Plus ca change: Mt. Lebanon community board not going to remedy effects of township's racist history

From this morning's Post-Gazette South section:
"For decades, it was an unwritten rule that many minorities, including African Americans and Jews, could not buy houses in certain neighborhoods, according to Ruth Reidbord, one of the first community relations board members in Mt. Lebanon. Even real estate brokers said that, if they showed homes to minorities, they were threatened, said Elaine Wittlin, who believes she was one of the first to ignore such threats."

"So, in 1966, town convened a Community Relations Board to promote a feeling of openness.

'Community groups and residents can work together to reduce the barriers that sometimes separate population groups,' Mt. Lebanon Manager Stephen Feller said.

Has it worked?"


"[i]n the municipality of 33,017 people, 31,766 are listed as Caucasians, 202 as black, 767 as Asians and 263 people are of Hispanic or Latino background, according to the 2000 census."
Check my math, but I think that means that fewer than 1% of the town's population is African-American. Just over 2% is Asian, and it looks like that figure includes both south Asian and east Asian populations. The Hispanic/Latino figure is consistent with Pittsburgh's small overall Hispanic/Latino population, but its size relative to the African-American community is striking.

"[A]at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the municipal building, 710 Washington Road, at a forum titled "Where Are We Going? Where Have We Been?" Five people will address quality of life issues for mixed-race families, people with disabilities, lesbians and gays, teens and people who practice less common religions."

Still to be appointed: A community-based board of people charged with reaching out to members of under-represented communities who don't live in Mt. Lebanon, but whose addition to the community would make it a more accepting and much more truly diverse place.


And more relevant background, also from the Post-Gazette:


[Cross-posted at Blog-Lebo]


5 Responses to "Plus ca change: Mt. Lebanon community board not going to remedy effects of township's racist history"

Anonymous said... 10/12/2006 12:45 PM

You're the only yinzer in Pgh not talking about Sienna Miller. And that's a compliment. Thanks for always trying to stay above board.

JLevine said... 10/12/2006 5:10 PM

This comment goes to the Jewish community in South Hills / Mt. Lebo area. With regard to the Jewish community, the stats don't reflect reality. Out of the 31,766 who checked "Caucasian" in the 2000 census, I wonder how many of them were Jews. Probably all the Jews checked Caucasian. No "Jew" box exists on the census sheet, or on any similar sheet. See almost all applications for employment, higher education, medical history. So what other ethnic group would Jews have checked?

Dennis Roddy said... 10/15/2006 10:35 AM

Michael, I think the demographics in Mt. Lebanon reflect a couple different, very separate tracks. I agree with JLevine, who suggests that Jews living in Mt. Lebanon likely are harder to identify for purposes of counting. In my own family, for instance, we have Jews who are at once Irish and Caucasian and would likely simply classify themselves as ordinary white folks who happen to live where they do.

Selling and buying restrictions are not only now illegal here, they also show themselves to be what they have long been: economically irrational; esssentially narrowing the field of available buys and by implicaition driving down price by reducing demand. It's a rare moment when I'm willing to concede the free market an unfettered success.

The paucity of black families in Mt. Lebanon points, I suspect, to the absence of a large, black middle-class in Pittsburgh. I've had this mentioned to me by black reporters who have come in from out-of-town and who express dismay at the fact that this has, in some respects, limited their social options if they want to live in a middle-class part of town as opposed to an area where they don't feel like the only black faces on their street.

In short, what we see in Mt. Lebanon, I think, is the failure of the region to include African Americans in its economic growth. When the region boomed, obviously, the exclusion was based on race. Now, with the region declining economically in an era in which racism is considered immoral by some or at least declasse by others, we are seeing the effects of indifference and cluelessness. In short, as much as "affirmative action" is decried as either unworkable or 'reverse discrimination" we cannot reverse the effects of discrimination without actively trying to reverse it. In short, political and civic leaders have to develop a strategy that will end the economic isolation of the black community. When this is done, we'll see more African Americans in Mt. Lebanon.

This isn't going to be solved by a township commission. It's got to be addressed on so many levels, I despair.

Dennis Roddy

Gloria said... 10/16/2006 9:16 AM

I lived in Mt. Lebanon in the late 1980's & early 1990's. Towards the end of my stay there I noticed single moms were moving in, as were lesbians. In my experience they were drawn by the community's safety & the quality of its schools.

At the time, my daughter was in 6th grade and one of her female classmates was the only African American in the class.

The girl & her family woke up one day to find that a cross had been burned on their front lawn.

(KDKA's Patrice King Brown's son was, I think, the only other African American enrolled in the school.)

Jonathan Potts said... 10/16/2006 11:43 AM

Dennis' analysis is spot-on. I'd add that the South Hills in general--a nebulous term that, depending on who are talking to, can include any location south of the Liberty Tunnels all the way to the Washington County border--has a reputation for being racist. Mt. Lebanon no doubt gets tarred with this rather broad brush.

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