Volume 36 - Article 57 | Pages 1759–1784  

Racial segregation in postbellum Southern cities: The case of Washington, D.C.

By John Logan


Background: Segregation in Southern cities has been described as a 20th-century development, layered onto an earlier pattern in which whites and blacks (both slaves and free black people) shared the same neighborhoods. Urban historians have pointed out ways in which the Southern postbellum pattern was less benign, but studies relying on census data aggregated by administrative areas – and segregation measures based on this data – have not confirmed their observations.

Methods: This study is based mainly on 100% microdata from the 1880 census that has been mapped at the address level in Washington, D.C. This data makes it possible to examine in detail the unique spatial configuration of segregation that is found in this city, especially the pattern of housing in alleys.

Results: While segregation appears to have been low, as reflected in data by wards and even by much smaller enumeration districts, analyses at a finer spatial scale reveal strongly patterned separation between blacks and whites at this early time.

Contribution: This research provides much new information about segregation in a major Southern city at the end of the 19th century. It also demonstrates the importance of dealing explicitly with issues of both scale and spatial pattern in studies of segregation.

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