African-Americans in the South are shunning city life for the suburbs at the highest levels in decades, rapidly integrating large metropolitan areas that were historically divided between inner-city blacks and suburban whites.
“All of this will shake up the politics,” said Lance deHaven-Smith, a political science professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Because the South is a critical region for Republicans in presidential elections, “all the Democrats have to do is pick up a couple Southern states, and Republicans are in trouble.”
The share of blacks in large metropolitan areas who opted to live in the suburbs climbed to 58 percent in the South, compared to 41 percent for the rest of the U.S., according to census estimates. That’s up from 52 percent in 2000 and represents the highest share of suburban blacks in the South since the Civil Rights Act passed in the 1960s.
The South also had major gains in neighborhood integration between blacks and whites. Thirty-two of the region’s 38 largest metro areas made such gains since 2000, according to a commonly used demographic index. The measure, known as the segregation index, tracks the degree to which racial groups are evenly spread between neighborhoods. Topping the list were rapidly diversifying metros in central Florida, as well in Georgia, Texas and Tennessee.
“It’s clear that black growth continues to locate in the suburban South, leading to declines in their historic segregation,” said William Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution who did a broad analysis of the census data. “This new dispersed growth of blacks, coupled with the new waves of Hispanic growth, are changing the region’s longstanding ‘black-white’ image and heralding the beginning of a more diverse region.”