie Gray Riots, reportedly ordering police to stand down, and infamously saying, “We also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that.”
Baltimore was already struggling before the riots. The Wire depicted it as an irreformable wreck. In one scene, Detective Bunk Moreland drunkenly commiserates with his friend/partner Jimmy McNulty. “This city’s going to hell man,” he says grimly. “We’re going to push past 300 murders before New Year’s.”
That seemed nightmarish during the show’s run (2002–2008) but now sounds like a pleasant fantasy. The city has been losing people for decades, but homicides have been rising. In 2014, Baltimore police counted 211 homicides. In 2015, the year of the riots, there were 344. In 2016, they dropped to 318, but in 2017, were back up to 342. There were 309 homicides in 2018 and 348 homicides last year. That’s not the record, which was 353 homicides in 1993 — when the city had about 100,000 more people. This year, Baltimore is on pace to have more than 300 homicides for the sixth straight year. It may even break last year’s city record for the highest homicide rate per inhabitant.
The city’s overwhelmingly black leadership is fighting back — by removing statues. In 2017, after the Unite the Right march, then-Mayor Pugh ordered statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Confederate women, and Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney removed. That same month, men in hoodies smashed a monument to Christopher Columbus. On July 4 of this year, a mob dumped another monument to Columbus into the harbor, but the city fished it out.
Current Mayor Jack Young is grappling with soaring crime and the coronavirus. He says he’s “disappointed” with killers. In March, he begged citizens to stop shooting each other because city hospitals need beds for virus patients. The shooting only got worse. No wonder; the 2017 HBO documentary Baltimore Rising shows Baltimoreans cheering criminals and cursing cops.
Baltimore is almost a caricature of what a cynic would invent to lampoon a black-run city. “Ceasefires” keep failing. A candlelight vigil or a funeral is interrupted by gunshots. The (white) deputy police commissioner and his wife are mugged at gunpoint. Schools graduate “students” who miss more than 100 days of class, and in 13 schools, zero students are proficient in math — but the NAACP is worried that black girls are disciplined too often in class. The city even has a plague of rats; the political class and the media yelled when President Trump dared mention it.
Baltimore is an embarrassment beyond even Mencken’s cynical imagination. It’s straight out of a Poe horror story. And it’s the future that awaits unless we win — or at least carve out a space of our own.