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Race and Housing in the Postwar City: - page 4 / 23





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largest central cities in the Northeast and Midwest had already stopped growing by the 1950s, and some actually had begun losing population. Central city decline in the so-called "Rustbelt" region intensified after the 1950s, in many cases dramatically so. St. Louis, for example, lost 54 percent of its central city population between 1950 and 1990; Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia each lost between 500,000 and one million people during the same period. The trend was clear—after the mid-century mark, metropolitan growth in the older industrial cities was almost entirely a suburban phenomenon as the central cities deconcentrated. However, cities in the South and West experienced both central city and suburban growth, a phenom­ enon explained by rising regional migration to the "Sunbelt" and more liberal annexation laws that permitted cities in the region to pull suburban escapees back into municipal boundaries. In any case, newer "Sunbelt" cities in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California leaped ahead demographically and economically, while older cities in other regions stagnated. Most of all, millions of Americans every­ where submitted to the centrifugal pull of the beckoning suburbs.6

The suburban migration that began after 1945 was almost entirely a white phenomenon. To be sure, some black suburbaniza­ tion took place, usually to older, working-class areas or to new black

subdivisions just beyond city boundaries.

But mostly, migrating

blacks moved to the central cities, and in some cases strikingly so. During the three decades after 1940, about five million African Americans from southern states trekked to northern and western cities, while hundreds of thousands more moved from the rural to the urban South. Within just a few decades, this second great migra­ tion dramatically altered the racial balance in most American cities.

Virtually every big city in the U.S. recorded sharp black pop­ ulation gains after 1940 (see Table 1). During the crucial transition period between 1940 and 1960, for example, New York City's black population increased by 137 percent. Other major northeastern and midwestern cities also marked amazing black population gains: Philadelphia 111 percent, Cleveland 197 percent, Detroit 223 percent, Chicago 193 percent, Newark 200 percent, Buffalo 301 percent,


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