Sociology professor gives lecture on residential segregation in the South

Dr. John R. Logan speaks in Wood Hall on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015 about his research on residential segregation in the South. (Bailey Wright/The Daily Campus)

Dr. John R. Logan, hosted by the University of Connecticut History Department, provided insight into pre-Jim Crow residential segregation in the South to a crowd of students Friday afternoon in Wood Hall.

Logan, a professor of sociology at Brown University, conducted his research by putting census data on maps. This visual representation allowed him to closely examine and provide unique insights into the residential patterns of Southern blacks and whites following the Civil War. 

The presentation focused on the racial make-up of Southern cities in 1880, when the northern troops that had been stationed in the South after the Civil War were beginning to leave and segregationist governments were starting to form. Jim Crow was “just on the cusp,” according to Logan.

When Logan first started his research, the mainstream belief, furthered by historians like Doug Massey and Nancy Denton, was that before 1900, white and black people lived side-by-side in American cities. Supposedly, residential boundaries were not needed since white and black citizens operated on such different social levels.

From 1860-1870, following the Civil War, the urban black population experienced rapid growth as many freed slaves flocked from plantations to cities.

By 1880, “whatever happened to these people should’ve been pretty evident and firmly established,” Logan said. 

After mapping the census data, Logan came to a new conclusion: to understand the southern case, “it is necessary to think about the scale of segregation and also about its spatial configuration.” 

Rather than focusing on city “wards” of tens of thousands of people as previous researchers did, Logan focused on smaller features of the city, like alleys, backyards and side streets.

One of his studies was Blagden Alley in Washington, D.C.—a small, narrow street populated by black residents living in small buildings with dirt floors and outhouses. This cramped street was surrounded by a block of large, well-kept houses belonging mostly to whites. 

While, to some, it may have appeared that blacks and whites were living side-by-side, the neighborhood was actually highly segregated. 

“Maybe it’s not a great distance, but socially it’s not at all close. It’s a very strong boundary,” Logan said.

Another area Logan studied was 27 Kings Street in Charleston, a large brick house with smaller living quarters in its backyard that used to house slaves—a common pattern in the city. When blacks flooded Charleston following the Civil War, most could only afford to live in these cheap, leftover houses. 

While a few black families lived on the main streets of Charleston in 1880, the residents were mostly white. Only blacks resided in the backyard housing.

Logan’s last example was South Bethel Street in Baltimore. In 1880, this narrow street was populated by tiny two-story buildings that were filled with black families. This long, linear configuration of blacks extended several blocks. The streets on either side of South Bethel Street were wider, with bigger, nicer houses filled with mostly white residents. 

Because many Southern cities featured whites and blacks living in close proximity, many assumed they lived side by side. However, Logan’s mapped census data allowed him to take a closer look. It revealed the intense “Apartheid-level” segregation along smaller residential areas like alleys, backyards, and side streets—places most people would not think to take such a close look at.

By creating visual representations of census data, Logan said the groundbreaking research was “done in a way the qualitative people are not going to be able to dismiss.” 

Logan’s maps of Southern residential segregation in 1880 can be found here


Helen Stec is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at helen.stec@uconn.edu.