by R. DARRYL FOXWORTH
I was born twenty-five years ago in Baltimore, nearly two decades after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ensuing race riots that would devastate the only city I have ever known, the only city I have ever loved.
So I do not have any intimate knowledge of legalized segregation and I, like every member of the so-called Post-Racial generation, am two generations removed from the Civil Rights Movement and its principal actors, Martin Luther King, Jr. being the most revered and lauded. Our lived experiences differ from generations past; our stories are wholly unique.
The story of my childhood, the story of my adult life, follows that of post Civil Rights, urban America. It is unlike the desolate fantasy found within the prose of Richard Wright’s Black Boy or Native Son. In the forty plus years since Dr. King’s death, some things have altered, changed, progressed; other things seem to have stagnated at best, deteriorated at worst. America’s cities are allegorical to this trend and Baltimore is a dilapidated example.
I experienced Baltimore from the perspective of the black working-class, spending my formative years tucked away in a working-class neighborhood in Upper Park Heights. I was largely detached from the Baltimore presented by writer David Simon, but it did not escape me, nor I it.
Baltimore, by and large, is a tale of two cities and the ‘best of times, worst of times’ description is as apt here today as it was in Dickens’ London:
There are areas of Baltimore that have experienced an urban renaissance spurred on by gentrification and city reinvestment, neighborhoods named Canton, Federal Hill, Roland Park.
But these are the parts of town that are foreign to the poor and underemployed minorities populating the city, who reside in neighborhoods that continue to erode from crime, violence, and poverty. The dichotomy is stark, and made even more obvious by the continued exodus of the black middle class, combined with the plateauing of the white middle class population: since 2000, the number of blacks residing in the city has fallen by nearly 17,000.
The inequities faced in the city can largely be seen through a racial lens: failing — though improving –, schools “educating” a largely minority student body; jailhouses overflowing with young black men; long-term disparities persisting amongst black and white Baltimoreans in health and illness.
It is in the cities that the Civil Rights dream continues to be deferred, and Baltimore is no different. It is a city that is nearly sixty-four percent African American and plagued by a devastatingly high concentration of poverty and all the adverse conditions that come along with it. Such grievous inequities and disparities require redress at all deliberate speed.
More than just celebrate and acknowledge the gains made since 1968, we must not rest on our laurels and consider the work complete. We have not achieved the “post-racial” ideal; there is much work to be done if places like Baltimore are to fully realize the democratic ideals courageously fought for by Dr. King, his contemporaries and their forebears.