- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003


A strong economy and vastly improved race relations are luring record numbers of black Americans to the South, a region that many deserted early in the 20th century.

More than 680,000 blacks age 5 and older moved to the South from another region between 1995 and 2000, outnumbering the 333,000 who moved away by a better than 2-to-1 margin, according to a Census Bureau report released yesterday.

The report found no other region of the country saw an increase in black migration, a reversal of the trend seen in the first half of the 20th century, when many blacks left the South for the industrial Northeast and Midwest.

“Many blacks left not only because of economic opportunities but because of the political and social constraints of segregation,” said Charles Ross, historian and interim director of the African-American Studies program at the University of Mississippi. “Those things have changed dramatically in the South.”

Migration from the South rose through the early decades of the 20th century, as tens of thousands of blacks left to escape segregationist Jim Crow laws and a poor economy. That led to a rise in black populations in Northeastern and Midwestern cities, where blacks came for jobs in steel mills, automobile factories and other industrial plants.

That movement north slowed as job opportunities dwindled and racial tensions rose in Northern cities in the 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Ross said.

A return of blacks to the South was first documented by the Census Bureau between 1975 and 1980, when 100,000 more blacks moved in than moved out. The trend continued between 1985 and 1990, when there was a net increase of 200,000; the net increase was nearly 347,000 between 1995 and 2000.

Blacks who move to the South tend to be more educated than those who never left the region. Migrants to the South tend to be slightly older than those who left the region, indicating some might have returned after leaving earlier in their lives, the Census Bureau said.

Older blacks who moved to the Northeast or Midwest in the mid- to late 20th century may be returning to the South to open businesses and connect with family roots, said William Spriggs, executive director of the National Urban League’s Institute for Opportunity and Equality.

“Most of these African-Americans came from the South,” Mr. Spriggs said. “The politics of the South have changed enough so that these new business operations can get contracting opportunities.”

Georgia took in the largest number of blacks from other states regardless of region, with a net increase of nearly 130,000 between 1995 and 2000. It was followed by North Carolina and Florida.

According to separate research from University of Michigan demographer William Frey, Orlando, Fla., and Atlanta had the largest jumps in black populations among large metropolitan areas between 1990 and 2000, each growing by about 62 percent.

Reflecting the overall shift in U.S. population, the South was the only region to see a net increase of migrants from other regions among blacks, Asians, Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, while the Northeast was the only region that had a net loss in each category. While whites moving to the South outpaced those leaving for other regions, the rate was less than for blacks.

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