The Reverse Migration, Cont.


The Times adds to the conversation:

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 Thursday, as younger and more educated black residents move out of declining cities in the Northeast and Midwest in search of better opportunities... 

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.

These are some numbers, but it's worth reading the article and thinking about some of the quotes. For instance:

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."

I think it's easy to forget how much the 80s really turned a lot of African-Americans off to cities. There was always this weird dissonance for us between, say, "Family Ties" or "The Wonder Years," and the hot, drug-addled blocks where we lived. The suburbs were sprawling lawns. The suburbs were money. The suburbs were where people had pools. The suburbs were where you heard no gunshots at night. 

We had no real handle on phrases like "density," "urbanism," or "walkability." We didn't watch "Friends." (Well, I did.) We didn't live in the city because it was "dynamic." We lived in the city because you couldn't afford to leave. I have six brothers and sisters--all of them, save one, raised in Baltimore. Of those presently raising kids, I'm the only still living in a city.

Now I've lived in cities all my life, and, at this point, I'm a New Yorker to the core. I don't ever see myself living in the suburbs. But that wasn't how I thought as a child, and even now I understand the allure. You drive through, say, PG County outside D.C., or the suburbs outside of Atlanta, or, I imagine, outside Houston, and you see all of these black people, with these big lawns, nice cars and sprawling homes. This is the dream of black folks who suffered the Crack Age. This is the dream of finally, at long lost, going home.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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