The ongoing impact of past residential segregation came to my mind recently. I was reading an article about the redrawing of Cleveland City Council districts needed due to the loss of population and the subsequent mandated reduction of seats. Even though the majority of the population loss was on the historically black East Side, only one seat was to be lost in that region while another seat was to be taken elsewhere. This balance was necessary because the city, while 37.3% white according to the 2010 census, has a majority white council and the loss of two traditionally black seats would exacerbate the fact that the council does not look like the population it represents.
The article made me think about the recent work my students did in reading about the role of race in Cleveland history. They looked into the way the densely populated East Side was the only area open to black migrants coming to Cleveland as part of the Great Migration, while the West Side (a larger area geographically) was reserved for whites. This split was affirmed through education policy that engaged in various strategies to continue to provide a mostly separate educational facilities.
The legal (and illegal) underpinnings of this split are gone. However, when I look at today’s news and the current make up of City Council, I can not help but note how history continues to influence politics and representation today. If there had been no past restrictions as to where migrants of different races could live, what would the City Council look like today? It actually might look the same depending on the voters and the candidates, but there would certainly be different electoral dynamics.