The roads to freedom for America's Black citizens (Courtesy photo)
The roads to freedom for America's Black citizens (Courtesy photo)

When the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) held it’s 93rd Annual Black History Luncheon on Feb. 16 at the Washington Renaissance Hotel in northwest D.C., the featured panel talked about the theme, “Black Migrations,” but at one point deviated from the main topic.

The “Black Migrations” focused on African Americans moving from the South to the North, Midwest and the West during the 20th century but a discussion emerged on intra-metropolitan area movement that had racial implications.

George Derek Musgrove, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who participated in the ASALH panel, said a “Black Migration” has taken place within the D.C. metropolitan area.

“Blacks from D.C. have moved out to Prince George’s County,” Musgrove said. “Middle-class Blacks have gone to Prince George’s County since the 1970s. We cannot ignore Prince George’s County.”

In 1960, Prince George’s County, located to the east of the District in Maryland, reported a population of 357,367, with Blacks constituting eight percent, or 31,011. The 1960s saw exponential growth in the number of Blacks in the county with an increase of 14 percent and a population of 91,808 out of 660,567 by 1970.

The 1968 King riots produced “White flight” from the District, but middle-class Blacks began to leave the city, also.

“Blacks who could afford to leave wanted to move somewhere they could have a lawn and live in a nice big house,” Musgrove said. “They wanted to go where there were good schools.”

While these residents lived in the county, they tended to work, attend church, socialize and do business in the District. Blacks also moved to Montgomery County and in northern Virginia, but in much smaller numbers.

The Black population in Prince George’s County significantly increased from 1970 to 1990, when African Americans made up 51 percent of the population. During the 1990s, the county became known as the nation’s wealthiest Black jurisdiction, with many residents holding federal and District government jobs.

The county also became known jokingly as “Ward 9,” referring to the eight wards in the District’s political system. Many of its neighborhoods even had city-inspired nicknames, such as the Lake Arbor-Mitchellville area, sometimes referred to as “Howard University East.”

However, in the 2000s, when the county became 63 percent Black, many African Americans moved there for different reasons, Musgrove said.

“The migration to Prince George’s County came about then because many Blacks could not afford to live in the city because of gentrification,” he said.

Musgrove said Blacks presently make up 47 percent of the District’s population while 64 percent of Prince Georgians are African American. He also said the shift of Blacks from the urban center to the suburbs has taken place elsewhere.

“We see the same shift in the Atlanta,” he said. “Middle-class Blacks in Atlanta have moved to nearby DeKalb County and they are now in the majority there.”

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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