Special Report

16 Most Segregated Cities in America

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6. Memphis, TN-MS-AR
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 45.3%
> Black population: 46.6%
> Black poverty rate: 28.3%
> White poverty rate: 10.0%

Just over 50 years ago, iconic civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis. Today, the city is one of the most racially segregated in the country. Some 46.6% of the metro area’s black population live in majority-black neighborhoods. Like many other cities on this list, racial segregation in Memphis is due in large part to white flight to the city’s suburbs. As public school desegregation laws took effect in the 1970s, white families left inner city public school districts in Memphis.

The city’s majority-black neighborhoods are largely characterized by depressed real estate values and financial hardship. More than one in every three residents of the metro area’s majority-black neighborhoods lives in poverty, and about three out of four homes in these areas are worth less than $100,000. In comparison, just 12.3% of homes in the metro area’s majority-white neighborhoods are worth less than $100,000, and 7.4% of the population in these same neighborhoods lives in poverty.

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5. Jackson, MS
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 46.9%
> Black population: 49.1%
> Black poverty rate: 29.6%
> White poverty rate: 9.5%

The population of Jackson, Mississippi, is roughly equally split between black and white. While the metro area as a whole is racially balanced, on a community level, neighborhoods in Jackson are among the most racially homogenous in the country. Nearly 47% of black Jackson residents live in predominantly black neighborhoods, the fifth largest share in the country.

Other parts of Mississippi, a state with a long history of state sanctioned racism and segregation, are still grappling with issues related to school segregation. As recently as 2017, a school district in Cleveland, Mississippi, finally agreed to a court order to merge two high schools and two middle schools for the purposes of racial integration. The resolution comes after over 50 years of litigation.

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4. Niles-Benton Harbor, MI
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 47.4%
> Black population: 14.8%
> Black poverty rate: 41.7%
> White poverty rate: 12.7%

Niles-Benton Harbor, Michigan, is one of three metro areas in the Midwest to rank among the five most segregated in the United States. Of the nearly 23,000 black area residents, about 11,000 live in neighborhoods that are predominantly black. Research shows that high levels of segregation, particularly in schools, correlates with poor educational outcomes. In the Niles-Benton Harbor metro area, just 5.5% of adults in predominantly black neighborhoods have a four-year college degree compared to 28.6% of those living in mostly white areas. Similarly, just 70.5% of adults in black neighborhoods have a high school diploma compared to 91.4% of adults in white-majority neighborhoods.

As a whole, Michigan’s public school system is one of the most segregated in the country. According to a recent report from the Associated Press, 40% of black students in the state attend public schools that are at least 90% black, tied with Mississippi as the largest share among states.

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3. Pine Bluff, AR
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 48.2%
> Black population: 48.4%
> Black poverty rate: 34.1%
> White poverty rate: 16.3%

About 46,000 Pine Bluff residents are white, roughly the same as the number of black residents. Despite having a racially balanced population, the metro area has some of the most racially homogenous neighborhoods in the country. Some 48.2% of black residents live in mostly black neighborhoods, and 50.1% of white residents live in predominantly white areas.

Residents of majority-black neighborhoods in Pine Bluff are more likely to struggle with financial hardship and joblessness than those in white neighborhoods. Some 35.8% of residents of predominantly black neighborhoods live in poverty, more than double the poverty rate of 16.6% for the metro area’s white neighborhoods. Additionally, the unemployment rate of 15.4% in black neighborhoods is double the 7.7% rate in white neighborhoods.

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2. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 48.4%
> Black population: 16.9%
> Black poverty rate: 28.4%
> White poverty rate: 9.1%

Some 48.4% of black Chicago residents live in majority-black neighborhoods, the second largest share of any U.S. metro area. As is the case in many other Midwestern cities, segregation was deeply entrenched in Chicago by 1968, the year the Fair Housing Act — which prohibited practices of housing segregation based on race — was passed. During the Great Migration of the mid-20th century — when African Americans moved en masse from the rural South to cities in the Northeast and Midwest — low-cost public housing was intentionally kept out of even the poorest white neighborhoods, partly out of fear that the influx of new black residents would cause property values to depreciate. City policy has reinforced old patterns in recent years. Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing plan, for example, has heavily favored the city’s wealthy downtown over investments in poorer neighborhoods in the city’s South Side.

Residents of predominantly black neighborhoods in and around Chicago have limited access to jobs and quality education opportunities. Some 22.0% of the labor force in black neighborhoods is out of work, and just 84.0% of adults in the same parts of the city have a high school education. In comparison, unemployment in Chicago’s white neighborhoods stands at 6.0%, and nearly 93% of adults in those same neighborhoods have completed high school.

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1. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 53.6%
> Black population: 22.4%
> Black poverty rate: 31.9%
> White poverty rate: 11.0%

After the Great Migration of the mid-20th century, white Detroit residents — often with the help of city officials — fought to keep new black residents seeking factory jobs out of their neighborhoods. Segregation was exacerbated after WWII when deindustrialization began in Detroit and white residents moved to the city’s suburbs by the tens of thousands. Racial tensions stoked by segregation led to a riot in 1943 and an uprising in 1967 — each of which left dozens dead and hundreds injured.

Today, Detroit-Warren-Dearborn is the only metro area in the United States where over half of all black residents live in neighborhoods that are mostly black. Some 86.3% of homes in majority-black neighborhoods are worth less than $100,000 compared to just 26.7% of homes in majority-white neighborhoods. Employment opportunities also appear scarce in black neighborhoods as nearly a quarter of the workforce in those areas is unemployed compared to a 6.4% unemployment rate in the metro area’s white neighborhoods.

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