March for Fair Housing / Dynamite Hill Sign
Location: From 8th Street West & Center Street
Jim Crow laws were designed to keep Blacks and Whites separate at all times. In the early 1900s, American cities created rules called zoning that allowed local governments to control how lands within their borders could be used. Zoning laws could limit the type, size and location of buildings on local lands. Cities across the country, particularly in the South, used zoning to create separate residential areas for Blacks and Whites. In 1917, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race-based zoning was unconstitutional. But some cities, especially those with growing African American populations, essentially continued the practice of racial segregation using zoning and urban planning.
From the 1890s to the early 1960s, nearly 50 percent of Birmingham’s population was Black. But only 15 percent of city land was zoned for them. Most of the areas where they were forced to live were often located in undesirable areas: next to railroad tracks, heavy industrial complexes and flood-prone creeks. The rest and the best of Birmingham’s residential areas were zoned for Whites.
Tired of being forced to live in slums and crowded neighborhoods, some middle-class Black families took matters into their own hands. In the late 1940s, they began building and buying houses near White-zoned neighborhoods in the hills of North Smithfield. From 1946 to 1951, Blacks who were denied access to homes and land because of their race turned to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to successfully challenge Birmingham’s unconstitutional zoning laws.