Segregation Today: How Past Housing Policies Affected Little Rock's Racial Landscape

May 19, 2014

Downtown Little Rock c. 1958.
Credit Library of Congress Prints and Photographs

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, initiating efforts to integrate schools around the country and especially in the American South where black and white children received largely unequal opportunities for education.

Today, traces of segregation still remain. In the city of Little Rock, African American neighborhoods remain largely segregated from white ones. As a result of the federal Housing Act of 1949, communities around the nation and in Little Rock went through a period of 'Slum Clearance' or so-called “Urban Renewal.”

In Arkansas's capital city beginning in the early 1950's, housing policies led to effective racial discrimination, as several African-American neighborhoods were identified as “slums,” demolished and gradually moved to the eastern part of the city while white communities shifted to the west.

Compared to the Little Rock's well-documented Central High School integration crisis of 1957 and the desegregation controversies that followed, John Kirk, chair of the History Department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock writes:

...the city’s most decisive response to Brown v. Board of Education was in fact the pre-emptive strategy of slum clearance and urban redevelopment in the early 1950s rather than the massive resistance of the later 1950s. Without doubt, this policy shaped race relations in the city more fundamentally over the long-term, even up to the present day, than the short-term effects of the school crisis.

Kirk joined KUAR's Chris Hickey to further discuss this issue. You can hear the discussion below.

Kirk and UALR Geography professor Jess Porter will be giving a presentation Monday at 6 pm on race and Little Rock neighborhoods at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library. The library is located at 4800 W 10th Street.