Montgomery Planning's web generated map highlighting subdivisions with racial covenants.

A Montgomery County planning effort is looking into factors that saw Black residents drop from 36% of the population in 1890 to 3% in 1960.

The Mapping Segregation Project, created in July 2021, aims “to explore the history of patterns of segregation inside the Capital Beltway of Montgomery County” by investigating the county’s history of spatial discrimination and its effect on present and future development, according to the Montgomery Planning official website.

“One of the project goals was to ground what we already knew about the policies of racial exclusion with the factual data within the land records of Montgomery County so we could help to tell the specific stories of these communities,” said Rebeccah Ballo, Historic Preservation Office Supervisor.

The project ties into the planning department’s Equity Agenda for Planning, which aims to combat institutional racism, which has existed in past and present planning projects, and prevent it from impacting future master plans.

“I commend our Historic Preservation Office staff for their work on the Mapping Segregation Project,” said Acting Planning Director Tanya Stern. “We have completed the first steps towards a more accurate understanding of Montgomery County’s history of restrictive covenants that prevented Black, Jewish, and Asian-American residents from living in certain parts of the county during the 20th Century.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Montgomery Chapter told Bethesda Beat in an email response that it was encouraged to see the Planning Board’s initiative.

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“Members of the Black community have long known about the use of deeds and covenants to exclude us from many areas of the county well into the 1970s. We know and have experienced this kind of discrimination as well as the redlining which devalued our communities,” the email stated.

“And while we applaud the effort to make these historical truths known to a larger audience, it is unclear how the exposure of these facts will be used to bring about current policies and programs that undo this history and address the continuing vestiges of segregation and discrimination,” the organization stated.

NAACP officials stated while the mapping project was a good first step, much more remained to be done, and they looked forward to working with the Planning Board, the County Council, and the County Executive, to bring about social justice and equity in housing policy in Montgomery County.

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The findings of the project focused on African American, Jewish and Asian residents.

The study did not include the Latinx population, that currently makes up 20.1% of Montgomery County as of 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Planning officials said there was no discussion of the Latinx population in this project because this group was not mentioned in the racial covenant language in the land records for the time period the project covers.

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The three key findings of phase one of the project as stated in the briefing were:

  1. Throughout the 20th century, real estate developers in the county employed “racial restrictive covenants” and other forms of de-facto and codified segregation to restrict Black, Jewish and Asian residents in buying houses and setting up residence in certain areas.
  2. Even where legally codified racism was absent, homeowners, landowners and developers still voluntarily discriminated against racial minorities through violent threats and actions. This racial bias, in turn, prevented the Black community in building intergenerational wealth through home ownership at the same rate as their white peers. It also likely stunted the growth of the African American populace in the county.
  3. The Mapping Segregation Project contributes to a more accurate, informed and documented understanding of the county’s history of racial segregation. The data will be mapped and available for the public to look through. The availability of the data from this project will also help inform experts as well as other policy and planning initiatives in the future and advance the Equity Agenda for Planning.