More than 2 million blacks went north between 1900 and 1930. Though the exodus slowed after that, it continued until the 1970s, when the end of segregation and official discrimination encouraged a return that reversed that trend.
Now preliminary Census data show that blacks are leaving big cities in the Northeast and Midwest in greater number than in decades, and they are heading to the South.
Mostly, they come for the same reasons other Northerners move to Dixie — job opportunities and quality of life. However, for many of these immigrants from the North, quality of life includes restoring ties with family left behind and finding comfortable surroundings in what many consider their ancestral homeland.
Today, 57 percent of U.S. blacks live in the South, up from 53 percent in the 1970s, and the vast majority are making their homes in large metropolitan areas like Atlanta, which, according to the latest statistics, has the second largest African-American population in the country, behind New York.
This shift has political as well as cultural implications.
Most African-Americans vote Democratic. In the last election, they were able to tip GOP-leaning states like Virginia, North Carolina and Florida into the Democratic camp. They might be able to do the same in states like Georgia and Texas, where non-white minorities are becoming the majority.
Already, political planners in these states are looking at how congressional districts may be redrawn to concentrate this black population — an exercise conducted by both parties in an effort to improve their chances in subsequent congressional elections.
Just as the Great Migration left political power unchallenged in the hands of whites, the return “home” will likely reduce the ability of Southern whites to govern as they wish, with little regard for the black community.
The Southern political scene is changing. Where that change will lead the region is the question.