Why Migrate South?
by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. (bio)
Beginning with the end of the Civil War, huge numbers of newly-freed black Americans moved from the rural South to metropolitan areas - especially in northern states - in what is now called the "Great Migration."
Lately, there is a trend toward reverse migration. While almost half of blacks leaving the rural South went North and West in the late 1960s, only 13 percent were doing so by the early 1990s. By that time, most moves were to more urban areas within the region. Moreover, the black population in the South in the 1990s actually grew by 3.6 million - more than in any other region.
There are many reasons for this return to the "New South." Some blacks are moving back to retire or take care of family. Others see business opportunities. According to 2005 figures, almost half of the largest black-owned businesses are now located in the South, as are 14 of the top 25 black-owned banks.
Where this behavior defies logic, however, is in the context of scientific predictions concerning global warming. There are contentions that the globe is facing a warming trend, with warmer temperatures reaching higher and higher latitudes. Warmer climates portend more severe weather patterns (with higher insurance costs), increased demand and related costs for energy to make life bearable and a greater demand for dwindling water resources.
In spite of these predictions, blacks continue to migrate in the southerly direction. Why?
Four reasons come to mind. First, blacks choosing to move to the South may not be fully aware of the global warming debate. Second, they may know about these predictions but reject them as inaccurate. Furthermore, blacks may know about the predictions and believe them, but are ignoring them. Finally, blacks may or may not know about the predictions, may or may not believe that they are accurate but are simply blown like dust in the wind to southern states because they have no long-term plan.
It is difficult to believe so many of us are unaware of predictions about global warming. Given trends in black media consumption, it should be nearly impossible not to know. So let's quickly reject that reason.
As for reasons two and three, it is probable that blacks may not view predictions about global warming as accurate. Why? The global warming debate is a very political one. Our planet goes through dramatic yet natural climate cycles such as the tropical era of the dinosaurs and the later Ice Age. Environmental activists say recent hot summers are the fault of man-made activity and believe that they can solve this problem by regulating our lives. Skeptical? Lots of people are.
As for the fourth reason, it can be argued that one of the most critical and pressing issues facing black Americans - our nation within a nation - is that we have no overarching long-term strategic plan. As a result, if you believe the environmentalists, blacks are continuing to leave the frying pan of the North for the coming fire in the South.
Meanwhile, other ethnic groups are moving northward and westward to states such as Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington where few blacks live and where conditions may be more favorable for longer periods of time - should predictions about global warming prove accurate.
Like it or not, history marches on. We have come too far and overcome too much over the generations to commit strategic missteps at this point. Future climate trends merit consideration, and yet they seem to be wholly overlooked by those who claim a leadership role in our community.
Perhaps all of this can be addressed in a religious context. After all, in the Bible, Abraham was a scientist. His people were the ones who migrated to Canada - I mean Canaan.
# # #
B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. You can visit his website at www.blackeconomics.org. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints
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