Why Black People Are Moving Back to the South

Artist Kia Darceo left Milwaukee for Atlanta, which she calls 'Black Mecca.'  (Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff)
Artist Kia Darceo left Milwaukee for Atlanta, which she calls ‘Black Mecca.’
(Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff)

After decades of moving north, thousands of blacks are returning to their Southern roots for economic and cultural reasons. 

When Charlie Cox told his friends he was leaving Chicago, no one tried to talk him out of it. After 35 years at General Motors, he was ready to retire. Ready to trade the cold and the crime and the frenetic pace of life for the rivers and fields of his youth. He had grown up in rural West Point, Miss., and he had moved north with his family when he was 9 years old, but somehow his heart had never quite followed. His spirit yearned for the South, and, as the years passed, the memories of his childhood burned brighter until he couldn’t stand it any longer.

There was only one problem: His wife, Darlene, wasn’t so enamored of the idea. She had been born and raised in Chicago and had deep roots in the South as well, but her impressions of the region were far from idyllic. Her ancestors were slaves, working the cotton fields of Tunica, Miss., and she didn’t have fond memories of her family’s trips to Mississippi in the 1960s.

As a result, she and Charlie found themselves at an impasse – he longed to return to a place he had never wanted to leave, but it was a place she had never wanted to live.

Was he sure, she asked?

Yes, he said. I have to do this. Come with me.

She did. Today, as she prepares breakfast in the kitchen of their three-bedroom house in West Point – a town whose entire population would fill only a quarter of the seats at Wrigley Field – she shares his enthusiasm about the move. They recently returned from a trip to Chicago and couldn’t wait to get home.

“I wouldn’t [trade] anything for West Point now,” Ms. Cox says as she slides a thick slice of bacon into a cast-iron skillet.

“It’s quiet here,” Mr. Cox agrees. “You can relax more down here. I don’t worry about my car when I park out here in the yard.”

The Coxes’ decision is one unfolding in African-American households across the nation. After decades of mass exodus, blacks are returning to the South in one of the most notable migrations of the new century.

It’s a subtle but significant shift that experts say provides not only a snapshot of the changing economics and sociology of the nation but of an emerging new South and, in some cases, of a growing disillusionment with the urban North.

For most of the 20th century, blacks were buying one-way tickets out of the Jim Crow South in hopes of a better life. Nearly 6 million African-Americans followed the railroads to places like Detroit and Chicago, never dreaming that their children and grandchildren would someday lead a return migration, chasing the American dream back down the Mississippi and straight across the Mason-Dixon line.

The Great Migration slowly eased in the 1970s as the North’s economic fortunes began to dim and the South’s racial climate began to improve. But it wasn’t until the 2000 Census, when the South posted its first black population increase in more than a century, that demographers started to really take notice. By 2010, about 57 percent of the nation’s African-Americans were living in the South – a higher percentage than at any time in 50 years.

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SOURCE: Carmen K. Sisson 
Christian Science Monitor