In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Urban Renewal in Mobile, Alabama: The Central Texas Street Project, 1963–1974
  • Meredith Johnston (bio)

In february 1967, dr. edward crippen, health officer for the City of Mobile, reported to city commissioners on the conditions of the Central Texas Street community. The neighborhood was a densely populated, primarily African American community located on the south side of Mobile near the waterfront, commonly referred to by residents as “Down the Bay.” In his report, which would be included in one of the loan and grant applications sent to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the Central Texas Street Urban Renewal project, Crippen cited the high infant mortality rate of the project area, in addition to a high tuberculosis death rate. Stressing the need for preventive services, he noted the Health Department’s occasional use of “an old building for immunization clinics.” Crippen described Central Texas Street residents as “generally poor” and “reluctant to seek services outside their neighborhood.” He added that “Broad Street is more of a barrier to seeking health care than just because of its width.” Crossing Broad Street, which formed the western border of the area, meant entering a white neighborhood.1 [End Page 304]

Crippen painted a bleak picture of life in the Central Texas Street (CTS) community. Conditions certainly warranted immediate action, though they had worsened for decades. Residential segregation, both racial and economic, became more entrenched within downtown Mobile in the decades following World War II. Many white residents left the core downtown area during that time, and city officials did little to address the inequalities created by segregation and “white flight.” However, from the 1950s to the 1970s, the city of Mobile participated in numerous urban renewal projects designed to revitalize its downtown. In order to appear progressive and attract businesses and tourists, as well as more government funds, the city needed to confront not only segregation but also urban blight and poverty in substantial ways.2

In the post-World War II era, the Federal Urban Renewal program transformed numerous cities and communities across the nation. In doing so, it directly affected millions of people. This article analyzes one urban renewal project: Mobile’s Central Texas Street project. It examines not only the aesthetic changes to the area, but also the ways in which the project changed the socioeconomic character of the community. The present study answers Arnold Hirsch’s call for more detailed examinations of local urban renewal projects to better understand the national program. Hirsch’s study of Chicago’s experience with urban renewal and John Bauman’s study of Philadelphia [End Page 305] conclude, among other things, that urban renewal reinforced existing segregation patterns while, at the same time, it created new “ghettos” of public housing. In Mobile, urban renewal reinforced and simultaneously expanded the residential boundaries for African Americans living within the downtown area. While there are still blighted areas in “Midtown” and downtown Mobile, new blighted areas did not result from the CTS project. To the extent possible, the administering agency in Mobile ensured that displaced individuals relocated to decent, safe, and sanitary housing, as stipulated by federal regulations. And while this process included the relocation of displaced residents to public housing projects within or near the CTS area, such housing projects never took on the same scale as similar projects in larger urban areas.3

During the 1990s and early 2000s several studies appeared concerning urban policy and redevelopment in specific southern cities. These included Thomas Hanchett’s study of Charlotte, Ronald H. Bayor’s of Atlanta, and Christopher MacGregor Scribner’s of Birmingham. These works all highlight projects and policies that displaced mainly low-income African Americans from their neighborhoods for the purpose of constructing government buildings, highways, and hospitals. These studies argue that urban renewal in the cities studied did not provide enough adequate relocation housing for those affected. In Mobile, the CTS project did involve some displacement of residents for the purposes of constructing non-residential facilities and transportation arteries, but the project as a whole was primarily residential. Thus the Port City’s efforts at urban renewal did not destroy the Black community centered on Central Texas Street though...