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From Finland to “Not in My Neighborhood”: Antero Pietila's Journey To and Through Racially Divided America

In the article below Antero Pietila, longtime reporter for the Baltimore Sun, describes his arrival as a Finnish immigrant in the United States as the nation was being convulsed by the Civil Rights Movement.  Pietila describes his initial introduction into the nation"s racial dilemma through Harlem and eventually his arrival in Baltimore in 1969, the city that would be his new home for the next four decades.  Over those decades both officially as a newspaper reporter and unofficially as the resident of a racially divided city, Pietila describes how his experiences led him to investigate the reasons for that strife.  His descriptions and conclusions became a broad racial history of residential housing and racial discrimination in the city of Baltimore which he titled Not In My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City.

The journey that eventually produced Not in My Neighborhood, my new book on race and real estate, began in May 1964 when I first saw America’s shores from the deck of the M/S Finntrader. I was a twenty-year-old aspiring journalist from Finland wanting so badly to spend that summer in the United States -- the summer of Lyndon B. Johnson’s re-election campaign, civil rights strife, and of the New York World’s Fair – that I worked my ways across on a freighter. I came from a country so homogeneous that eye and hair color marked the chief differences among its four and a half million people. No blacks lived in Finland in those days, and the entire nation had only fifteen hundred Jews.

New York’s polyglot metropolis stunned me. While reporting one day in Harlem, I found myself naked and sweating in an old Finnish steam bath operated by an immigrant from Jamaica. It had been a popular gathering spot among residents of the Finnish community, which thrived in Harlem from the 1910s until the 1950s. Few traces of that population of several thousands survived. Rival socialist halls, including one with an indoor swimming pool and a bowling alley, were long gone, as were Finnish churches.

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