Map of Birmingham’s 1926 Racial Zoning

In 1926 the government of Birmingham, Alabama, adopted a zoning ordinance based on race. The map that showed which areas were designated for the residences of white persons and which areas for African Americans is now online in the Birmingham Public Library’s digital collection. Unlike later “red line” maps, the key to the racial division on this map is not the color of areas. Instead it is the areas with cross-hatches (zoned A-2 or B-2) that were for African American residences. Those without them were for whites. (Read a 2012 Birmingham News introduction to the map here).

I went to a lecture at the Birmingham Public Library in February by map conservator Dr. Paul Boncella. He explained that the 1926 zoning ordinance did not require that the current use of any land be changed, but rather sought to fix future use. Thus it went unchallenged for many years.

As the legend on the map indicates, dark red was for heavy industry, places like iron furnaces and rail yards. Dark yellow was for light industry, such as the Continental cotton gin plant in eastern Avondale. Blue was for commercial use. Light yellow and pink were for residences.

“City of Birmingham, Ala. Zone Map” Zoning Comission, July 13, 1926

Looking at Avondale neighborhood which my students and I studied last fall, I see that the neighborhoods immediately east and west of the Continental cotton gin factory were zoned for African American congregations. There are still three African American churches in these neighborhoods, St. Mark and New Bethel Baptist churches and Holy Cathedral Church of God in Christ. Also the North Avondale neighborhood is also zoned for African Americans. This is where Zion Spring and Harmony Street Baptist churches and St. James A.M.E. still minister today.

Detail of Avondale area.

Please, explore the full high resolution map on the Birmingham Public Library’s website.

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