The Racial Make-up of Suburbanization

The Racial Make-up of Suburbanization

Map Race

Legend: each purple dot is a location where one of the photos was taken

[1] Levittown, NY

[2] Levittown, PA

[3] Detroit, MI

[4] Miami, FL

[5] Birmingham, AL

[6] Winter Park, FL

After the victory in WWII, there was an influx of returning veterans and military officials back into American society, most of these people where young unmarried men, so once they returned home the next step for them were to settle down and form a family.  The great economic boom that followed the WWII not only allowed this influx of returning veterans to find jobs and have a steady form of income, but also the resources to care for a family.  And so the great migration to the suburbs took shape.  It soon became not only a goal for some, but a societal norm to want the beautiful suburban home with the pristine lawn and the white picket fence.  The white suburban family soon became the representation of the “ideal American family.”  This idea was a representation of the time, when there was a presence of “white superiority” within the nation.  There were very few black, or for that matter other nationalities, families found within the pristine cookie cutter suburban community, and popular culture reflected this idea with television shows such as Leave it to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show ,and The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.  All of these shows depicted the average American family, as the white suburban family.



A common sight in the mid-20th century, this photo  shows a white middle-class family moving into their new suburban home in Levittown, New York; one of the first truly mass produced suburbs.  Levittown would soon become the model for post-war suburban sprawl across the country.

Levittown Sprawl


The mass expanse of Levittown’s suburban sprawl can be seen within this picture.  This Levittown is found in Pennsylvania and was constructed some years after the Levittown in New York.  Due to its mass-produced nature, the Levittown house soon became synonymous with homogeneity and dullness. Most of these communities did not have any black families because of their racial exclusiveness; in Levittown for example the initial lease called for only whites to be allowed to live in its homes.


Picket Sign

[3]                                                                                                                                 [4]

In some instances there was an aggressive defensive to prohibit the entrance of non-white families entering the suburbs, which would become increasingly associated with the “ideal white American family”.  These two pictures show the drive many white middle-class members had to prevent blacks for moving into their communities; the first sign was erected in front of a new housing project by white neighbors to prevent black tenants from purchasing a lease, the second picture shows a group of white protesters picketing the removal of someone they do not see fit to live in their “ideal” community.



Due to the backlash many members of the African American community where facing from moving into “all-white” suburban communities, they were usually forced to move into communities of their own.  The string of houses in Birmingham, Alabama, shown in this picture, represents a common sight that was mirrored in many areas across the country.  Blacks were basically forced to live in less ideal housing, compared to the white-suburban home.



Even though it is situated in a large urban expanse, Winter Park, FL is still considered a predominantly suburban city. It is interesting to see that the population is predominately white, around 88%, with African Americans and other non-whites making up the other 12% of the population.

The new suburban communities that sprang up across the nation in the mid-20th century reflect the ideals at that time.  As someone reached adulthood they were expected to want to settle-down and start a family, living in a nice house with a white picket fence like everyone else.  That was the ideal American family; the white family living comfortably within their suburban community.  To many members of the white community, this was such an idyllic vision that they defended it from non-whites with a passion, resulting in confrontations that would test the feasibility of such a specific norm in a country of many races.


  1. Bernard Hoffman, Truck supervisor Bernard Levey standing w. his family in front of their home in new housing development, May 1950, photographic print, 17.8 in. x 17.6 in., Time Inc.
  2. Margaret Bourke-White, Aerial view of suburban housing development outside of Philadelphia., October 1957, photographic print , 17.8 in. x 13.7 in., Time Inc.
  3. Arthur S. Siegel, Detroit, Michigan. Riot at the Sojourner Truth homes, a new U.Sn federal housing project, caused by white neighbors’ attempt to prevent Negro tenants from moving in. Sign with American flag “We want white tenants in our white community,” directly opposite the housing project, February 1942, negative, 4 in. x 5. in., Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
  4. Negro home picketed, 1957, photographic print, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
  5. Marion S. Trikosko, Birmingham, Ala[bama]. Average negro homes, 14 May 1963, negative, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
  6. Jose Gonzalez, Winter Park Lakeside Homes, 2013