Antero Pietila has had a front-row seat on the struggle for racial equality for four decades.
A native of Finland–a homogenous society where eye and hair color were the main distinction among its people and blacks were non-existent–Pietila visited America in 1964 and immersed himself in the polyglot whirlwind of New York City.
After receiving a masters in journalism from Southern Illinois University, Pietila joined the Baltimore Sun in 1969, when the city– and the nation–was still raw from the assassination of Martin Luther King.
As a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, Pietila covered civil rights protests, Ku Klux Klan cross burnings, school desegregation, and the anti-war movement.
In 1980, Pietila went to Johannesburg to establish the Sun’s bureau in South Africa, from which he documented the last days of Apartheid.
Pietila’s first book, Not in My Neighborhood (now in its second printing), documents the process of succession–the evolution of neighborhoods as generations of different ethnic and racial groups move in and out.
Bigotry, according to Pietila’s book, has had a profound influence on the movement of communities and the growth of cities. Although it could have been written about any major U.S. city, Pietila’s case study of Baltimore brings to life the transitions that neighborhoods underwent in a way that is close to home.
Pietila’s meticulous research unearthed fascinating facts and anecdotes. Not in My Neighborhood is required reading for anybody who loves Baltimore and wonders how things came to be the way they are today.
From Not in My Neighborhood:
McCulloh Street was at the racial divide. Although Eutaw Place glistened two blocks to the east, only a narrow alley separated whites from the backyards of Druid Hill Avenue blacks. That was not the only thing that unnerved would-be renters and buyers….The more the street became viewed as Jewish, the fewer non-Jewish homebuyers and renters chose to live there. By 1910, with blacks advancing, even McCulloh Street’s Jewish real estate market had collapsed.
It is impossible to estimate how much of this collapse was due to suburbanization and how much to aversion to Jews and fear of blacks. This much is known: the white abandonment was so severe that of a citywide total of 5,655 vacant houses, 1,407 were located in a west Baltimore district that included McCulloh Street, the highest number in any of the eight sections recorded. A peculiar Baltimore real estate tradition was born. A dual real estate market was a fact of life in many American cities–one for whites and a separate one for blacks. In Baltimore, a third separate market emerged. It served Jews who were prohibited by custom from residing in neighborhoods east of the Jones Falls, a stream that divided the city, and from many west side areas as well.
McCulloh Street introduced a succession pattern that would shape Baltimore: neighborhoods first transitioned from non-Jewish to Jewish and then to African Americans. When Jewish neighborhoods adjoining black districts experienced slumps in demand, some strapped property owner–who may or may not have been Jewish–eventually tapped an eager clientele: blacks. Once a neighborhood was “broken,” others felt free to sell or rent to blacks.