South Now More Integrated, More Racially Diverse

Black people are moving back to the South as cities grow more integrated

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Black people are moving back to the South in huge numbers, reversing the Great Migration to northern cities that peaked in during the civil rights turmoil of the 1960s, The New York Times' Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff report. And not only are black people moving south, they're moving to the suburbs--meaning metropolitain areas there have become significantly more integrated, according to new census data. Now 58 percent of Southern blacks live in the suburbs.

Reasons Behind the Change

In 1900, 90 percent of blacks lived in the South, but that number plummeted to roughly 50 percent during the Great Migration, when black people fled the region's brutal institutionalized racism. Since 1960, blacks have begun returning to the South, and now make up 57 percent of the population. Isabel Wilkerson, author of a history of the Great Migration, tells PBS that "the outpouring of people from the South, in fact, put pressure on the South and on the North and helped to change the South, and made it a more welcoming place" for both blacks and Latinos.

“One of the things that I grew up with was looking forward to the day that there would be a New South,” the Rev. Ronald Peters, who moved to Atlanta last year, told the Times. “This is it. The New South represents a more inclusive community, what we can become as a country.”

Southern Political Report's Tom Baxter writes that for the most part, the suburbanization of blacks is tied to a rising standard of living. But another factor is the bulldozing of Section 8 houses in Atlanta and elsewhere, plus the effect of foreclosures following the subprime mortgage crisis.

Some Political Consequences

The Associated Press reports that the influx of blacks into historically whiter areas could make it harder for state legislatures to create congressional districts with overwhelming black majority populations. The new census data also show a boom in the Latino population. Republican-leaning areas could become more Democratic, as in central Florida, where non-Cuban Hispanic immigrants are making districts more blue.

"Republicans might be happy that states such as Arizona, Georgia, and Texas are gaining members of Congress and Electoral College votes, while Illinois and Massachusetts will lose them," National Journal's Cameron Joseph writes. "But much of the growth in those Sun Belt states was driven by Hispanics and African-Americans, groups that could make some GOP strongholds harder to defend. ... Nonwhites accounted for more than four-fifths of the total population growth in Florida and Georgia and more than 90 percent of Texas’s growth. Of the dozen states with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations, 10 are Republican-leaning and nine are in the South."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.