By Chris Hoenig
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream with America 50 years ago, undisguised segregation was the norm. In schools and bathrooms, on buses and at water fountains, overt racial division was not just accepted, it was advertised.
Dr. King’s goal was simple: absolute equality. “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together,” he professed from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Fifty years later, the most obvious forms of discrimination are outlawed. But the work of a University of Virginia researcher gives a powerful view of what segregation looks like today. Dustin Cable of UVa’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service used data from the 2010 U.S. Census to create a map showing the racial and ethnic makeup of the country, right down to individual blocks within a city.
Nearly 309 million individual dots make up the map, each representing one American. The dots are color-coded based on race and ethnicity: blue dots represent white Americans, green dots represent Blacks, red is used for Asians, orange for Latinos and brown for “other” racial categories. The results speak for themselves.
In perhaps the most striking image example of segregation in the country, a single road–the infamous 8 Mile–separates Blacks and whites in the Motor City. More than 80 percent of the city’s nearly 750,000 residents are Black, a major shift from the decades leading up to Dr. King’s speech: In 1940, more than 90 percent of Detroit’s population was white.
New York City
America’s largest city is also one of the most diverse. But while Cable’s map is colorful, showcasing the diversity, his work also shows the obvious segregation within the Big Apple. With the exception of Chinatown, most of Manhattan below 125th Street is white, as are large swaths of Brooklyn and Staten Island. Black families are largely in Harlem and Queens. The Bronx is home to a diverse population, except for whites.
The City of Brotherly Love has a very concentrated population. Center City is largely white, with Black and Latino families living mainly in North Philly and to the west of downtown. Philadelphia’s suburbs also find themselves segregated: Willingboro, N.J. (middle right of image, directly below Burlington), is about 20 miles from Philadelphia. More than 75 percent of the town’s population is Black.
Atlanta, Washington, D.C.
Two other cities with large, mostly Black middle-class suburbs are Atlanta (above) and Washington, D.C. (below). But in both cases, white and Black families settle on opposite sides of the city. In Atlanta’s case, southern and eastern suburbs are mainly Black, while whites live to the north. Washington’s suburbs segregate from east to west, with Black families to the south and east, and white families to the west. Latino families settle largely to the southwest of the city.
Two of America’s larger cities are also some of the most segregated. In Chicago (above), the South Side is one of the largest majority-Black regions in any U.S. city. West Garfield Park and other surrounding neighborhoods are also largely Black, separated from the South Side by an area that is mostly Latino. Whites live mostly to the north of the city.
Boston’s Black population (below) is also segregated to the south of the city, in the Dorchester area. Latinos live to the northeast of the city, while whites live in the northern and western suburbs.
While the neighborhoods just west of the city are extremely diverse, Cleveland’s Black population–which makes up more than half of the city’s total population–is otherwise concentrated almost exclusively on the East Side. Almost all of the city’s Latino residents live in the diverse western neighborhoods, while whites live outside the city is southern and far western suburbs.
Though they are among America’s most diverse cities, Cable’s maps of Los Angeles (above) and Miami (below) paint clear pictures of how people of different races and ethnicities segregate. L.A.’s map looks like a color wheel: South Central Los Angeles is largely Black (green dots), while the southwestern communities are almost exclusively Latino (orange dots). The city’s Asian community (red dots) lives to the northeast, and whites (blue dots) live to the east and southeast.
Miami’s color map, meanwhile, looks like a fade. The Latino community is concentrated in the south, whites to the north and Blacks living in between.
Cable’s interactive map, where all of the above images are from, can be accessed on the Cooper Center’s website.