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Black flight is a term applied to the movement of African Americans from predominately black or mixed inner-city areas to suburbs and outlying edge cities of newer home construction. While more attention has been paid recently, the movement of blacks to the suburbs has been underway for some time, with nine million migrating from 1960-2000. Their goals have been similar to those of the white American middle class: newer housing, better schools for their children, and attractive environments. From 1990 to 2000, the percentage of African Americans who lived in the suburbs increased nearly 5 percentage points, to 39 percent. Most who moved to the suburbs after World War II were middle class.

Early years of residential change accelerated in the late 1960s after passage of civil rights legislation gave African Americans more choices in housing and jobs. This period also coincided with major restructuring of industries and loss of hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs in northeast and Midwest cities. Together in the late 20th century, these events led to reduced density in formerly black neighborhoods in cities such as Chicagomarker, Detroitmarker, New York Citymarker and Philadelphiamarker, which have had absolute population decreases.

Since the 2000 census, a pattern of decrease in black population greater than white departures has occurred in several major cities: New Yorkmarker, Atlantamarker, Bostonmarker, San Franciscomarker and Washington, DC.marker In Los Angelesmarker, the percentage of population that is black has dropped by half to 9.9% since 1970. In Washington, DC, the percentage of black population has decreased significantly to 55.6% in 2007, down nearly 8% since 2000. In 1970 at the peak of African American expansion, blacks comprised 70% of the capital's population.

More importantly, in addition to moving to suburbs, African Americans have been returning to the South in a New Great Migration, especially to the states of Georgiamarker, Texasmarker, and Marylandmarker. In many cases, they are following the movement of jobs to the South. Because more African Americans are attaining college degrees, they are better able to take advantage of such opportunities in new economic niches. Most African American migrants have gone to the "New South" states, where economies have grown from knowledge industries, service and technology. In addition to Atlanta, the top metropolitan areas attracting African Americans include Orlandomarker, Tampamarker and Miamimarker, Florida; and Charlotte, North Carolinamarker.

Achieving higher education has contributed to an increase in overall affluence within the African-American community, and thus given people more choices on jobs and housing. The most important long-term trend has been increasing median income in the African-American community, both in absolute terms and in relation to that of White American citizens.


US cities have demonstrated a pattern of waves of more established, "older" (and usually wealthier) populations moving from older areas to newer and better housing. More recent, and usually poorer, immigrants or migrants, take over the older housing as it is vacated. This progression or succession of residents has been obvious for centuries in New York and its boroughs, which can trace waves of migrant and immigrant residents. Their movements are obvious in the commuting suburbs as well.

Calling such movement "flight" obscures the pattern that populations repeatedly change throughout metropolitan areas that attract continuing waves of migrants or immigrants, a pattern called succession. They also change as a result of job movement. In his After the Fact (1995), the anthropologist Clifford Geertz documented similar succession patterns changes in a city in Moroccomarker. Poor rural migrants moved into the center city, and the older, more established and wealthier populations moved to the outskirts.

Many middle-class African Americans started in the 1960s to move to the suburbs for newer housing and good schools, just as European Americans had done before them. In the last 25 years, for example, Prince George's County, Marylandmarker, in the suburban Washington, DC, area, became majority African American and in 2006 was the wealthiest majority-black county in the nation. Similar to White Americans, African Americans continue to move to more distant areas. Charles County, Marylandmarker has become the next destination for middle-class black migrants and the school system is now majority black. Similar patterns are seen in other metropolitan areas of the country, such as Atlanta, which has some affluent majority-black suburbs.

Job losses in former industrial cities have often pushed population out, as people migrate to find new work. In the 1950s and 1960s, numerous blacks from Chicago began to move to suburbs south of the city to improve their housing. Industry job losses hit those towns, too, and many people have left the area altogether. Chicago lost population from 1970-1990, with some increases as of the 2000 census, and decreases again from 2000-2005. Many of the people who left were black, which drew from the businesses, churches, and other community institutions. The concentration of poverty and deterioration of inner city public schools in many cities also contributes to pushing black parents to move their families to suburban areas, with traditionally better funded schools, to seek better opportunities for their children.

Black flight has altered the hyper-urban density which had resulted from the Second Great Migration to cities from 1940-1970, with hyper-segregation in large central cities such as Chicagomarker, St. Louismarker, and East St. Louismarker. In 1950 few northern cities yet had large percentages of blacks, nor did southern ones: Washington, DCmarker was 35 percent African American and Baltimoremarker was 24 percent. From 1950-1970, the black population increased dramatically in Philadelphiamarker, Pittsburghmarker, Newarkmarker, Chicago, Detroitmarker, Clevelandmarker, St. Louis, Cincinnatimarker and Indianapolismarker. By 1960 75 percent of blacks lived in urban environments, while whites had been moving to suburbs in large numbers following WWII.

