Blacks less eager for housing integration Equal opportunity is more important

July 07, 1991|By James Bock

It was on a ball field at Patterson Park that William Warfield and Moses Jackson Jr. began their unlikely friendship.

Unlikely because Bill Warfield, 34, and Moe Jackson, 31, both Baltimoreans, live in different worlds.

Mr. Warfield, a rigger at a Bethesda naval research center, lives in a nearly all-white neighborhood south of the park in East Baltimore. Mr. Jackson, a forklift operator at a Hampden bottling plant, resides in an almost all-black area off Frankford Avenue in Northeast Baltimore.

Now, five years after they met, the two men coach their 13-year-old sons' team, the Yankees, in the Highlandtown Exchange Club league, and Mr. Warfield says, pointing to Moe Jackson, "I'm 34 years old; I've met a lot of people; and here's my best friend right here."

Yet, except for the nights when young Shawn Jackson spends the night at friend Nolan Warfield's house or vice versa, the families return to virtually segregated neighborhoods when the games are over.

Baltimore area whites and blacks have learned to work and even play with each other, but they rarely live together in stable,

integrated neighborhoods.

"It is the keystone of my faith in the future that we will someday achieve a thoroughly integrated society," the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1965.

More than a quarter-century later, that society is hard to visualize.

And the ideal of integrated living now ranks low among the priorities of many civil rights and neighborhood activists.

They are more concerned with jobs, families, schools, crime, low-cost housing and what Dr. King called "the powerlessness of the oppressed people who inhabit our slums and ghettos."

"I'm not sure integration is what we're looking for. What we're looking for is equal opportunity and open housing," said George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"I want to see everything my money can afford. Let me make the choice where to live. Most blacks choose to live around people they identify with," said Mr. Buntin, who lives in a predominantly black inner-city neighborhood.

Among the arguments made by some blacks against integration are that it dilutes black voting strength, erodes black identity and robs poor city neighborhoods of potential leaders.

Gary Rodwell, lead organizer of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development and a resident of the integrated Ednor Gardens area near Memorial Stadium, said many blacks are ambivalent about integration now because "segregation was a double-edged sword."

Segregation was a cruel symbol of inequality, Mr. Rodwell said, TC but it also created stable black neighborhoods with vibrant local economies, where "young kids growing up could see the work ethic. There was hope that there was a way out."

"Integration provided the opportunity to live in 'better surroundings,' but it also contributed to the disintegration of our communities," Mr. Rodwell said. "The achievement of separate but equal in some ways could certainly bear as much fruit as integration. But to this point it hasn't taken place. Usually separate means unequal."

Martin A. Dyer, associate director for fair housing of Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc., still believes that integrated living can help create a race-blind society. He lives in Windsor Hills, a neighborhood on the city's western border that has striven to remain integrated.

"Segregation tends to be most concentrated among people who don't live that way by choice. They can't afford to live anywhere except in ghettos where only blacks live," Mr. Dyer said.

"Segregated neighborhoods breed the worst kinds of social and economic problems, including a we-they mentality, blacks against whites, whites against blacks," he said. "Integrated living is the only way that people become aware that they share much more in common than they don't."

What is an "integrated" neighborhood in a city that is nearly 60 percent black? Perhaps the most workable definition is a neighborhood that attracts white and black homebuyers in healthy numbers.

By that definition, Windsor Hills, a woodsy, mostly black neighborhood of rambling, turn-of-the-century houses mixed with modest Cape Cods, is integrated.

The key to Windsor Hills' integration, Mr. Dyer and other residents say, is that some white residents chose to stay when the neighborhood was becoming increasingly black -- and that they encouraged white friends to buy houses there.

"Many blacks are disturbed by the idea of looking specifically for a certain racial group to move in," Mr. Dyer said. "I happen to believe the only way integration is maintained is if that kind of control is exercised."

William Obriecht, a Baltimore County advocate of integration from Woodlawn, said promoting racial balance is "touchy" because "everybody knows that what you're saying is that you can't have too many blacks. The next question is, what's wrong with an all-black community?"

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