Race and Shrinking Cities: An Elaboration

Credit: Stanley Forman Photo Gallery

There is a point in my previous post that is worth elaborating.  In talking about Northern shrinking cities, more specifically those in the Northeast and Midwest, I noted that those that elected black mayors in the ’60s and ’70s seemed to bear the brunt of white flight:

 I think the trend accelerated in cities that elected black mayors during that period, like Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis and even Gary, Indiana (a smaller example of a shrinking city).  I think that at some level white residents felt unwanted and the pace of white flight exploded.

A perfect and well-known example of this – when Coleman Young was elected as Detroit’s first black mayor in 1973, he famously said at his inauguration speech that criminals should “hit 8 Mile Road” (code for get out of town, and presumably to the suburbs).  While the new mayor said later that he meant for his remark to be a “get tough on crime” comment, many white residents later said what they heard was one of two things: a push to get criminals to assault Detroit’s suburbs, or a push to get the city’s remaining white residents to relocate to the suburbs.  Whatever the intent, it’s clear that white flight accelerated in Detroit during the ‘70s.  The Motor City lost 51 percent of its white population in the ‘70s alone, going from 838,000 to 413,000 – a staggering loss of 425,000 people in just 10 years.

When I look at the cities that elected their first black mayors between say, 1965 and 1975, I see Detroit, Cleveland, Newark and Gary, among others.  Without a doubt those are cities that astounding white flight when compared to other cities.  However, look at cities that elected their first black mayors later — Chicago, Philadelphia, Buffalo, St. Louis, Baltimore.  They seemed to retain more of their white population over time.

Black Power politics had a chilling effect on our cities.

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