Jimmy Vielkind et al., Wall Street Journal, June 22, 2023
The waves of migration that brought Black Americans to many northern cities are reversing.
Departing residents are heading everywhere from nearby suburbs to high-growth areas in the southern U.S., such as metro Atlanta, according to demographers, real-estate agents and public officials.
The latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates, released Thursday, indicate Black residents are continuing to leave many urban centers in the North and elsewhere, adding to decades of decline. These losses have hit many major cities with historically large Black populations, including Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Oakland, Calif.
The outflow marks a reversal of the Great Migration that began in the early 20th century as millions of Black Americans left the South looking for more economic opportunities and to flee racial violence. Much of the current shift is driven by younger, college-educated Black people who are relocating from northern and western places to the South, said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
Some are motivated by rising housing costs and worries about safety.
“I wanted some peace and quiet. I was tired of the gunshots, the sirens,” said Mary Hall-Rayford, a retired teacher who moved from Detroit to neighboring Eastpointe, Mich., in 2012. “Eastpointe was a nice little city.”
She serves on the school board and is running for mayor.
The new census estimates show other cities included in the county-level data, like Philadelphia and Baltimore, saw the number of non-Hispanic Black residents decline more steeply than their overall population in the last measured year, which runs through mid-2022. This comes as many cities saw their numbers broadly shrink because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Khary Minor grew up in South Philadelphia and opened a barbershop there in 2016. Since the pandemic hit and crime rose, he said about 5% of his customers have left the city. The 47-year-old father of three is planning his own move when his lease expires in December and is scouting houses in suburban Darby, Pa.
“Better school district, nicer neighborhood, there’s not people out on every corner,” Minor said.
This new migration has implications large and small. The influx of Black voters—many of whom vote Democratic—has turned formerly GOP-dominated Georgia into a swing state in recent elections.
Nationwide, Black people haven’t suburbanized at the same level as the broader population, but the share of the Black population living in metropolitan-area suburbs reached 44% by 2020 from 33% two decades earlier. Over the same period, the percentage of the Black population living in central cities declined to 47% from 53%.
At the same time, Black populations in some southern metro areas have increased. Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, added about 18,000 non-Hispanic Black residents between mid-2021 and mid-2022, according to the census estimates.
Counties surrounding Atlanta, broadly speaking, also saw gains.
Oakland’s Black population has been declining for decades. The new census estimates show the Black population declined by 2.3% in Alameda County, which includes Oakland, between mid-2021 and mid-2022.
While the Black population in Detroit’s Wayne County again ticked down, the share of Black residents in Macomb County, which includes Eastpointe, increased to an estimated 13.5% last year from 2.7% in 2000, the new census estimates show.