Chapter 1.3: Negro Pioneers and White Flight



List of Tables, Maps, Illustrations, and Figures


1. Symbolism, Self and Urban Environment
    Residential Succession: How "Losers" Win
    Negro Pioneers and White Flight
    Relative Selectability among Minority Invaders
    Symbolic History and Self
    Symbolic History: Modern and Ancient Foundations

2. Self Selection and Urban Decay
    The Social Character of the Manor

3. Woodland to City Neighborhood: 300 Years of Change
    Indians, Geology and Transportation
    Protecting the Community: Covenant and Zoning
    Increasing Community Parameters

4. Invasion and Succession

    Irish and Italian Catholics
    Veterans: Undesirable Heroes
    Blacks and the Special Problems of Nonwhite Invaders
    Back to City Brownstones: A Confused Invasion
    The Invasion Mentality

5. Micrological Aspects of Urban Problems
    Involuntary Change: Aging and Death
    Attidues of Heirs
    Apartment Houses: The Big Change
    The Life of a Tenant and a Building
    Understanding Intricate Urban Problems

6. Stigma and Self-Image in the Inner City
    Achievement and Residentia Movement
    The Moral Careers of Inner-City Residents
    The Community Paradigm
    Implications and Applications


At least one major case study of residential succession involving blacks argues against the common sense assumption of the lower status of invading blacks who come into white neighborhoods. Northwood and Barth found that "Negro Pioneers," especially in the first wave of invaders, tend to be of higher socioeconomic status than their white neighbors.16 One must realize that the first blacks into a white neighborhood will have higher hurdles placed in their way than for incoming whites. Blacks will pay higher prices for homes, and, in general, be "more selected" and "acceptable" to dominant whites in the area. The invasion even of exceptional blacks into previously all-white areas does, however, result in symbolic effects that may eventually change the socioeconomic, as well as ethnic, character of the area. Experience shows that "integrated" neighborhoods become "nonwhite" neighborhoods over time.

It appears that only after a variable "Tipping Point" is reached does an area seem to take a general socioeconomic downturn. To most scientists the tipping point is a simple proportion of non-whites to total population in the area, after which the area slowly or rapidly becomes essentially all non-white.17 In symbolic terms the tipping point is the degree of stigma, or preponderance of negative definitions associated with non-white invasion, that changes the neighborhood from one that is contested to one that is uncontested. In other words, at some point whites lower the barriers for non-white invaders, and lower status invaders are allowed to pour, or trickle, in. It is at this symbolic juncture that the rapid deterioration of a neighborhood can take place.

This process of stigmatization of a community, and its expected advent, contaminates all those who occupy the stigmatized territory. At the "tipping point" the non-white pioneers join their earlier antagonists in contemplating, or actualizing, flight from the area. This results in a sort of hesitating or sporadic flight rather than a steady exodus, and is more typical of actual neighborhood change. The study at hand, which focuses on the symbolic elements of neighborhood succession, should lead to a more reasonable explanation of the physical and social deterioration that has been correlated with non-white movements within the nation's inner cities, urban, fringe and, in the future, suburban areas.

The delayed flight process from contested areas is one of the complicated social and psychological phenomena that are likely to be obscured by urban studies based on decennial census data. In my own experience, and those of others who have intensively studied changing inner city neighborhoods, it appears that non-white pioneers of high status and lower status late arrivals are seldom separated by more than four or five years. Many of the families I have met, for example, have been "pioneers" two or more times within a decade and have subsequently fled from "changed" city neighborhoods.

Given the wide-spread practices in the real estate industry of racial steering, block-busting and other sales-producing tactics, the pace of racial turnover can vary greatly; most often it comes in surges. Therefore, reliance on decennial data can result in erroneous conclusions about the process of change in a neighborhood. This problem is in addition to the notorious inaccuracy of small-scale census data, and information collected in non-white urban areas.

There are other aspects of residential change in the inner city that require more intensive study. For example, a slow rate of home sales in an area can still coincide with a high rate of ethnic change. Often non-white invaders are the only prospective buyers, and whites the only sellers, of neighborhood property. Many of the residential blocks I have researched in the city had rather "normal" turnover rates; approximately four percent per year, but due to racial steering by white and black real estate agents during a ten-year period they shifted from being predominately white to being predominately black. On these residential streets there was no "panic," which is the common picture presented of invaded areas. Perhaps for the word "invasion" should be substituted "occupation" as a term to describe change in these communities. Such a change in terminology might also help to reduce the inherent bias in research on changing communities.

An additional factor that tends to increase the perception of rapid change in contested areas is that non-white invaders tend to have more members in their households, which more quickly reverses racial population balances in a community. Often larger black families replace older single or two-person white households. Invading non-white adults, being younger than dominant whites and having children who are likely to play on the streets, also tend to be more "visible" in the community. The degree of perceived ethnic change in an area becomes even greater than the real numbers would prove it actually to be.

<< To Ch. 1.2 | To Ch. 1.4 >>

Notes to Chapter 1.3

16. Northwood and Barth (1965).

17. For "tipping point" see: Wolf (1967, 1968). Relatedly see Deutsch and Collins (1951).

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