16 Most Segregated Cities in America

July 20, 2018 by Sam Stebbins

Source: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The United States Supreme Court stated in no uncertain terms in 1954 that a racially segregated school system deprives minority children of equal educational opportunities. While it has been well over half a century since that decision was handed down in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, cities across the country remain heavily racially segregated.

Throughout much of the first half of the 20th century, racial segregation in the United States was the law of the land. Though many racist policies were reversed during the civil rights era in the latter half of the century, government officials, banks, and businesses often worked to perpetuate racial segregation through subtler means.

The lasting ramifications of such policies are still evident today, particularly in several major metropolitan areas. In the most segregated American cities, majority-black neighborhoods are more likely to struggle with poverty, limited job opportunities, depressed real estate values, and lower educational attainment rates than majority-white neighborhoods in the same city — as well as predominantly black communities in other less segregated cities.

24/7 Wall St. calculated the percentage of black residents who live in predominantly black census tracts — where at least 50% of the population is black — to identify the most segregated cities in America.

While the majority of the most segregated metro areas are in southern states, the two most segregated American cities are in the Midwest.

Click here to see the 16 most segregated cities in America.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.

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16. Shreveport-Bossier City, LA
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 39.9%
> Black population: 39.1%
> Black poverty rate: 34.0%
> White poverty rate: 12.1%

As far back as 1974, Shreveport ranked as one of the most segregated cities in America. Today, some 39.9% of African Americans in the Shreveport-Bossier City metro area live in predominantly black neighborhoods — neighborhoods in which at least 50% of residents are also black. Nationwide, 18.1% of African Americans live in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Largely black area neighborhoods include Ledbetter Heights, Allendale, and Mooretown. Historically, black neighborhoods have been demolished in cities across the country to make way for infrastructure and public works projects. In Shreveport, the pattern appears to be continuing. Public officials recently voted to proceed with the construction of a 3.5-mile connector highway through the Allendale neighborhood, which, according to a recent report by the public interest advocacy groups U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group, would require the demolition of at least one church and 50 homes.

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15. St. Louis, MO-IL
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 40.2%
> Black population: 18.3%
> Black poverty rate: 28.8%
> White poverty rate: 8.6%

Some 40.2% of African Americans in the St. Louis metro area live in predominantly black neighborhoods, more than twice the national share of 18.1%. Racial segregation in St. Louis is largely demarcated by Delmar Boulevard, a road running east-west through the city that divides the black-majority neighborhoods in the north from the the white-majority neighborhoods in the south.

Segregation can exacerbate socioeconomic disparities by race, as majority-black neighborhoods are often lower income and have less access to employment and education opportunities. While in St. Louis some 12.4% of residents living in predominantly black neighborhoods have a bachelor’s degree, 34.0% of residents of majority-white neighborhoods do. Additionally, one in every three households in majority-black neighborhoods live below the poverty line compared to 8.4% of households in majority-white neighborhoods.

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14. Lake Charles, LA
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 40.5%
> Black population: 24.1%
> Black poverty rate: 29.8%
> White poverty rate: 12.2%

Some 40.5% of black residents in Lake Charles live in predominantly black neighborhoods, more than double the 18.1% national share. Residential segregation often further entrenches racial disparities in educational attainment, income, and unemployment. In Lake Charles, some 12.9% of black adults have a bachelor’s degree, far less than the white college attainment rate of 22.5%. Within predominantly black neighborhoods, just 8.5% of black adults have a bachelor’s degree. The typical black household in Lake Charles earns $29,712 a year, nearly $24,000 less than the typical white household in the metro area. Additionally, the black unemployment rate of 12.0% is far above the white unemployment rate of 5.7% in the city.

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13. New Orleans-Metairie, LA
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 40.7%
> Black population: 34.9%
> Black poverty rate: 30.2%
> White poverty rate: 10.8%

The New Orleans-Metairie metro area was the site of one of the most high-profile school desegregation crises during the 1960s. Tensions between the city’s white and black communities escalated into full-scale riots and required the intervention of armed federal marshals to protect black students. To this day, the metro area remains one of the most segregated in the country. Some 40.7% of black residents in the city live in neighborhoods in which a majority of residents are also black, far more than the 18.1% national average.

