The Public Interest

Blacks, Jews, and Neighborhood Change

Howard Husock

Spring 1992

NEIGHBORHOOD racial change, in the years since the Second World War, has arguably been the most gripping and important drama of American cities. The development and spread of overwhelmingly black neighborhoods in virtually all major northern cities has changed the calculus of political power, laid the basis for demands for school desegregation and political redistricting, and often rubbed raw the tensions between blacks and the ethnic groups that have preceded them. Such racial change has exposed blacks who seek housing in white neighborhoods to violent retaliation--predicated on the belief that the arrival of a single black family signals inevitable wholesale change and a decline in home values. It has appeared to confine new black homeowners, seeking to live in better neighborhoods, to areas where social problems have simply followed them. At the same time, it has left some whites, especially those elderly persons unwilling to uproot themselves, abandoned by their friends and the institutions that once served them. I can recall, as a teenager, visits to my aged Aunt Lillie on Cleveland's Hough Avenue, soon to give its name to one of the worst ghetto riots of the 1960s. The Jewish neighborhood had, from her point of view, simply vanished from around her: Hough Bakery no longer on the street of its name; the Tasty Shop delicatessen gone from 105th Street to a suburban shopping center; she behind a stark wooden door, the family on edge as we climbed the stairs of the apartment building.

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