Segregation: Not just a problem in Chicago area

Governing magazine finds downstate cities Peoria, Danville as segregated as Chicago

African-American and white residents exchange words under the watchful eyes of police shortly after President Trump’s visit to Granite City last summer. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

African-American and white residents exchange words under the watchful eyes of police shortly after President Trump’s visit to Granite City last summer. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Racial segregation is a problem across Illinois, not just in Chicago, according to a new study published in Governing magazine.

Governing published its findings from a six-month investigation into Illinois segregation last week. “Segregated in the Heartland” found that segregation persisted, in spite of laws against housing bias, “separate but equal” schools, and other policies separating African Americans from whites.

“The most segregated metropolitan areas, though, are not the Southern cities that were the battlefields of the civil-rights movement,” the Governing study determined. “They are older cities in the Northeast and Midwest that absorbed black residents during the Great Migration.”

Governing turned its focus to downstate Illinois cities, finding that segregation was as pronounced and persistent there as in Chicago.

According to rankings on a black-white dissimilarity index, Chicago was not the most segregated U.S. city, coming in third behind New York City and, in the top spot, Milwaukee. But Peoria came in sixth, behind Detroit and Cleveland, and Danville placed 12th, behind the St. Louis metropolitan area in 10th.

Governing found that segregation was largely unchanged since 1980 in Peoria and Danville, as well as in Champaign-Urbana, home of the state’s flagship University of Illinois, where the North End of Champaign has been a segregated area for African Americans for decades. Any improvements were typically undermined by white flight in downstate towns, with whites in Peoria abandoning the downtown area since 1980 to move to nearby Germantown Hills.

Bias in education contributed to the problem. In a study culled from the National Center for Education Statistics, “we found the Peoria area's schools to be more segregated between whites and blacks than any other area of the country,” according to the Governing article. Peoria even outpaced Chicago in a black-white school dissimilarity index, followed by Danville, Kankakee, Springfield, Rockford, Champaign-Urbana, and Decatur — all about the national average, with only Carbondale and Bloomington-Normal improving on that average.

Segregation within school districts was not as pronounced as segregation from district to district, even neighboring school systems, suggesting that educational bias was at least in part a product of residential segregation.

Springfield had the worst record in the nation comparing median household income for African-American families against the median household income for white families. Bloomington made the top 10, placing seventh in those rankings. Decatur, Kankakee, and Peoria all placed in the top 10 percent nationally, and only in Champaign-Urbana did African-American households average even half of what white households pulled in.

Springfield had one of the worst poverty rates for African Americans in the nation, topping 40 percent. But African-American unemployment was a statewide problem, at 15.3 percent in 2017, compared to the overall Illinois unemployment rate of 6.1 percent.