With the reverse movement of the New Great Migration, the South has been the gaining region for black migrants coming from all three other census regions, especially from 1995-2000. The chief gaining states have been Georgiamarker, North Carolinamarker, Floridamarker, Marylandmarker, Virginiamarker and Tennesseemarker. In the same period, Georgia, Texasmarker and Maryland attracted the most black college graduates. Chicago, San Franciscomarker, Oaklandmarker, San Diegomarker, New Yorkmarker, Philadelphia, Bostonmarker, and Washington, DC have all lost black population. Since 2000, for instance, nearly 55,000 blacks have left Chicago, although one million still live in the city.

As of 2006, black Americans occupy 15% of all suburban housing built in the last 10 years. Twenty years ago, Americanmarker blacks occupied only 2% of all newly constructed housing.

In Los Angelesmarker overall, the black population is 9.9%, half of what it was in 1970, a proportion that also reflects much increased Hispanic and Asian immigration. The large inner-city area of South-Central Los Angelesmarker offers an example of change caused by succession, where new immigrants replace former residents who move away or where a generation dies off. In 1985 African Americans made up 72% of the population of the area. In 2006 the black proportion of the population had decreased to just 24%. The Latino population had risen from 21% in 1985 to 69% in 2006, as one population replaced another.


In some cases, longtime black renters have been priced out of inner city neighborhoods because of rising rents caused by gentrification. Owners who want to move to smaller housing cannot afford it. In other cases, rising home values increase property tax assessments to a level which longtime homeowners cannot afford.

In still other areas, historic preservation activists instigate a trend of code enforcement of architectural details of older historic homes and apartment buildings. The restoration costs are often too much for lower income homeowners.

Inner city home value appreciation

In still other instances, longtime black homeowners in central city areas have "cashed out" at retirement age and profited from increasing home values. These longtime residents have relocated to more affordable condominiums in outlying suburban areas, or in other regions altogether.

Economic disparities

The economic disparities between some classes of White Americans and African Americans have diminished. Black Americans today have a median income level much higher than they did in the 1990 census and even compared to the 2000 census, after inflation is considered. African Americans occupy a higher percentage of high-paying jobs within the USA than they used to . This has led to a rapidly increasing black upper-middle class . Many of America’s suburbs are becoming diversified with black and white residents coexisting in affluent neighborhoods .

With the economic division within similar classes declining between races, African-American movement to the suburbs has resulted in some suburbs becoming more diverse. Other times middle and upper class blacks have chosen to settle in chiefly African-American communities, so their children can grow up in a strong community of their own.

The extent to which increased economic prosperity among African Americans has led to genuine integration between whites and blacks is debatable. Many suggest that the narrowing economic divide is helping the USA to become an increasingly color-blind society, but segregation and discrimination remain a reality nevertheless. See Mary Pattillo-McCoy's Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril among the Black Middle Class (University of Chicago Press, 1999) .

Other uses

The term "black flight" has also been used to describe black parents in cities moving their children from public schools to charter schools.

See also


  1. John W. Frazier and Eugene L. Tettey-fio, Race, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America, Global Academic Publishing, 2006, p.85
  2. African American Outmigration Trends: Initial Scan of National and Local Trends in Migration and Research of African Americans Accessed 3 Mar 2008
  3. Census Shows More Black Residents Are Leaving New York and Other Cities
  4. San Francisco Hopes to Reverse Black Flight
  5. News Hound, "Major US Cities Rapidly Losing Black Population", Black Society, 28 Sep 2008, accessed 18 Nov 2008
  6. William H. Frey, "The New Great Migration: Black Americans' Return to the South, 1965-2000", The Brookings Institution, May 2004, p. 1-4, accessed 19 Mar 2008
  7. John W. Frazier and Eugene L. Tettey-fio, Race, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America, Global Academic Publishing, 2006, p.78
  8. Investigating Connections between Urban Poverty and U.S. Economy accessed 3 March 2008
  9. America's wealthiest black county. (Prince George's County, Maryland) Accessed 1 Mar 2008
  10. Charles County Schools Are Now Majority Black Accessed 1 Mar 2008
  11. "African Americans", Encyclopedia of Chicago Accessed 1 Mar 2008
  12. Gibson, Campbell (June 1998). Population of the 100 Largest Cities and Other Urban Places in the United States: 1790 to 1990. U.S. Bureau of the Census - Population Division, accessed 1 Mar 2008
  13. John W. Frazier and Eugene L. Tettey-fio, Race, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America, Global Academic Publishing, 2006, p.74 and 85
  14. William H. Frey, "The New Great Migration: Black Americans' Return to the South, 1965-2000", The Brookings Institution, May 2004, pp.1-3, accessed 19 Mar 2008
  15. San Francisco Hopes to Reverse Black Flight, Accessed 1 Mar 2008
  16. San Francisco Hopes to Reverse Black Flight Accessed 1 Mar 2008
  17. Black Flight: The Exodus to Charter Schools

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