A century ago, nine of 10 African-Americans lived in the South,
primarily in formerly Confederate states where segregation reigned.
Then, in the 1920s, blacks began heading north, both to escape the
racism of Jim Crow and to seek work as southern agriculture grew
increasingly mechanized. "From World War I to the 1970s, some 6
million black Americans fled the American South for an uncertain
existence in the urban North and West," wrote author Isabel
Wilkerson in "The Warmth of Other Suns."
Principal destinations in the Great Migration, as the exodus came
to be called, included Chicago, Detroit and New York City, and
carried tremendous political implications, both good and bad. It
helped spur the civil rights movement, but it also trapped many
blacks in urban ghettos. More recently, the Great Migration has
reversed itself, with blacks returning to the South.
This reversal fits within a larger demographic shift among
Americans in general, who are moving from the Rust Belt to the Sun
Belt. But the new black migration is nevertheless significant: Not
only could it portend major changes to the nation's politics; it
also testifies to the liberal North's failure to integrate African-
Americans into the mainstream. As historian Walter Russell Mead has
observed, that failure is "the most devastating possible indictment
of the 20th century liberal enterprise in the United States."
The New York Times noticed in the early 1970s that, for the first
time, more blacks were moving from the North to the South than vice
versa. Last year, the Times described the South's share of black
population growth as "about half the country's total in the 1970s,
two-thirds in the 1990s and three-quarters in the decade that just
Many of the migrants are "buppies" -- young, college-educated,
upwardly mobile black professionals -- and older retirees. Over the
last two decades, according to the Census, the states with the
biggest gains in black population have been Georgia, South Carolina,
Virginia, Texas and Florida. New York, Illinois and Michigan have
seen the greatest losses. Today, 57 percent of American blacks live
in the South -- the highest percentage in a half-century.
Much of the migration has been urban-to-urban. During the first
decade of this century, according to Brookings Institution
demographer Bill Frey, the cities making the biggest gains in black
population were Atlanta, Dallas and Houston. Meanwhile, New York
City's black population fell by 67,709, Chicago's by 58,225,
Detroit's by 37,603.
Plenty of the migrants have been moving from cities to suburbs,
too. "By 2000 there were 57 metropolitan areas with at least 50,000
black suburbanites, compared to just 33 in 1980," notes sociologist
Andrew Wiese. The 2010 census revealed that 51 percent of blacks in
the 100 largest metro areas lived in the suburbs. As journalist Joel
Garreu describes it, suburbia now includes a "large, church-going,
home-owning, childbearing, backyard barbecuing, traffic-jam-cursing
black middle class remarkable for the very ordinariness with which
its members go about their classically American suburban affairs."
Four factors help explain the Great Remigration.
The first is the push and pull of job markets. States in the
Northeast and on the West Coast, where liberalism has been
strongest, tend to have powerful public-sector unions, high taxes
and heavy regulations, which translate into fewer private-sector
jobs. In southern locales, where taxes are lower and regulations
lighter, employment has grown faster; the fastest-growing cities for
job creation between 2000 and 2010 were Austin, Raleigh, San
Antonio, Houston, Charlotte and Oklahoma City. For upwardly mobile
blacks, the job-creating South represents a new land of opportunity.
The second reason for blacks' southward migration is the North's
higher housing prices and property tax rates. The 2010 median single-
family home price in northeastern metro areas was $243,900, compared
with $153,700 in southern metro areas, according to the National
Association of Realtors. …