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Governing Magazine Investigates Segregation In Central Illinois

Peoria skyline
Jeff Smudde
The six-month Governing magazine investigation looked at several downstate cities, including Peoria.

Central Illinois is home to some of the most segregated places in the country.

That's the result of a six-month investigation by Brian Charles and Daniel Vock at Governing magazine, studying patterns of segregation in neighborhoods, income, and schools. Bloomington-Normal was included in the series.

Patterns of segregation in Illinois began with Jim Crow laws and the Great Migration. Many African Americans left the south to find jobs in the north, where there was industrial growth. However, according to Charles and Vock, by the 70s and 80s, the Industrial Belt was in decline, so there were fewer jobs by the time some African American families arrived.

“The timing of the growth matters. In Bloomington-Normal, a lot of the growth and white collar jobs and whatever has come more recently. So what happened in places like Peoria and Springfield, and Rockford is that they kind of hit their peak, then there wasn't a lot of growth. So what you'll see is outside of the industrial belt that Brian talked about, you'll see more integrated neighborhoods, because there's more development just all around, whereas there's not a whole lot of resources to go around in some of these downstate communities," Vock said on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.

Central Illinois is also illustrative of the phenomenon called white flight, where when a non-white family moves into a predominantly white neighborhood, white families are more likely to move. These habits can be reinforced by local governments as well.

“If you go to Springfield, and you go on one side of town, you see not just beautiful homes, but you see things like curbs and gutters which are kind of a simple thing one might take for granted. But when you go to the other side of town, in which black residents living to the east side of town, you don't see curbs or sidewalks. That's an infrastructure issue,“ said Charles.

Bloomington-Normal is one of the many perpetrators of these patterns.

“The growth of State Farm, the growth of Illinois State University, those tended to attract especially higher paying white-collar jobs. Bloomington-Normal, compared to other places that we looked at, had a smaller black population to start with. There wasn't as heavy of a manufacturing base compared to a Decatur or Springfield or Rockford.

"And so they ended up in janitorial jobs, service jobs, even before sort of the economy shifted to a service economy, but there wasn't sort of the same industrial base in Bloomington. So there wasn't that chance to climb up to the middle class the same way that there would have been in some of these other cities,” said Charles.

While Bloomington-Normal is not the most segregated community in central Illinois, it still has stark household income and poverty rate segregation.

Charles and Vock said their goal with this investigation is to incite conversation between communities and policymakers. They said they believe many white communities are either not aware or willfully ignoring these disparities, and conversations will make policymakers and white communities pay closer attention.

“Everyone has kind of an interest in solving those problems, and you can't do that if the community is is chopped up and divided along lines of race, especially when you have folks on one side of that line that have far less resources than the other folks on the other side of that dividing line,” said Charles.

Listen to the full Governing magazine interview below:

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Katie Seelinger is an intern in the GLT newsroom.