We found it in Baltimore’s banking system. It’s in our houses and even in our children’s blood.

Racial segregation in Baltimore continues to define the city, an analysis of nearly every data set The Baltimore Banner data team analyzed in our first year has found.

As part of our wide-ranging reporting over the last year, we dug into digital representations of life in Baltimore, analyzing housing data for the city, crime data, lead poisoning, banks locations and dozens of other things. We’re presenting a collection of these maps here to show how the “Black Butterfly,” named for the shape majority-Black neighborhoods take on a map, appears in seemingly unrelated data sets.

But why does the Black Butterfly keep appearing?

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Lawrence T. Brown, a Morgan State University research scientist at the Center for Urban Health Equity who coined the term, said it’s a continuing effect of nearly a century of public policy in Baltimore.

In 1911, Baltimore implemented America’s first racial housing covenant with a law segregating Black residents into particular blocks of the city. And the Federal Housing Administration established a practice of denying loans and insurance to parts of the city where Black people were moving, known as redlining, in the 1930s. According to Brown, these efforts by public entities established the rubric for private banks’ disinvestment in Black neighborhoods and subsequent policies with racially disparate effects.

“Black neighborhoods became the sacrifice zones for the city of Baltimore. That was the unspoken policy. It still is the policy that ties it all together,” Brown said.

“When you don’t have capital coming into neighborhoods, the lead paint peels so you have a lead paint problem. People can’t get jobs so you have an employment problem. When you have an employment problem, you have a crime problem, and you can’t get resources. When you have a resource problem, you start to develop an opioid problem,” Brown said.

Robert K. Nelson, director of the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, added that while many causes beyond redlining shaped the modern Black Butterfly, redlining “offers a window into [the] 20th century systemic racism in the real estate market and federal housing policies” that helped determine what we see today.

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Here are just some of the data sets where we’ve found the Black Butterfly:

Original redlining maps

Redlining gets its name from the red shading of newly Black neighborhoods on the original FHA and Home Owners’ Loan Corporation maps.

The ratings were explicitly racist. The “worst” neighborhoods, colored red, were described by local agents as containing an “infiltration of Negros,” and banks were advised not to make mortgage loans there.

While the Black Butterfly seen in the HOLC map below isn’t perfect, you can see the beginnings of the Black Butterfly’s counterpart, the “white L,” in the downtown industrial and commercial zones, and northern Baltimore.

Children’s lead poisoning blood tests

A Baltimore Banner analysis found that a child’s blood tested for lead is more likely to be positive if the child lives in the Black Butterfly than a child who does not.

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Youth gun violence

High school-aged teens in Baltimore continue to be shot in record numbers this year, even as overall nonfatal shootings and homicides are down, an analysis by The Baltimore Banner found. This is especially true in the Black Butterfly.

Banks in the city

Banking in Baltimore has historically been more readily available to white residents than it has been to Black residents. In August 2022, The Banner published a look into the slowly improving banking conditions in the Black Butterfly. While it has greatly improved since the 1960s, Black residents are still generally further from their banks than white residents.

Houses in tax sale

Baltimore’s tax sale disproportionately affects Black residents of the city. The Banner published a series investigating those disparities and who makes money from them. Every home foreclosed through tax sale since 2016 was in a majority-Black neighborhood.

Questionable MV Realty contracts

Until March 2023, MV Realty of Maryland LLC offered small cash payments to lock homeowners into 40-year contracts granting it the exclusive right to list their homes. Banner reporting in October 2022 first brought attention to the issue. In Baltimore City, the homes under contract with MV Realty were nearly all in the Black Butterfly. As a consequence of this reporting, a law banning this kind of binding home listing was written into law.

ABC Capital properties

The Maryland Insurance Administration launched an investigation of a Philadelphia-based property investment company after The Banner reported that ABC Capital was the subject of multiple lawsuits, some of which accused the firm of running a Ponzi scheme. ABC Capital sold distressed Baltimore properties to foreign investors, often with the false promise of upgrading the home and guaranteeing rent. Those homes were in the Black Butterfly more than elsewhere.

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Vacant housing

Vacant houses plague Baltimore, creating costly problems for neighbors, communities and the city at large. The Banner found that the scope of the problem is huge and the city lacks tools other cities have to manage the problem.

Black migration

Black residents are leaving the Black Butterfly, driving the city’s overall population loss, a Banner analysis of Census data found.

311 responses for rats

Baltimore City’s Rat Rubout program, where the Department of Public Works identifies and address rat infestations, shows significantly more proactive responses per capita in the Black Butterfly than elsewhere in the city.

Democratic primary for state’s attorney

Ivan Bates, the current state’s attorney for the City of Baltimore, defeated incumbent Marilyn Mosby in what was technically the Democratic primary, but was effectively the general election for the city. The election, while centered around crime concerns and Mosby’s federal perjury and fraud charges, ultimately broke completely around demographic lines, with Mosby winning nearly the entirety of the Black Butterfly, and Bates winning its white counterpart, the white L.

Former Data Fellow Shreya Vuttaluru contributed to this report.

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