Lesson 3 Legacy of Segregation

Lesson 3  Legacy of Segregation:  A portrait of a contemporary African-American residential community still isolated by the effects of segregation-era housing and zoning laws

"Trained In" by Kevin Garrison and Allison Stagg

The community of Collegeville, one of the 99 neighborhoods that comprise the city of Birmingham. Alabama, is an anachronism.  Collegeville is a residential community that was one of the few areas in the city legally zoned for African-American homes.  Though over one-third of the total population in Birmingham was African-American in the 1920s, few areas were zoned for African-American housing under segregation laws.  The areas that were designated under Jim Crow were in far from ideal settings.  Located on flood plains and contiguous to heavy industry, these African-American neighborhoods have to deal with a number of environmental, as well as social, challenges.  Collegeville continues to grapple with city planning decisions of the past, especially their isolation due to multiple train crossings that block the only roads connecting their neighborhood to the rest of the city.  Collegeville is separated from important services such as police, fire, and emergency vehicles.  Residents movingly report about their experiences living in such an isolated pocket of the city, as well as detail their efforts to change and improve the neighborhood.

The film raises important questions about the persistent impact of segregation-era decisions in the present-day experiences of minority individuals and communities.  Even though these types of zoning and housing restrictions are illegal today, the example of Collegeville points to the long reach of historical laws that rigidly enforced a system of second-class citizenship.

This film made an important transition from the classroom to the Birmingham City Council.  "Trained In" screened to the City Council in March 2008, a year after it was made, leading to a unanimous vote to enforce existing laws regulating the train activity in the neighborhood. This serves as a great example of the impact a student project can make on the community as a whole.

Discussion Questions


  • What do Collegeville residents identify as their greatest challenges?
  • What historical forces led to Collegeville's current vulnerability?
  • Who is responsible now for improving conditions in Collegeville?
  • What are offered as solutions to Collegeville's isolation?


  •  The Civil Rights Movement, centered in Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s, reversed many of the laws governing segregation, a system designed to maintain second-class citizenship based on race.  Given the example of Collegeville, how do you assess the success of the Civil Rights Movement?  Is there a need for another movement?
  • The residents of Collegeville are physically separated from a number of city services.  How might this kind of physical separation impact other aspects of residents' lives, such as social, economic, cultural, and educational opportunities? 
  • How does the example of Collegeville affect your view of contemporary racial justice and equality?
  • Reversing laws is much easier than changing attitudes and changing existing institutions, systems, and structures.  What methods can citizens adopt to further the cause of justice and equality of opportunity?

Other Resources


Adelman, Larry.  "Racial Preferences for Whites: The Houses that Racism Built."  San Francisco Chronicle.  29 June 2003.  Website reprint. http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-03-11.htm

Bryant, Joseph D.  "Birmingham council demands crackdown on trains stopping on tracks." Birmingham News.  1 April 2008.  Newspaper Online.

Multiple Authors.  "Challenging Segregation 1956-1961: Birth of a Movement."  Birmingham News.  26 February 2006. Newspaper Online.   http://www.al.com/unseen/

Spencer, Thomas.  "Can These Neighborhoods Be Saved?" Birmingham News.  19 August 2007.  Newspaper Online.  http://blog.al.com/bn/2007/08/can_these_neighborhoods_be_sav.html 

Spencer, Thomas.  "Group Works Magic on Abandoned Factory Sites."  Birmingham News.  19 August 2007.  Newspaper online.  http://blog.al.com/bn/2007/08/industrial_property_group_work.html


Herbes-Sommers, Christine, Tracy Strain, and Llewellyn Smith.  "The House We Live In." Race: Power of an Illusion.  Episode 3 (56 min.) of 3-part series. DVD.  California Newsreel, 2003.

Lee, Spike. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. 3 DVDs (256 min.). HBO, 2006.


Connerly, Charles E. The Most Segregated City in America: City Planning and Civil Rights in Birmingham, 1920-1980.  Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005.

Fitzpatrick, Kevin M. and Mark LaGory.  Unhealthy Places: The Ecology of Risk in the Urban Landscape.  New York: Routledge, 2000.

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