What is the most segregated city in America?

Recently a colleague said, “Charlotte is the most segregated city in America.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, in part, because that’s where the supreme court cases about busing students to integrate school districts came from.”

That’s true. That was also 1971. In 2016, Charlotte was also the city that passed laws to fight discrimination against gay and transgendered people, which the state legislation fought (ref). How do you measure the “most segregated” city, or the most anti-equal rights city? I went to the 2010 census and pulled ethnic diversity maps for six places I’ve lived in the US, along with a couple of other major cities, and a map of the rural South in general.

  • Green = mostly (>50%) White
  • Blue = mostly Black
  • Yellow = mostly Hispanic
  • Red/pink = mostly Asian
  • Unfortunately, the census doesn’t highlight places of high diversity as a separate category.


Of the places I’ve lived (Charlotte, State College (PA), Washington, New Orleans, and Durham) – I would say New Orleans is the most racially divided. But it doesn’t show up that way in statistics. My white neighbor refused to talk to my other neighbor, who was black. Races cohabited a block but often did not co-mingle. Crime rates depended on which block and not which neighborhood.

The least diverse place was clearly State College, PA – where the only blue spot on the map was the state prison. This is doubly concerning. If the only black people you meet are all in jail, what kinda of stereotype does that create? My local church did do some prison outreach there, and it’s possible those were the only black men some of my neighbors interacted with.

Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, and Washington are similar in having racial divisions by neighborhood – but people cross paths more often than in many cities.

Answer: the most racially divided city in America – according to the US 2010 Census – is Detroit. But we’ll need to refine how we define “racially divided” to get to the truth of the matter. Many all-white cities harbor white populations that are much more isolated, and that is causing a perception problem about what this country offers all of its citizens.

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