In Deborah Brown’s family lore, the American South was a place of whites-only water fountains and lynchings under cover of darkness. It was a place black people like her mother had fled.
But for Ms. Brown, 59, a retired civil servant from Queens, the South now promises salvation.
Three generations of her family — 10 people in all — are moving to Atlanta from New York, seeking to start fresh economically and, in some sense, to reconnect with a bittersweet past. They include Ms. Brown, her 82-year-old mother and her 26-year-old son, who has already landed a job and settled there.
The economic downturn has propelled a striking demographic shift: black New Yorkers, including many who are young and college educated, are heading south.
About 17 percent of the African-Americans who moved to the South from other states in the past decade came from New York, far more than from any other state, according to census data. Of the 44,474 who left New York State in 2009, more than half, or 22,508, went to the South, according to a study conducted by the sociology department of Queens College for The New York Times.
The movement is not limited to New York. The percentage of blacks leaving big cities in the East and in the Midwest and heading to the South is now at the highest levels in decades, demographers say.
“I feel a strong spiritual pull to go back to the South,” Ms. Brown said.
Middle-class enclaves, like Jamaica and St. Albans in Queens, are feeding this exodus. Black luminaries — like James Brown, W. E. B. Du Bois and Ella Fitzgerald — once lived in St. Albans, a neighborhood that is now being hit by high unemployment and foreclosures.
The migration of middle-class African-Americans is helping to depress already falling housing prices. It is also depriving the black community of investment and leadership from some of its most educated professionals, black leaders say.
The movement marks an inversion of the so-called Great Migration, which lasted roughly from World War I to the 1970s and saw African-Americans moving to the industrializing North to escape prejudice and find work.
Spencer Crew, a history professor at George Mason University who was the curator of a prominent exhibit on the Great Migration at the Smithsonian Institution, said the current exodus from New York stemmed largely from tough economic times. New York is increasingly unaffordable, and blacks see more opportunities in the South.
Source: New York Times | DAN BILEFSKY
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