A recent report from The Data Center, a policy organization focused on Southeast Louisiana, identified some of the largest factors contributing to segregation in New Orleans today. Among them are the city’s long history of racial zoning ordinances, pre-Katrina housing conditions that left black families more vulnerable to flooding and more likely to experience long-term displacement after the storm, and post-Katrina housing policies tied to pre-hurricane housing values that favored wealthy, white neighborhoods over poorer, black neighborhoods.

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12. Macon, GA
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 40.9%
> Black population: 44.7%
> Black poverty rate: 36.3%
> White poverty rate: 13.0%

While nationwide some 18.1% of African Americans live in majority-black neighborhoods, in Macon 40.9% of black residents live in predominantly black neighborhoods. Residential segregation in Macon has likely contributed to segregation in the city’s school system. According to local newspaper The Telegraph, the number of white students relative to black students at Bibb County public schools fell by more than 40% over the last 20 years. As of 2016, black students outnumbered white students or white students outnumbered black students by a ratio greater than two to three in 29 of the 35 schools in the Bibb County School District.

Segregation in the city’s school system likely exacerbates gaps in educational attainment. While fewer than three out of four adults in predominantly black neighborhoods in Macon have a high school diploma, 89.1% of adults in the metro area’s majority-white neighborhoods do.

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11. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 41.1%
> Black population: 12.2%
> Black poverty rate: 35.5%
> White poverty rate: 9.5%

A recent report by community-based think tanks Partnership for the Public Good and Open Buffalo identified some of the key factors contributing to segregation in Buffalo. Like in many Rust Belt cities, white homeowners increasingly used restrictive covenants in property deeds after explicit racial zoning on the city level was banned. White flight to the Erie County suburbs in the 1950s left many of the city’s black residents concentrated in downtown Buffalo. Additionally, the construction of the Kensington Expressway from 1957 to 1971 displaced a large number of poor black families and physically cut off many of the neighborhoods in the East Side district from the rest of the metro area.

Today, some 41.1% of the black population in the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls metro area live in majority-black neighborhoods, one of the largest shares in the country. Several socioeconomic measures highlight significant racial disparities. For example, the median household income and college attainment rate for white residents in the city are more than double the corresponding measures for black residents.

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10. Cleveland-Elyria, OH
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 42.5%
> Black population: 20.0%
> Black poverty rate: 33.4%
> White poverty rate: 9.7%

Some 42.5% of black residents in the Cleveland-Elyria metro area live in majority-black neighborhoods, the 10th largest share of any major city. The city has large racial disparities in a number of measures related to well-being, with median household income and the college attainment rate for white residents more than doubling the corresponding measures for black residents.

Cleveland’s history of racial segregation is similar to that of many Rust Belt cities. For example, the Home Owners Loan Corporation made detailed maps of neighborhood racial composition and the Federal Housing Administration used them in assessments of neighborhood desirability from the 1930s to the 1960s. This led to reduced investment in predominantly black neighborhoods. Many of the neighborhoods with the largest shares of black residents today are located in East Cleveland.

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9. Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 42.6%
> Black population: 29.0%
> Black poverty rate: 19.2%
> White poverty rate: 6.8%

Segregation in the Baltimore metro area is largely the product of government policy in decades past. In 1911, it was illegal for a black family to move to a block that was over 50% white and for a white family to move to a block that was over 50% black. After such practices were deemed unconstitutional, white homeowners in parts of the city signed covenants to keep black households out. Race-based housing policy continued to reinforce segregation in later years as black families were often unfairly denied mortgage loans.

Today, 42.6% of the metro area’s black population lives in majority-black neighborhoods that are more likely to have limited job opportunities and widespread financial hardship. Some 24.0% of residents of predominantly black neighborhoods live in poverty, more than four times the poverty rate of 5.6% across the metro area’s white neighborhoods. Additionally, the unemployment rate of 13.6% in black neighborhoods is more than double the 4.8% jobless rate in white neighborhoods.

