The New Great Migration: Black Americans’ Return to the South, 1965-2000


An analysis of migration data from the past four decennial censuses at regional, state, and metropolitan-area levels indicates that:

  • The South scored net gains of black migrants from all three of the other regions of the U.S. during the late 1990s, reversing a 35-year trend. Of the 10 states that suffered the greatest net loss of blacks between 1965 and 1970, five ranked among the top 10 states for attracting blacks between 1995 and 2000.
  • Southern metropolitan areas, particularly Atlanta, led the way in attracting black migrants in the late 1990s. In contrast, the major metropolitan areas of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco experienced the greatest out-migration of blacks during the same period.
  • Among migrants from the Northeast, Midwest, and West regions, blacks were more likely than whites to select destinations in the South. Atlanta and Washington, D.C. were the top destinations for black migrants from all three regions; white migrants moved to a broader set of areas including Miami, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.
  • College-educated individuals lead the new migration into the South. The “brain gain” states of Georgia, Texas, and Maryland attracted the most black college graduates from 1995 to 2000, while New York suffered the largest net loss.
  • After several decades as a major black migrant “magnet,” California lost more black migrants than it gained during the late 1990s. Southern states, along with western “spillover” states like Arizona and Nevada, received the largest numbers of black out-migrants from California.

This full-scale reversal of blacks’ “Great Migration” north during the early part of the 20th century reflects the South’s economic growth and modernization, its improved race relations, and the longstanding cultural and kinship ties it holds for black families. This new pattern has augmented a sizeable and growing black middle class in the South’s major metropolitan areas.