African Americans move to the South in record numbers
The Washington Post
The South gained a record number of African Americans during the 1990s, an increase that made it the only region in the country where more blacks arrived than left, according to a new study of census data.
The departure of blacks from the rest of the country and migration to the South represent a historic pattern that has come full circle: African Americans spent most of the century fleeing the South's racial oppression and lack of economic opportunity.
That pattern of flight slowly began to change 30 years ago and accelerated in the 1990s, when the South's black population grew by nearly 3.6 million. That was twice the increase of the 1980s and the result of a combination of attractions: family ties, the region's improving fortunes and easing racial prejudice.
As a result, the South's black population grew more than the total for the other regions, demographer William Frey said in a study to be published in the upcoming Population Today, a journal of the Population Reference Bureau.
"There has been a strong traditional tie to the South among blacks," said Frey, a demographer at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., and the University of Michigan. "It's not just the economy. It's not just that there is a big black middle class. ... This is a natural occurrence now that the civil-rights situation has turned around."
Atlanta's new appeal
Anita Pitts grew up in Ohio and moved to a small southern Georgia town two years ago to care for her dying grandmother. She and her husband took weekend escape trips to Atlanta. They relocated there last year, and she works as an executive administrative assistant for the Association of Black Cardiologists.
Pitts went to college in Atlanta in the 1970s, but "it wasn't appealing enough for me to stay. It didn't have all the things it has now."
The housing is less expensive than Columbus, the pay scale is better and there is no snow to shovel, she points out. As she looks around her, she notices that "there are so many African Americans here who have made it or succeeded or gotten to that middle-class line. It's nice to see."
Frey's study found that the South is attracting new black residents at all economic levels, including nearly 1 in 5 who are college graduates, higher than for the black population overall. Most blacks moving in are settling in the suburbs, changing a long-standing pattern of urban concentration, according to Frey.
Frey said the migration pattern in the South reinforced the region's historic racial makeup dominated by blacks and whites. This and other changes around the country are establishing distinct racial and ethnic identities for each region. The West and Southwest are seeing an infusion of immigrant minorities. The Midwest and Northeast, except for their large cities, remain majority white.
Reversing 20-year trend
In five Southern states - Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina and Texas - the black share of the population held steady or rose during the 1990s after declining in the previous 20 years. The other states in the region the government defines as the South for statistical purposes include Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma, as well as Washington, D.C.
Atlanta was "the premier African-American magnet" in the 1990s among metropolitan areas with large black populations, Frey said. Other big gainers included Orlando and Miami-Fort Lauderdale.