Tracing the Lines of Racism: The Development of Racial Segregation in Harrisburg

Molly Elspas and Dr. Bernardo Michael, History, Messiah University, One College Ave 17055

Both academic and public sources have often characterized segregation in urban environments as de facto or done by coincidence, but there is growing evidence that local, state, and national organizations slowly established barriers to housing mortgages in an effort to maintain separation between both race and economic classes. Books like The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein and Sundown Townsby James W. Loewen demonstrate the presence of local housing restrictions and broad national policies that continue to have implications today. While national housing policies have been thoroughly examined, local laws and geographic developments vary from city to city. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania experienced structural upheaval due to movements like City Beautiful as early as 1900. The restructuring efforts implemented during the early 20th century combined with HOLC redlining policies forced many minority populations out of their residences into sequestered communities in the name of public beauty.

This project aims to analyze the relationships between redlining real estate maps, restrictive covenants, and unspoken racial divides which developed in Harrisburg to understand their adverse effects on the city’s African Americans. I plan to analyze census data from 1900-1940, tracking the movement of black residents across Harrisburg who were displaced by City Beautiful. I will incorporate data from maps and restrictive covenants from the Dauphin County Recorder of Deeds on these and other neighborhoods to demonstrate the limited access to housing stock outside of poorer wards or project housing. Examining the different levels of policies and mortgage maps available in this archive, I will search for further evidence of restrictive language present in Harrisburg neighborhoods. Calling attention to both the cultural and legal discrimination present in Harrisburg during the 20th century, I hope to create a glimpse into the challenges African Americans have faced for generations and are still feeling the effects of today.


Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Molly Elspas

Institution: Messiah University

Type: Poster

Subject: History

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 7
Date/Time: Tue 3:30pm-4:30pm
Session Number: 5164