The number of African Americans residing in the District plummeted by more than 11 percent during the past decade, with blacks on the verge of losing their majority status in the city for the first time in half a century.
According to census statistics released Thursday, barely 50 percent of the District’s population was African American in 2010–a remarkable shift in a place once nicknamed “Chocolate City.”
The black population dropped by more than 39,000 over the decade, down to 301,000 of the city’s 601,700 residents. At the same time, the non-Hispanic white population skyrocketed by more than 50,000 to 209,000 residents, almost a third higher than a decade earlier.
The census statistics showed a steeper change for both blacks and whites than had been estimated. With the city ‘s black population dropping by about 1 percent a year, African Americans might already be below the 50 percent mark in the city.
The demographic change is the result of almost 15 years of gentrification that has transformed large swaths of Washington, especially downtown. As housing prices soared, white professionals priced out of neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle began migrating to predominantly black areas such as Petworth and Brookland.
Maurice Jackson, a professor of African American history at Georgetown University, said the black middle class has followed the white middle class before them, heading to the suburbs in search of more affordable housing and good schools.
“No opportunities are being created for low- and middle-income people in the city,” he said. “I drive to Georgetown ever day, and very rarely do I see African Americans on construction jobs.”
“We’re going to stop this trend–gentrification,” said D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8). “We can’t displace old-time Washingtonians.”
“The key to keeping this city black is jobs, jobs, jobs for black people so they can have a better quality of life in neighborhoods in the city,” he added. “I believe in integration, but I don’t believe in the apartheid we have in Ward 8. You don’t see corner stores in Ward 3. You don’t see the liquor stores.”
“We can’t keep people from moving, but if we had a residency requirement, we could keep government workers from moving,” Barry said.