How Black cartographers put racism on the map of America

By derek h. alderman and joshua f.j. inwood5 minute Learn

How can maps struggle racism and inequality?

The work of the Black Panther Party, a Nineteen Sixties- and Nineteen Seventies-era Black political group featured in a new movie and a documentary, helps illustrate how cartography—the apply of making and utilizing maps—can illuminate injustice.

As these movies present, the Black Panthers targeted on African American empowerment and community survival, working a various array of programming that ranged from free school breakfasts to armed self-defense.

Cartography is a much less documented side of the Panthers’ activism, however the group used maps to reimagine the cities where African Americans lived and struggled.

The Black Panthers’ proposed police districts for the metropolis of San Francisco, created in 1966 or 1967. [Image: FoundSF]

In 1971, the Panthers collected 15,000 signatures on a petition to create new police districts in Berkeley, California—districts that will be ruled by native citizen commissions and require officers to dwell in the neighborhoods they served. The proposal made it onto the poll however was defeated.

In the same effort to make legislation enforcement extra attentive to communities of shade, the Panthers in the late Nineteen Sixties additionally created a map proposing to divide up police districts inside San Francisco, largely alongside racial strains.

The Black Panthers are only one chapter in an extended historical past of “counter-mapping” by African Individuals, which our research in geography explores. Counter-mapping refers to how teams usually excluded from political decision-making deploy maps and different geographic information to speak advanced details about inequality in an easy-to-understand visible format.

The ability of maps

Maps are not ideologically neutral location guides. Mapmakers select what to incorporate and exclude, and how you can show info to customers.

These selections can have far-reaching penalties. When the Dwelling House owners Mortgage Company in the Thirties got down to map the danger related for banks loaning cash to people for houses in several neighborhoods, for instance, they rated minority neighborhoods as excessive danger and color-coded them as purple.

The end result, often known as “redlining,” contributed to housing discrimination for 3 a long time, till federal legislation banned such maps in 1968. Redlining’s legacy remains to be evident in lots of American cities’ patterns of segregation.

Colonial explorers charting their journeys and metropolis planners and builders pursuing city renewal have additionally used cartography to symbolize the world in ways in which additional their very own priorities. Typically, the ensuing maps exclude, misrepresent, or harm minority groups. Lecturers and authorities officers do that too.

The Black sociologist and civil rights chief W.E.B. Du Bois produced maps for the 1900 Paris Exposition to tell worldwide society about the features African Individuals had made in earnings, schooling, and land possession since slavery and in face of persevering with racism.

Equally, in 1946, Friendship Press cartographer and illustrator Louise Jefferson printed a pictorial map celebrating the contributions of African Individuals—from well-known writers and athletes to unnamed Black staff—in constructing the United States.

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An early Twentieth-century NAACP map exhibiting lynchings between 1909 and 1918. The maps have been despatched to politicians and newspapers in an effort to spur laws defending Black Individuals. [Image: United States Library of Congress]

In the early Twentieth century, anti-lynching crusaders at the NAACP and Tuskegee Institute stirred public outcry by producing statistical reports that knowledgeable original hand-drawn maps exhibiting the location and frequency of African Individuals murdered by white lynch mobs.

One map, printed in 1922 in the NAACP’s journal The Crisis, positioned dots on a regular map to doc 3,456 lynchings over 32 years. The Southeast had the largest focus. However the “blots of disgrace,” as mapmaker Madeline Allison known as them, spanned the nation from east to west and nicely into the north.

These visualizations, together with the underlying information, were sent to allied organizations resembling the citizen-led Commission on Interracial Cooperation, to newspapers nationwide, and to elected officers of all events and areas. The activists hoped to spur Congress to go federal anti-lynching laws—one thing that continues to be to this present day unfinished business.

A lot anti-lynching cartography was impressed by the famed activist and reporter Ida B. Wells, who in the early Eighteen Eighties made some of the first tabulations of the prevalence and geographic distribution of racial terror. Her work refuted prevailing white claims that lynched Black males had sexually assaulted white girls.

Fashionable maps

The precariousness of Black life—and the exclusion of Black tales from American historical past—stays an unresolved concern in the present day.

Working alone and with white allies, Black activists and students proceed utilizing cartography to inform a fuller story about the United States, to challenge racial segregation, and to combat violence.

At present, the maps they create are sometimes digital.

For instance, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Alabama-based authorized protection group run by Bryan Stevenson, has produced a contemporary map of historical lynching. It’s an interactive replace of the anti-lynching cartography made 100 years in the past—though a full reconstruction of lynching terror stays not possible as a result of of incomplete information and the veil of silence that persists round these murders.

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The Equal Justice Initiative’s map tells tales of individuals who have been lynched. [Screenshot: Equal Justice Initiative]

One other fashionable mapping undertaking, known as Mapping Police Violence, was launched by data activists after Michael Brown’s homicide in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. It tracks police use of drive utilizing a time-series animated map. Deaths and accidents flash throughout the display and accumulate on the map of the United States, visually speaking the nationwide scale and urgency of this downside.

Counter-mapping operates on the idea that communities and governments can not repair issues that they don’t perceive. When Black counter-mapping exposes the how and the place of racism, in accessible visible kind, that info features new energy to spur social change.


Derek H. Alderman is a professor of geography at the University of Tennessee, and Joshua F.J. Inwood is an affiliate professor of geography and senior analysis affiliate in the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State. This text is republished from The Conversation beneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the original article.