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New generation of black Americans returns to South

U.S. Census numbers show trend, reversal of the historic "Great Migration" north.
/ Source: NBC News

A lot of attention has been given to the migration of Hispanics and Asians in America, but a just-released report finds another population on the move. Their journey represents a historic change for one part of the country.

“This started happening in the 1970s,” said demographer William Frey, “but then it was only kind of a trickle, but during the 1990s it really started taking off.”

With his charts and graphs, he tracks people on the move. He is watching a people resettle, returning to their American roots.

"There is a full circle reversal of the old black migration out of the South back into the South in very large numbers," he said.

To understand what's happening, you need to know what happened. The peak of a black exodus happened about 60 years ago, as more than 1.5 million African Americans moved out of the South and headed North, looking for work and to escape an oppressive racial climate.

Now many are backtracking.

Between 1995 and 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau says 680,000 African Americans returned. The South is now home to 55 percent of the nation's black population.

Ironically, many are coming back for the same reasons they left — jobs and a sense of racial equality.

Tarji Carter recently moved to Atlanta from Boston and found both.

"I've always been the minority, and it really feels good to walk into any given room and be a part of the majority," said Carter.

Returning African Americans are finding a new South transformed racially and economically.

"It's a better place,” said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. “It is a different place. The only place you would see the old South today is in a museum, on a video, in a book."

Large cities like Atlanta and Orlando have become black migration magnets — each seeing African-American populations growing by more than 60 percent in 10 years, according to the Brookings Institution.

Smaller towns like Orangeburg, S.C., are also sharing in the boom. Charles and Barbara Owens were both born in the South, left in the 1950s. Now they've come back to retire.

“The dollar goes so much farther here,” he said.

His wife said, “I like the quietness, the friendliness.”

Experts say, with no sign of ending, the population shift is a stunning reversal of history, transforming the South and redrawing the map of black America.