The Middle East is a neighborhood in the heart of East Baltimore, Maryland. It is the site of a conflict between residents and the city’s plans to create a biotech park to serve nearby Johns Hopkins Medical Center. The neighborhood has suffered from extensive urban decay and housing abandonment, increased crime, and the effects of the Baltimore riot of 1968. Its residents are mainly lower-income African Americans; the neighborhood was a filming location for the Baltimore-based HBO drama The Wire. Middle East is also noteworthy as being a location for filming scenes of the television series Homicide: Life on the Street and the 1991 film Homicide (no relation to the TV series) featuring Joe Mantegna. Residents often refer to the swath of land between Johns Hopkins Hospital and Frank C. Bocek Park, which includes much of the Middle East, as the “Down the Hill” neighborhood.
The neighborhood formerly had a white working-class Czech-American majority and is home to St. Wenceslaus Church, a historically Czech parish that is now majority African-American. The Middle East neighborhood and surrounding areas are called “Little Bohemia.” By 1969, the Czech-American immigrant community in what is now the Middle East neighborhood was predominantly composed of aging homeowners who lived alongside more recently arrived African-American residents. However, many older white Czech-Americans harbored racist attitudes towards black people. According to a reporter with ‘The Baltimore Sun,’ “The older people of Bohemian extraction still live in the houses they own…but they share the neighborhood with black people whom they do not seem to appreciate or understand.” This was the last generation of Czech-Americans to remain in Little Bohemia in large numbers, with the neighborhood transitioning into a predominantly African-American neighborhood by the 1970s and 1980s.
The name “Middle East” came about in 1978, when low-income African-American neighborhood residents requested funding from the city to repair the urban decay. There were 200 vacant homes in the Middle East in 1978. Over three years, $800,000 of federal grant funding was allocated. EZ Bed Bug Exterminator Baltimore
As of 2019, only a few traces of the Czech-American community remain, as many Czech-Americans have moved to the suburbs primarily due to white flight and the decline of industrial manufacturing jobs. St. Wenceslaus is a thriving parish, as the ethnic character of the congregation has undergone a gradual shift from a mostly white working-class Czech parish to one that is multicultural and multiracial, first as many Poles and Lithuanians moved into the neighborhood, and then as the neighborhood shifted to having an African American majority. The neighborhood has suffered from extensive urban decay and housing abandonment due to poverty and crime, as well as the after-effects of the Baltimore riot of 1968. It now has a largely poverty-class and working-class African-American majority. The neighborhood was one of the hardest hit in Baltimore, MD, as the white-working class and middle-class African-American tax base left. The area was affected by heroin, crack cocaine, and HIV epidemics, along with an intensification of gang activity fueled by the drug trade. The predatory practices of lenders, landlords, and property flippers have also contributed to the spiraling cycle of decline and disinvestment. By 2000, the Middle East was the second poorest neighborhood in Baltimore, with a median household income of $14,900, less than half the city’s median. Less than half of adults were employed in the labor force and over a third of households had poverty-level incomes. Crime and domestic violence rates were double those of the city, and the incidence of lead poisoning and child abuse were among the highest in Baltimore.
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