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But the whole truth is way more interesting. More than half of Black people in America live in the portion of the country that is also home to the most reliably pro-Trump voters.
That includes Oklahoma, which the Census classifies as part of the South. It is so reliably red that CNN didn’t conduct exit polls there in 2016. Trump won every single county in the state. Trump plans to ignore the advice of public health professionals and hold a rally Saturday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma – the first since the coronavirus pandemic.
His rally is a stick in the eye not only of people concerned about coronavirus, but also to Oklahoma’s Black community. There were protests in Tulsa to support George Floyd as well as two teenage boys arrested for jaywalking earlier this month. The city’s Black history is deep; part of the city was regarded as Black Wall Street because of its prosperity, until a race massacre 99 years ago. CNN’s Abby Phillip and Kate Sullivan wrote an excellent story about the generations of damage caused by that massacre and how it echoes today.
That episode happened at just about the time large portions of the Black community were moving North for opportunity – a decades-long Great Migration. Now, many Black Americans are moving back to the South in a reverse of that Great Migration.
CNN talked to two experts to learn some more about the growing power of Southern Black voters:
- Andra Gillespie is an Emory professor and expert on Black participation in elections and the author of “Race and the Obama Administration: Substance, Symbols and Hope”
- Andre Perry is a fellow at Brookings and author of the book “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities”
Here’s what they had to say on some key points.
Why would Blacks return to the South?
Gillespie: We have to remember that for African-Americans, despite the negative history of slavery and segregation, the South is home. And the truth was we didn’t have segregation in the North, but we certainly had de facto segregation.
So the idea of sort of the North or the West being a kind of Shangri-La that was free of problems is also not true either. They had their own racial hierarchies that weren’t as strictly enforced by law, but they still were there.
The rise of Black majority cities
Perry: There are actually more Black majority cities now than there’s ever been. And over the last 20 years that number has increased by about 100.
Some of that is because of White flight. Some of that is because Black people are specifically moving into areas in which there’s some cultural cohesion.
Nevertheless, Blacks are gaining more power in local communities and and in some respects they always have. It may not have extended to state or federal elections. That’s changing…
People are moving to the South because they they want cultural cohesion. They want lower cost of living. They’re pursuing job opportunities that sometimes drying up, up North. They’re saying, ‘come back home,’ so to speak.
More Blacks are moving to the suburbs
Perry: Through all of those transitions, most Blacks have lived in the South and what’s interesting is, in terms of politics, Blacks always been a powerful force in the cities in the South.
It’s just that now you’re starting to see more Blacks move into the suburbs, particularly in places like Georgia, and and it’s confusing the heck out of the parties because once, Republicans knew if they invested into the suburbs, it was going to Whites, but now when you look at Georgia, Blacks are throughout the suburbs, particularly on the outskirts of of Atlanta. The same is true in a lot of places.
In many cases because of middle-class folks moving to the suburbs or low-income folks sort of entering suburbs, we are more diffuse than most people think.
How will Black voters gain power in the South?
Gillespie: When Barry Goldwater came out in opposition to the Civil Rights Act, that was the signal to the Democratic segregationists that the Republican Party might actually be more of a home for them…
You have the vast majority of White voters, over a 50-year period, changing their party identification and voting behavior to the Republican Party, it turned African-Americans, the largest minority in the South, into a permanent minority position. Because even though they make up about a third of the population in states like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, if all the Blacks vote Democratic and all the Whites of vote Republican or close to it – I don’t want to over-generalize here, but two-thirds is always going to beat a third.
There’s two ways for the Democratic Party to become more competitive in th