Consider one of the great hidden stories of the past few years: the return of blacks to the South. For decades, southern labourers sought more money and less prejudice in industrial cities. In the late 1960s, black populations dropped most steeply in places such as Birmingham and Mobile in Alabama or New Orleans, Lafayette and Shreveport in Louisiana. Some of the largest gainers were Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and New York. Yet in 1995-2000, those were the five cities that lost the largest number of blacks. Conversely, Atlanta gained 114,000 African-Americans, followed by Dallas, Charlotte and Orlando. This is helping to erode racial segregation. An index developed by Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor, two economists, shows that in the medium-sized metro areas of the South, segregation has dropped.
To some extent, this is merely a reflection of a wider trend in internal migration: the movement from Rust Belt to Sun Belt. But it also helps to explain the vague sense many people have that racial politics in places like New York City have changed considerably since the era of the Crown Heights riots of 1991, when conflicts between Hassidic Jews and blacks tore the city apart. The old sense of tension between the city’s entrenched ethnic groups has dissipated, if not disappeared. Perhaps it is the combination of black flight and immigration that has changed the dynamic so noticeably.
Meanwhile, anyone who has paid attention to American pop culture for the last ten years is aware of the startling rise of African-American music from the South: Missy Elliot, Ludacris, Outkast, Goodie Mobb, and on and on. I suppose it was all predicted by Arrested Development back in 1992, in their hit Tennessee:
Go back to from whence you came (home)
My family tree my family name (home)
For some strange reason it had to be (home)
He guided me to Tennessee (home)