Black History Month
As we mentioned in last Thursday’s post, February marks Black History Month, which provides us an opportunity to look into some issues involving race that may not come up at other times. For today’s post, we turn to the issue of demographics by looking at how the racial composition of the 50 states has changed across time. (We focus on the African American community here, but in a post later this month, we’ll look at the even more dramatic population trends among the Hispanic community).
According to the most recent data from the US Census Bureau, African Americans make up at least 30 percent of the population in four states: Georgia (31.5%), Louisiana (32.8%), Maryland (30.9%), and Mississippi (37.6%). In addition, the District of Columbia (though not technically a state) has an even higher African American population, which makes up a full 52.2% of the population. These are all sizeable figures given that African Americans represent only 12.9% of the national population.
These figures, however, tell us nothing about the trends over time in the racial composition of these states. To put them in context, we turned to the 1970 Census data from the Census Bureau’s archives. (We used 1970 because it is the point at which the Great Migration—a 60-year period when more than 6 million African Americans migrated from the South—ended.)
The chart at the top of this post shows the demographic changes these states have gone through over this time period. Clearly, Maryland, a crossroads state in the migration, has seen the biggest change, with the percentage of African Americans in the state increasing from 17.8% to 30.9% in just 40 years. The other three states considered saw smaller (though still significant) gains, with the African American population in Georgia increasing by 5.6 percentage points, in Louisiana by 3 percentage points, and in Mississippi by 0.8 percentage points.
Also surprising (though not included in the chart) is the inverse trend in the District of Columbia, where the African American population fell from 71.1% in 1970 to 52.2% in 2010; a trend that’s not all that surprising to those of us who seen the gentrification of the city up close. The only other states to see declines were Arkansas (-2.2%) and South Carolina (-1.7%).