West on Market Street, beyond San Diego's shiny downtown,
formerly black neighborhoods have gone Latino. Stores along the
broad, rolling avenue peddle Hispanic goods. A billboard advertises
a wireless phone in Spanish.
"There were a lot of us," says Karen Williamson, a lifelong
African-American resident, remembering her school days. "I don't
know where they all went."
Here in San Diego and in several large cities across the United
States, African-Americans are pulling out. Their out-migration is
swelling suburbs, breaking down barriers, and building new ones.
Although some observers call the movement "black flight," the trend
suggests that African-Americans are finally treading the well-worn
path of many American immigrants.
Increasingly middle class, they're being drawn to the suburbs or
pushed out of the cities by newer immigrants (in this case,
Hispanics). On balance, demographers say, the move bodes well for
"The suburban 'good life' seems to be more accessible," says
Roderick Harrison of the Joint Center for Political and Economic
Studies in Washington.
"African-Americans ... are normalizing," adds Amitai Etzioni, a
sociologist at George Washington University, and author of a new
book on racial similarities called "The Monochrome Society."
The black exodus is most noticeable in California. Santa Ana, for
example, saw its non-Hispanic black population drop by one-third -
the biggest percentage decline of any of the nation's 100 largest
cities. Of course, Santa Ana is so overwhelmingly Hispanic that its
black population is minuscule. But the trend also holds true in
other California cities with more sizable black populations: San
Francisco (down 23 percent), Oakland (down 12 percent), and Los
Angeles (down 12 percent).
Of the top black-flight cities outside California, three lost a
greater share of blacks than whites during the 1990s. Miami lost 2
percent of its non-Hispanic whites but 18 percent of its non-
Hispanic blacks. The District of Columbia saw a 4 percent decline
in non-Hispanic whites and a 14 percent drop in non-Hispanic
blacks. Seattle actually gained whites during the 1990s but still
saw a 9 percent drop in its non-Hispanic black population.
Who's moving in?
The out-migration stems from several trends. First, Hispanics are
moving into cities in large numbers, often taking over longtime
black neighborhoods. In San Diego, for instance, a 35 percent
increase in Hispanics appears to have pushed out much of the black
population in the central part of the city, says Kelly Cunningham
of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Overall, the city's
black population fell 8 percent.
Then there's the increasing wealth of African-Americans. …