American blacks who a century ago began leaving the South to escape segregation and racism are returning, lured by better jobs and quality of life and perhaps by something more intangible - a sense of home.
The Southern U.S. region - primarily metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami and Charlotte, N.C. - accounted for roughly 75 percent of the population gains among blacks since 2000, up from 65 percent in the 1990s, according to the latest census estimates. The gains came primarily at the expense of Northern metro areas such as New York and Chicago, which posted their first declines in black population since at least 1980.
The findings are based on 2009 census population estimates, with official 2010 results released Tuesday for Illinois reflecting much of that change. Illinois had a 1.3 percent drop in the number of African-Americans since 2000, the first decade-long decline in the state's history.
The recent census figures for blacks refer to non-Hispanic blacks, which the Census Bureau began calculating separately in 1980.
In all, about 57 percent of U.S. blacks now live in the South, a jump from the 53 percent share in the 1970s, according to an analysis of census data by William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. It was the surest sign yet of a sustained reverse migration to the South following the exodus of millions of blacks to the Midwest, Northeast and West in the Great Migration from 1910 to 1970.