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Upward Mobility and Loss of Community in a Black Steelworker Neighborhood

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2021

Andrew J. Cherlin*
Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
Corresponding author: Andrew J. Cherlin, Department of Sociology, Mergenthaler Hall, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218. E-mail:


Turner Station, Maryland, is a century-old African American neighborhood just east of Baltimore that housed the families of workers who were employed at a nearby steel plant from the founding of the community in the early 1900s until the plant closed in 2012. Its story provides a window into the lives of the understudied Black working-class during the peak decades of industrial employment and the ensuing decades of decline. Long-time residents recall a vibrant, self-sufficient community with a heterogeneous class structure, produced in part by residential restrictions and employment discrimination that constrained professionals such as physicians and teachers to reside and to practice or work in the neighborhood. They report a high level of collective efficacy and joint responsibility for childrearing. Current and former residents describe a strong emphasis on education as a means of upward mobility. As levels of education rose and residential opportunities opened, the children of the mid-century steelworkers left Turner Station for other communities in the metropolitan area and beyond. As out migration continued, the community suffered a decline: virtually all of the businesses are gone, vacant homes are common, and a more transient population has moved in. The members of the Turner Station diaspora still cherish the memory of the neighborhood, even as many have moved on and up. Their achievements show what happened when a generation of African Americans were given access to decent-paying jobs that did not require a college education—a degree of access that no longer exists because of the decline of industrial employment in the Baltimore region and elsewhere.

State of the Discipline
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Hutchins Center for African and African American Research

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