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Brandon Manning and his wife were both born in the U.S. South and had been itching to return, but Manning didn’t want to go back to his native Atlanta because of the traffic, housing costs and sprawl. So, when he was offered a job teaching at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, the couple decided to give the smaller city a chance.

They weren’t alone. The largest African-American population growth in pure numbers over the past decade didn’t take place in Atlanta or Houston, long identified as hubs of Black life, but rather in less congested cities with lower profiles: Fort Worth; Columbus, Ohio; Jacksonville, Florida; and Charlotte, North Carolina. Each gained between 32,000 and 40,000 new Black residents from 2010 to 2020, according to 2020 census figures, reports the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Black residents left the nation’s largest cities, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, by the tens of thousands.

“The sprawl of a Houston or an Atlanta, it’s just massive and traffic makes it hard to get around,” said Manning, an assistant professor of Black Literature and Culture, who moved to Fort Worth from Las Vegas. “We wanted something that was manageable.”

The Mannings are part of an emerging pattern of Black migration from larger cities to smaller ones, primarily in the South, according to Sabrina Pendergrass, an assistant professor for African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia.

After a decades-long migration by Black people to Atlanta, “there’s this feeling that … it might be tougher to get an economic foothold if you wanted to open a business,” Pendergrass said. “In cities like Charlotte, there’s not as much competition.”

From the 1910s to the 1960s, millions of Black Americans took part in the Great Migration, moving to northern cities to escape the overt racism of the Jim Crow South. But many learned over time that racism was also pervasive in northern cities, in less-obvious but equally insidious forms such as home loan restrictions that reinforced segregated neighborhoods. 

Now, in a trend known as “reverse migration,” some of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those original migrants have been moving back to Southern cities for years.

According to the 2020 census, African-Americans make up 14 percent of the U.S. population, 58 percent of whom live in the South. Those figures could vary slightly, as the Census Bureau reported last week that 3.3 percent of the Black population was undercounted in the 2020 census, a rate higher than in 2010.

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