The term “downtown” has long been used as a mocking euphemism to refer to black people – poor, devastated and in distress. But many city centers in the North and West are becoming less and less black because blacks are moving.
For example, according to estimates by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, the black population of Washington, which for more than half a century was a predominantly black city, fell below 50% in 2011.
In 2018, church alumnus Jeanne D. Cooper told the Washington Post that the District of Columbia was once called “Chocolate City.” She continued, “Now it’s Chocolate chip town. “Its historic black church, Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ, which was founded just after the Civil War in 1869, was forced to close due to gentrification and low attendance.
According to the most recent census data, DC’s black population fell to 41% in 2020.
The decline in the black population in what had become black strongholds is occurring across the country, either due to the pressure on housing prices spurred by gentrification or the wave of reverse migration of blacks from the North and the ‘West returning to the South.
It has been a boon to black power in many places where black people have moved, but there has been another undeniable impact – a disappearance of culture and a hollowing out of power in the places they have fled.
The black part of the population of Oakland, California, the birthplace of the Black Panthers, fell from 44% in 1990 to only 20% in 2020, a drop of more than half in just 30 years.
Detroit, once the darkest of America’s big cities, birthplace of Motown, fall from 82% black in 2010 to 77% black in 2020. Hispanic, white and Asian populations have all increased in the city during this period.
New York, with two million black residents, more than any other city in America, has seen its black population 4.5% drop during the last decade. This came on the heels of the 5.1 percent black population decline on previous decade, the first drop in the number of black residents in recent history.
Perhaps no neighborhood embodies this black getaway, or black displacement, in New York better than Harlem, one of America’s most famous historically black neighborhoods.
As The New York Times reported in 2010, after Harlem lost its predominantly black designation: up to 64 percent of residents. In 2008, there were 153,000 blacks in Greater Harlem, and they represented 41% of the population.
In the 2020 census, Harlem’s black population declined further and now represents only 37 percent of the total.
Chicago, a major destination for blacks during the Great Migration, saw its black population decimated. As NPR reported last year, “In 1980 decades of black population growth in Chicago came to a halt and reversed. By 2016, Chicago’s black population had declined by 350,000 from its peak of nearly 1.2 million in 1980. “
The 2020 census showed that Chicago’s black population declined by about 85,000 from 2010, a drop of almost 10%.
Philadelphia also saw a decline in its black population, with The Philadelphia Investigator writing: “The decline of the black population of Philadelphia – a loss of about 30,500 people – is the most significant in the history of the city.
Even before this census, The Los Angeles Times reported on a black exodus from western cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, writing, “Progressive West Coast enclaves are seeing an exodus of blacks or failing to attract them.”
Whether blacks move to the suburbs or to the South, they are changing what black America is and where black culture is expressed and black power is exercised.
These changes do not mean that there are now fewer predominantly black cities; the number is increasing, because Brooking pointed out in 2019. It’s just that 90 percent of majority black cities are now in the South. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that much of the municipal south is black.
Indeed, many cities that we associate with the racist South and the civil rights movement – Selma and Montgomery, Alabama; Jackson and Philadelphia, Mississippi; Little Rock, Ark. ; and Atlanta – now have black mayors.
The black presence and black power in America are on a seesaw: as they fall in some cities, they increase in others, with more chocolate chip towns to the north and west, and really no more. chocolate towns in the south.