How Your City Came to Have a Black Side of Town

It Wasn't a Coincidence, it Was Municipal Planning

William Spivey
Momentum
Published in
11 min readNov 30, 2023

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Burns United Methodist Church — Des Moines By C. A. Tucker — Wiki Commons

If you live in a mid-sized city in the United States, chances are there is a Black side of town. Of course, there may be exceptions, such as West Virginia, Wyoming, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Iowa, which the census says are the areas with the largest share of white residents in America. But even these cities have sections, like what was once the Triangle District in Charleston, West Virginia, and the West Side, where much of the Black community resides. I once spent three days riding through Iowa on a bicycle from North to South and was surprised that I saw only one Black person during my travels. Yet, I’ve been told there are Black sides of town in Davenport, Des Moines, Waterloo, and elsewhere.

One shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that every black community is poor. Indeed, there are many doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals who live on the Black side of town. And Black entrepreneurs can be readily found. However, throughout American history, their efforts were often curtailed, as black entrepreneurial projects have become the target of attacks. The Greenwood District in Tulsa, OK (Black Wall Street); Seneca Village, NY; Rosewood, FL; Ocoee, FL; Wilmington, NC; and Oscarville, GA are noteworthy examples.

Where the Black side of town is in your city may depend on why your city exists in the first place and what industry dominates it. Many Southern towns evolved around agriculture, and Black neighborhoods developed to support the workforce. There might have been some degree of conscious choice and wanting to be near others like themselves, but often, it was a matter of where they were allowed to go or felt least threatened. Black sections were often near their workplace, which was to the advantage of the workers and employers. Many Black women once worked as domestics, needing to live close enough to the homes they worked in while not living too near. Public transportation to the Black communities was essential, as…

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William Spivey
Momentum

I write about politics, history, education, and race. Follow me at williamfspivey.com and support me at https://ko-fi.com/williamfspivey0680