Posted on November 1, 2011

Prince George’s County: Growing, and Growing More Segregated, Census Shows

Ovetta Wiggins et al., Washington Post, October 30, 2011


From Loudoun to Fairfax to Montgomery, communities that are growing are also growing more integrated, with people of every race and ethnicity living side by side. Prince George’s stands virtually alone as a place that is gaining population yet has an increasing number of residents living in neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly one race–in this case, African American.

A Washington Post analysis of census data shows that the number of Prince George’s neighborhoods where more than 85 percent of residents are the same race or ethnicity–what demographers consider a high level of segregation–has inched up, from 25 percent in 1990 to 27 percent last year.

Though the increase is small, any uptick is startling in comparison with everywhere else in the region. While the all-white neighborhood has all but disappeared from Northern Virginia, Montgomery and the District, the all-black neighborhood is on the rise in Prince George’s.


Four factors are driving the changes in Prince George’s: It remains a beacon for middle-class African Americans who want to live around other blacks. It continues to lose non-Hispanic whites, and few whites are moving in. It has been less successful than neighboring counties in attracting Asians. And its fastest-growing group, Hispanics, are carving out enclaves of their own instead of dispersing throughout the county.

The result has been a dramatic shift in the nature of segregation in Prince George’s. Twenty years ago, fully a third of the county’s segregated neighborhoods were white. Today, none are. And there are only a few communities where whites are a majority, mostly in College Park.


Today, integration has moved beyond black and white. Integrated neighborhoods often are created when Asians and Hispanics move into predominantly white neighborhoods, said John Logan, a Brown University sociologist who has studied segregation patterns for 30 years. He says these “global neighborhoods” pave the way for more blacks to move into a community without triggering white flight.

In the Washington region, 90 percent of whites still live in neighborhoods where they are a majority or the largest group. Many whites remain unwilling to buy houses in black neighborhoods, Logan said, and so are most Asians.

“It’s going to be a long, long time before that disappears,” he said.


“A lot of white people don’t want to live around black people. It’s crazy, I know,” said John Petro, a developer who lives in a predominantly black subdivision in Bowie and has no intention of moving away.

“They don’t always say ‘black,’ ” said Jane Eagen Dodd, a retired schoolteacher who lives in an Upper Marlboro community with a rich mix of people from different backgrounds. “They say, ‘The county is changing.’ ”

Over the past decade, the county’s white population dropped by 50,000. At the same time, the county gained 72,000 Hispanics. There are now more Hispanics than whites in Prince George’s.

Hispanics, who were responsible for most of the county’s growth over the past decade, are not moving into areas that are majority black. Instead, they are clustered almost entirely in the neighborhoods around Langley Park and Beltsville. Langley Park is the only neighborhood in the county where more than 85 percent of the residents are Hispanic.


But Asians “would rather come here to visit than live here,” said Gayatri Varma, an immigrant from India who works at the University of Maryland and lives in Beltsville.

Many Asians buy houses elsewhere, Varma and others said, because they are looking for the best public schools. The Prince George’s schools rank among the lowest in the state in test scores, though they have been improving in recent years.


Scholars of the black middle class say many African Americans want to live together.

“They enjoy interacting with other blacks,” Karyn Lacy, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, wrote in her book “Blue-Chip Black,” for which she interviewed dozens of parents in Prince George’s. “Scholars have focused so much on the burden of blackness that they have devoted scant attention to the possibility that there is something enjoyable about being black and participating in a community of blacks.”

Residential integration is not a goal, particularly for younger black professionals born after the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, said Bart Landry, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who has returned to Prince George’s for an update to his 1987 book, “The New Black Middle Class.” He said many residents find comfort, after spending the day in a predominantly white workplace, in returning to a home where all their neighbors are other African American professionals.

“They’re where they want to be,” Landry said. “They’re not thinking about integration. It’s not on their radar screen. . . . Their goal is to live in a community of like-minded, like-valued people, and these are other middle-class blacks.”