In 1943, the federal government opened Fairfield Homes, government subsidized housing for white defense workers and their families. After Fairfield Homes was constructed the pre-existing residential community nearby became known as “Old Fairfield.” Black wartime workers were provided inferior housing in the Banneker Homes, which were located closer to the water in a swampy area.[i]
Fairfield Homes was designed to be turned over to city government and become public housing after the war. Postwar, industries were returned to the original business owners, Bethlehem Steel and the federal government left, and the area became an amalgamation of various polluting industries, such as ship-breaking, chemical companies, and salvage yards.
In 1953, Fairfield Homes, now public housing, began the shift from serving whites to blacks (public housing and education in Baltimore were still primarily segregated).[ii] In 1979, a CSX railroad car carrying 9,000 gallons of highly concentrated sulfuric acid overturned and the Fairfield Homes public housing complex was temporarily evacuated. The same year, there was an explosion at British Petroleum (BP) Oil Company that set off a seven-alarm fire.[iii] Things began to seriously decline for residents of Fairfield Homes in the 1980s.
The city relocated all of the residents of the Fairfield Homes public housing complex in 1987 and, after a voluntary city buyout of Old Fairfield in 1988-1989, few residents remained in the vicinity.[iv] In 1997, the long uninhabited Fairfield Homes public housing complex was demolished.
[i] For a discussion of the racial politics of defense/public housing in Baltimore see Rhonda Y. William, The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles Against Urban Inequality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004): on Fairfield Homes see 57, 111, 176-78, 184, 225, 238. Williams rarely mentions the Banneker Homes (named for noted Maryland astronomer and almanac writer Benjamin Banneker, 1731-1806). I first heard the Banneker Homes were on the peninsula during my interview with John Jeffries. I was unable to find documentation until I came across a vertical file on public housing in the Maryland Department, Enoch Pratt Free Library, I found a map with information on the public housing in the area just after World War II: Baltimore Housing Authority, “Public Housing Program, 1952,” Public Housing Vertical File, Maryland Department, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD. The document includes a list and map of the nine war-housing projects (now public housing). On the peninsula there are Fairfield Homes (white), March 31, 1942, 300 dwelling units; Banneker Homes (Negro), October 11, 1943, 245 dwelling units. Williams reprints a similar document and map from 1952 on pages 99-100 in The Politics of Public Housing.
[ii] American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Brief on the racial shift of Fairfield Homes,” CHAP files on Fairfield, 1952. Copy in author’s possession. The ACLU was in favor of the shift.
[iii] CSX (Chessie System) had by the 1970s bought out numerous regional rail companies, including the B&O. Allegra Bennett, “700 Persons Evacuated as Tank Car Overturns: Acid, Chlorine, Alcohol on train,” Baltimore Sun, May 10, 1979; Catherine A. Strott, “Residents Outraged,” Baltimore Sun, May 10, 1979; Patrick Gilbert, “You Better get Dressed, the Sky’s on Fire,” Baltimore Sun, July 23, 1979.
[iv] Martin C. Evans, “Fairfield Tenants to Be Moved Out of Danger Area,” Baltimore Sun, January 31, 1989; Patrick A. McGuire, “Miss Jennie’s Crusade,” Baltimore Sun, March 28, 1993. Most of the residents who left Fairfield were relocated into public housing in the core of Baltimore city rather than given a relocations package that enable them to own their own homes.