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8. Monroe, LA
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 43.8%
> Black population: 36.0%
> Black poverty rate: 42.2%
> White poverty rate: 14.3%

Of the four Louisiana metro areas to make this list, Monroe is the most segregated. Nearly 44% of the metro area’s black residents live in majority-black neighborhoods, a larger share than in all but seven other metro areas nationwide. Economic conditions in the city’s black neighborhoods are far worse than in predominantly white areas. For example, 47.9% of the population in the majority-black neighborhoods in Monroe live in poverty, and the homeownership rate is just 35.8%. Across the metro area’s white neighborhoods, 13.8% of the population live in poverty, and the homeownership rate is 76.1%.

Lower homeownership rates and higher poverty rates in black neighborhoods are likely attributable in part to limited employment opportunities. In Monroe, some 18.5% of the workforce in majority-black neighborhoods are unemployed, more than double the 4.6% unemployment rate in majority-white neighborhoods.

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7. Albany, GA
> Black ppl. in black neighborhoods: 44.3%
> Black population: 53.1%
> Black poverty rate: 36.0%
> White poverty rate: 12.7%

Albany, Georgia, was the site of one of the earliest mass movements in the civil rights era. From late 1961 to mid-1962, the Albany Movement’s goal of desegregation of the area’s public spaces drew the involvement of such prominent leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. Ultimately, the movement ended without success, and though state-sanctioned racial segregation was rolled back throughout the 1960s, Albany remains one of the most segregated metro areas in the country.

Some 53.1% of the population of Albany are black, the largest share of any metro area in the country. Of the city’s black residents, 44.3% live in majority-black neighborhoods. The metro area’s black neighborhoods are largely characterized by depressed property values and joblessness. Some 72.7% of homes in black neighborhoods are worth less than $100,000, and 23.9% of workers in black neighborhoods are unemployed. In comparison, in Albany’s white neighborhoods, just 47.0% of homes are worth less than $100,000, and 8.5% of workers are unemployed.

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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.

Detailed Findings

Throughout the 20th century, white neighborhoods in cities throughout the country worked to keep black families out. In Baltimore, a law enacted in 1911 forbade black families from moving to blocks where half of all households were white. When the Supreme Court found such laws to be unconstitutional, homeowners signed covenants to keep black households out. Similarly, in many other cities with deeply entrenched segregation, real estate agents believed racial segregation was necessary to keep property values on an upswing.

In many cities on this list, including Chicago, segregation was already deeply rooted before 1968, the year congress enacted the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited practices of housing segregation based on race by landlords, local governments, and bank lenders. These cities generally remained highly segregated, and in some cases grew even more so. Meanwhile, cities with black populations that grew rapidly after the Fair Housing Act have become less racially segregated in recent decades.

Just as stark as racial segregation are the disparities in socioeconomic outcomes along racial lines in the cities on this list. For example, majority-black neighborhoods in the cities on this list are characterized by higher unemployment. The unemployment rate for majority-black neighborhoods is more than double that of majority-white neighborhoods in every city on this list.

Majority-black neighborhoods in these metro areas are also characterized by depressed real estate values. The share of homes in black neighborhoods worth less than $100,000 is greater than the share of such homes in majority-white neighborhoods in every metro area on this list.

Neighborhoods that are mostly black in segregated cities also tend to have lower real estate values than neighborhoods of predominantly black residents in less segregated cities. Baltimore, Chicago, and New Orleans are the only metro areas to rank among the most segregated in the country where a smaller share of homes in predominantly black neighborhoods are worth less than $100,000 than the 51.5% national share.

In American public schools, segregation is tied to lower achievement. Nationwide, 82.1% of adults in majority-black neighborhoods have a high school diploma. Only two of America’s 16 most segregated metro areas have a greater high school attainment rate across majority-black neighborhoods than the U.S. as a whole.

Methodology

To identify America’s most segregated cities, 24/7 Wall St. calculated the percentage of metropolitan area black residents who live in predominantly black census tracts — statistical subdivisions with an average of about 4,000 people. The greater the share of black metro residents living in the area’s racially homogenous neighborhoods, the greater the degree of segregation. We only considered census tracts with at least 500 residents. Population data are based on five-year estimates through 2016 from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. For the purpose of this story, we only considered segregation of white and black populations.

We also reviewed median household income, poverty rates, educational attainment rates, unemployment rates, and homeownership rates among black and white populations in each metro area from the ACS. All data are five-year estimates.