A strong economy and vastly improved race relations are luring record numbers of black Americans to the South, a region that many deserted early in the 20th century.
More than 680,000 blacks 5 and older moved to the South from another region from 1995 to 2000, outnumbering the 333,000 who moved away by a better than 2-to-1 margin, according to a Census Bureau report released Thursday.
The report found no other region of the country had an increase in black migration, a reverse of the trend seen in the first half of the century, when many blacks left the South for the industrial Northeast and Midwest.
"Many blacks left not only because of economic opportunities but because of the political and social constraints of segregation," said Charles Ross, historian and interim director of the African-American Studies program at the University of Mississippi. "Those things have changed dramatically in the South."
Migration from the South rose through the early decades of the 20th century, as tens of thousands of blacks left to escape segregationist Jim Crow laws and a poor economy. That led to a rise in black populations in Northeastern and Midwestern cities, where blacks came for jobs in steel mills, automobile factories and other industrial plants.
That movement north slowed as job opportunities dwindled and racial tensions rose in northern cities in the 1960s and 1970s, Ross said.
A return of blacks to the South was first documented by the Census Bureau from 1975 to 1980, when 100,000 more blacks moved in than moved out. The trend continued from 1985 to 1990, when there was a net increase of 200,000; the net increase was nearly 347,000 from 1995 to 2000.
Older blacks who moved to the Northeast or Midwest in the mid to late 20th century may be returning to the South to open their own businesses and connect with family roots, said William Spriggs, executive director of the National Urban League's Institute for Opportunity and Equality.
"Most of these African-Americans came from the South," Spriggs said. "The politics of the South have changed enough so that these new business operations can get contracting opportunities."
Georgia took in the largest number of blacks from other states regardless of region, with a net increase of nearly 130,000 from 1995 to 2000. It was followed by North Carolina and Florida.
According to separate research from University of Michigan demographer William Frey, Orlando and Atlanta had the largest jumps in black populations among large metropolitan areas from 1990 to 2000, each growing by about 62 percent.
Reflecting the overall shift in U.S. population, the South was the only region to see a net increase of migrants from other regions among blacks, Asians, Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, while the Northeast was the only region with a net loss in each category.
Overall the South had a net increase of 1.8-million new residents from other states from 1995 to 2000, while the Northeast had a net decrease of almost 1.3-million.
to the South
The number of blacks who moved into and out of Southeastern states from 1995 to 2000.
Georgia 252,237 122,488
Florida 168,862 117,576
S.C. 77,555 61,302
Tennessee 68,995 49,652
Alabama 63,630 56,784
Louisiana 58,075 76,149
Mississippi 51,415 54,106
Kentucky 29,599 26,985
Arkansas 25,593 27,785
_ Source: U.S. Census Bureau