The similarities between Jacksonville’s first comprehensive zone map and the red-bordered map of the city are striking.
JACKSONVILLE, Florida – Achieving racial justice requires difficult conversation and an appreciation of the systemic racism that has shaped the communities we live in.
As part of our Legacy of the Redline series, First Coast News sat down with Ennis Davis, a renowned local city planner with nearly two decades of study and work experience in the field.
Davis has an extensive knowledge of the history of Jacksonville’s development and how that development has affected the city’s black neighborhoods.
“Every single block, every single building, every single location has a story if we’re willing to listen and search for it,” said Davis. “Understanding the zoning and history, the evolution of the city, the guidelines we have and how they evolve over time can be a very important and important tool.”
For years Jacksonville’s oldest neighborhoods (many historically black communities) have lagged behind newer and more affluent areas incorporated into the city during consolidation.
Baked into the history of the city’s development, which dates back to the Jim Crow era, is a pattern of discriminatory politics that displaced the development from the predominantly black neighborhoods into white neighborhoods.
“And that forms the basis of which neighborhoods will be ‘redlined’ in the decades to come,” said Davis.
Jacksonville has a deep black history that spanned generations, with its own unique culture derived from the Gullah Geechee communities. The Gullah are a state-recognized group descended from formerly enslaved blacks who live along the southeastern Atlantic coast and share common traditions.
“Jacksonville has the greatest concentration of Gullah Geechee offspring in the United States, so it has a very unique history that cannot be found outside of this region,” said Davis. If you look at our street grid today, you notice that it kind of winds along the river. Many of our road networks and plazas are original land grants and plantations that existed before Jacksonville. “
Other aspects of the Gullah culture visible in Jacksonville are shotgun houses, which Davis said are a style called “southern man’s row house,” and foods like shrimp and grits and grill.
Understanding where many of the city’s racial differences come from means going back decades, Davis said.
Soldiers in black regiments of the Union Forces after the Civil War begin to settle in Jacksonville, which at the time was confined to the north bank of the St. Johns River.
Over the years, historically black neighborhoods like Lavilla begin to develop. After the Great Fire of 1901, Davis said Jacksonville would be known as the “Magical City” and a hub for blacks in the south.
“When you’re in a rural Black area, everyone wants to come here to find jobs and economic opportunities,” he said.
But as the city grew, the black population was limited to certain neighborhoods like Lavilla, Brooklyn, and the East Side. Other parts of the city, such as Downtown, Springfield, and Brentwood, developed into white neighborhoods.
Then, in the 1920s, Jacksonville was the first Florida city to develop a zone map as part of their comprehensive plan.
“This zone code is largely race-based,” said Davis. “Racist zoning was illegal at the time. But ‘Euclidean zoning’ or exclusive zoning was one way of getting around that.”
Davis said the code that classified the city’s black neighborhoods as “unrestricted” allowed a wide range of land uses in those areas that would not be allowed in white neighborhoods like Riverside.
“You could put your foundry next to someone’s house or open a slaughterhouse next to someone’s house,” he said. “So all the negative things that city leaders didn’t want to see in white neighborhoods like Ortega or Riverside or Murray Hill at the time. Those things weren’t allowed there.”
Because of the zoning, industry has been pushed into black quarters.
“So today you will find these old industrial sites, you will find contaminated sites, you will find that more in these black neighborhoods than in Riverside,” said Davis.
“There’s a reason certain neighborhoods look the way they do today. And that forms the basis of which neighborhoods will be redesigned over the next few decades.”
On the map below, the dark green areas are classified as “unlimited”.
The concept of “redlining” was a racist practice mainly used by government agencies to deny services such as mortgages in mostly black inner city neighborhoods.
Outlawed by a number of laws in the second half of the 20th century, redlining as a practice made black home ownership more difficult by making certain communities too risky to invest in.
“If it was a neighborhood they didn’t want to encourage investment in, it was classified as dangerous and colored red on the map,” Davis said. “Essentially, in the United States, not just Jacksonville, every black-majority neighborhood in a city was going red at this point.”
Davis said the “white escape” to the suburbs that led to the growth of areas like Arlington began following the passage of the GI bill that allowed returning WWII veterans to get low mortgage rates.
In Jacksonville, the 1957 “redlined” map of the city matches the “unrestricted” zoning areas on the city’s first zoning map.
“By systematic, discriminatory public policy and investment, you have constrained economic growth and opportunities in certain areas of the community to stimulate it in other areas,” noted Davis. “So those who have access to these other areas or who invest in these other areas see over time the generational wealth of these families in these communities.”
“If you come from a family that didn’t have that access and you were forced to be on the other side of town, you don’t have that generational wealth and that’s where the wealth gap comes from.”
And over time, other factors come into play that affect Jacksonville’s black neighborhoods, Davis said. For example, the establishment of the Interstate Highway System is being used as a method of “urban regeneration” by clearing the rot, Davis said. But the “rot” was often viewed as a black neighborhood.
“The tuber rot is usually thought of as the areas that were drawn in red,” he said. “They never got the investment to build the infrastructure or build the economy, the wealth of the people who live in those areas. Now areas where ownership is taken over a significant domain are not even getting for value of property is paid for. “
Davis said the construction of I-95 cut through some of Jacksonville’s black communities, affected places like Lavilla, and changed the city’s view of public policy and development.
Lavilla was the site of the first documented performance of the blues and the birthplace of the famous James Weldon Johnson, who composed “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” with his brother.
Today, what was once the bustling black neighborhood is largely a collection of empty fields in the shadow of downtown Jacksonville.
“The buildings didn’t have the same historical names or protective measures that enabled the redevelopment opportunities you find today in Riverside, Springfield, and downtown core,” said Davis.
Ultimately, it comes down to understanding and being aware of the history of racial discrimination and how its effects can be felt to this day.
“If I put a coal-fired power station next to your house and then I took your neighbor and dragged him across the river and I put a park next to his house and didn’t allow any industry to live there for 20 years, who do you think would be healthier Have lifestyle? ” asked David.
“If you take away the educational values and resources, if you take away the economic fabric of these neighborhoods, you end up in a position where there is not a lot of work,” he said. “They have an education system that the people growing up in these neighborhoods may not have trained to qualify for the jobs here.”
Today, First Coast News continues to explore Jacksonville’s past in hopes of creating a better future. And it starts with being aware and engaged.
“When trying to address issues within our community, we need to keep in mind that history plays a role in how we got to where we are today,” said Davis. “You can put as much money into an outcome as you want. But if you don’t change the cause, you won’t alleviate or solve the problem.”
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