||Many U.S. Blacks Moving to South, Reversing Trend
The percentage of the nation's black population living in the South has hit its highest point in half a century, according to census data released last week, as younger and more educated black residents move out of declining cities in the Northeast and Midwest in search of better opportunities.
The share of black population growth that has occurred in the South over the past decade -- the highest since 1910, before the Great Migration of blacks to the North -- has upended some long-held assumptions.
Both Michigan and Illinois, whose cities have rich black cultural traditions, showed an overall loss of blacks for the first time, said William Frey, the chief demographer at the Brookings Institution.
And Atlanta, for the first time, has replaced Chicago as the metro area with the largest number of African-Americans after New York. About 17 percent of blacks who moved to the South in the past decade left New York State, far more than from any other state, the census data show.
At the same time, blacks have begun leaving cities for more affluent suburbs in large numbers, much like generations of whites before them.
"The notion of the North and its cities as the promised land has been a powerful part of African-American life, culture and history, and now it all seems to be passing by," said Clement Price, a professor of history at Rutgers-Newark. "The black urban experience has essentially lost its appeal with blacks in America."
During the turbulent 1960s, black population growth ground to a halt in the South, and Southern states claimed less than 10 percent of the national increase then. The South has increasingly claimed a greater share of black population growth since -- about half the country's total in the 1970s, two-thirds in the 1990s and three-quarters in the decade that just ended.
The percentage of black Americans living in the South is still far lower than before the Great Migration in the earlier part of the last century, when 90 percent did. Today it is 57 percent, the highest since 1960.
"This is the decade of black flight," said Mr. Frey. "It's a new age for African-Americans. It's long overdue, but it seems to be happening."
The five counties with the largest black populations in 2000 -- Cook in Illinois, Los Angeles, Wayne in Michigan, Kings in New York and Philadelphia -- all lost black population in the last decade. Among the 25 counties with the biggest increase in black population, three-quarters are in the South.
The Rev. Ronald Peters, who moved last year from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, said it was refreshing to be part of a hopeful black middle class that was not weighed down by the stigmas and stereotypes of the past, as he felt it was in the urban Northeast.
"Too often, people turn on TV and all they see are black men in chains," said Mr. Peters, president of the Interdenominational Theological Center, a seminary in Atlanta. "Atlanta is a clear example of a different type of ethos. The black community is not people who have lost their way."
Increasingly blacks are moving to places with small black populations. Just 2 percent of the black population growth in the last decade occurred in counties that have traditionally been black population centers, while 20 percent has occurred in counties where only a tiny fraction of the population had been black.
Segregation declined during the decade. Among the nation's 100 largest metro areas, 92 showed segregation declines with most of the largest occurring in growing areas in the South and West, Mr. Frey said.
The South was the fastest growing region overall, up 14 percent from 2000. Its white population increased as well, though whites grew substantially in the West as well, something that was not the case for blacks. Growth of Asian and Hispanic populations -- which grew the fastest overall -- was widely distributed throughout the nation.
"The center of population has moved south in the most extreme way we've ever seen in history," said Robert Groves, director of the Census Bureau.
Northern blacks were a big part of Southern gains. There are now more than one million black residents of the South who were born in the Northeast, a tenfold increase since 1970.
Blacks who moved to the South were disproportionately young -- 40 percent were adults ages 21 to 40, compared with 29 percent of the nonmigrant black population. One in four newcomers had a four-year college degree, compared to one in six of the black adults who had already lived in the South.
Cicely Bland, 36, a publishing company owner who left her home in Jersey City in 2006 for Stockbridge, an Atlanta suburb, said life was better because it was more affordable. Her choice was as much about cultural affinity as it was job opportunities.
"The business and political opportunities are here," she said. "You have a lot of African-Americans with a lot of influence, and they're in my immediate networks."
Overall, the black population grew by 11 percent in large metropolitan counties, but by 15 percent in adjacent smaller counties in the metropolitan area, suggesting a strong movement of blacks to the suburbs. The top 10 fastest-growing areas were suburbs, census officials said.
Not everyone was well off. Katherine Curtis, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who specializes in demography and inequality, said blacks who returned to the states where they were born tended to have a higher poverty rate than those who went to other Southern states. One reason could be that they moved back for family, not economic opportunity, she said.
The black population grew by 11 percent over the decade, faster than the 1 percent growth in the white population, but far behind the 43 percent growth in the Hispanic population, whose increase made up more than half of all population growth in the decade.
But there were declines among blacks under 18, down 2 percent for the decade. The population of white children was down 10 percent, with 46 states experiencing declines in the white youth population, Mr. Frey said. Children from minority groups are now about 46 percent of the total population under 18, compared with 53 percent for whites.
In Atlanta, Mr. Peters, who grew up in New Orleans, viewed the changes as a source of pride for Americans, saying the South had changed a lot in his lifetime.
"One of the things that I grew up with was looking forward to the day that there would be a New South," he said. "This is it. The New South represents a more inclusive community, what we can become as a country."
(Source: The New York Times, 03/24/11)
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