The Black Panthers and other countermappers have used maps to reinvent cities for communities of color
How can cards fight racism and inequality?
The work of the Black panther party, a black political group from the 1960s and 1970s featured in a new movie and one documentary, helps illustrate how cartography – the practice of creating and using maps – can illuminate injustice.
Mapping is a less documented aspect of Panthers activism, but the group has used maps to reinvent the cities where African Americans lived and struggled.
In 1971, the Panthers collected 15,000 signatures on a petition to create new Berkeley, California Police Districts – districts which would be governed by local citizens’ committees and which would oblige the agents to live in the districts which they served. The proposal was entered on the ballot but was rejected.
In a similar effort to make law enforcement more responsive to communities of color, the Panthers in the late 1960s also created a map offering to divide. police districts in San Francisco, largely on racial grounds.
The Black Panthers are just one chapter in a long history of African-American “counter-mapping”, which our geography research explore. Counter-mapping refers to how groups normally excluded from political decision-making deploy maps and other geographic data to communicate complex information about inequalities in an easy-to-understand visual format.
The power of cards
The cards are not ideologically neutral location guides. Mappers choose what to include and exclude, and how to display information to users.
These decisions can have far-reaching consequences. When the Home Owners Loan Corporation in the 1930s set out to map the risk associated with banks lending money to individuals for homes in different neighborhoods, for example, it classified minority neighborhoods as high risk and coded them in red.
The result, known as “redlining“Contributed to housing discrimination for three decades, until federal law banned these cards in 1968. Redlining’s legacy is still evident in many American cities.” segregation models.
Colonial explorers who chart their journeys and urban planners and developers in search of urban renewal have also used cartography to represent the world in ways that promote their own priorities. Often the resulting maps exclude, distort or harm minority groups. Academics and government officials do it too.
Counter maps produce another public understanding of the facts by highlighting the experiences of oppressed people.
But black Americans were among the early providers of counter-mapping, deploying this alternative mapping to meet a variety of needs a century ago.
Mapping is part of the wider black creative tradition and political struggle.
Over the centuries, African Americans have developed “Orientation“Helpers, including a Jim Crow Era Travel Guide, to help them navigate a racially hostile landscape and created visual works that affirmed the value of Black life.
The black sociologist and civil rights leader WEB Du Bois produced maps for the 1900 Paris Exposition to inform international society of the gains African Americans had made in income, education, and land ownership since slavery and in the face of continued racism.
Similarly, in 1946, Friendship Press cartographer and illustrator Louise Jefferson published a pictorial map celebrating the contributions of African Americans – from famous writers and athletes to unnamed black workers – in building the United States.
In the early 20th century, the anti-lynching crusaders of the NAACP and the Tuskegee Institute sparked a public outcry by producing statistical reports who informed original hand drawn cards showing the location and frequency of African Americans murdered by mobs of white lynchs.
A map, published in 1922 in the NAACP magazine “Crisis“Placed dots on a standard map to document 3,456 lynchings over 32 years. The southeast had the greatest concentration. But the “stains of shame,” as cartographer Madeline Allison called them, covered the country from east to west and even to the north.
These visualizations, along with the underlying data, have been sent to allied organizations such as the citizen Interracial Cooperation Commission, newspapers across the country and elected officials from all parties and regions. Activists hoped to push Congress to pass federal anti-lynching legislation – which remains to this day unfinished.
Much of the anti-lynching mapping was inspired by the famous activist and journalist Ida B. Wells, who in the early 1880s made some of the first tables of the prevalence and geographic distribution of racial terror. His work refuted dominant white claims that lynched black men sexually assaulted white women.
The precariousness of black life – and the exclusion of black stories from American history – remains an unresolved issue today.
Today, the maps they create are often digital.
For example, Equal Justice Initiative, the Alabama-based legal advocacy group led by Bryan Stevenson, produced a modern map of historic lynching. This is an interactive update to the anti-lynching mapping done 100 years ago – although a full reconstruction of the lynching terror remains impossible due to incomplete data and the veil of silence that lingers around. of these murders.
Another modern mapping project, called Mapping Police Violence, was started by data activists after the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. It follows use of force by police using an animated time series map. Deaths and injuries cross the screen and pile up on the map of the United States, visually communicating the national scale and urgency of this issue.
Counter-mapping is based on the theory that communities and governments cannot solve problems they do not understand. When black counter-mapping exposes the how and where of racism, in visually accessible form, this information gains new power to stimulate social change.