BALTIMORE – Raymond Johnson, who spends 10 to 12 hours a day working as the assistant manager of the Stop, Shop & Save, had to stop and search his memory when asked about the race of customers.
One Indian, a couple of Asians and six or eight whites, Johnson said of shoppers at his store in Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood. The rest of his customers are black.
Johnson was pretty close to the mark. According to the 2000 Census, his store is just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the census tract with the highest percentage of African Americans in the state — 99.1 percent black.
Of the 1,523 people in Tract 1703, which is located less than a mile northwest of downtown Baltimore and Camden Yards, there are only seven whites, four Asians and one American Indian. The 11 Hispanics in the tract could be black or white.
The tract is bounded by Martin Luther King Boulevard, Pennsylvania Avenue, Lafayette Avenue, Fremont Avenue and a small slice of Franklin Street. Apartments, a church and a seniors’ high-rise line Pennsylvania Avenue. Older row houses crowd the central and western portion of the tract, and the southeast corner has been vacant since the 758-unit George B. Murphy housing project was demolished about three years ago.
Myrtle Scott, who lives in an apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue, said the census numbers sound about right. There are no Asians, no Indians and no whites in her apartment complex, she said.
“They don’t choose to live down this way,” Scott said.
Scott, who was raised in the neighborhood, guessed that the jazz and commercial life along Pennsylvania Avenue originally attracted African Americans to the area. More recently, she said it was the presence of the housing projects that kept people of other races away.
That may change now that the Murphy homes have been demolished and a new development called Heritage Crossing is scheduled to break ground in June. The developer is “working on getting a mix of people in the community” of 260 townhouses and semi-detached houses, said a company official.
“We don’t want to recreate what was there before,” said Chickie Grayson, president of Enterprise Homes Inc.
She said that economic and racial diversity leads to a more sustainable community. Enterprise is advertising in the downtown area and with large employers in an attempt to get a diverse community, she said.
Some city officials see decades of “white flight” as the reason for the lack of diversity in some Baltimore neighborhoods. Others said neighborhood composition has more to do economics than with segregation or discrimination.
“The people with more money, they live in a better neighborhood,” Johnson said.
Gloria Griffin, the manager of the strategic planning division at the city planning office, said that people in Baltimore “live where we want to live. . . where we can afford to live.”
“We would all like to see diverse communities,” she said. “That is the goal of the city administration.”
But Griffin said that in her experience, people in lower-income levels tend to be more segregated, and in a city that is 64 percent black, it is easier for less-diverse communities to exist.
Baltimore was the 17th-most segregated city among the 50 largest cities in the nation, according to a recent study by the Mumford Center at the University at Albany. And tract 1703 was the most segregated section of the city.
The Census Bureau uses a “diversity index” to determine the likelihood that two people plucked at random from the tract will be of different races. Tract 1703 has a score of 3 out of a possible 100 on that index, meaning that diversity is not very likely.
Scott said she hopes for more diversity in the tract, which has lost more than 3,200 residents over the last decade. She is particularly eager to see diversity among the younger residents — the Furman L. Templeton Elementary School, which straddles the northern boundary of the tract, is almost entirely black.
She said it is important for children to be exposed to other races and cultures early in life, so that they are better able to cope when the leave “the little ball” of their neighborhood. Kids don’t care about race, they “just want to play and get along,” Scott said.
“Diversity is better for everybody because you learn more,” she said. “You get a better sense of who you are.”