When A City Is No Longer Dark Chocolate, Are Its Politicians?

When A City Is No Longer Dark Chocolate, Are Its Politicians?


The 2000 Census has confirmed what anyone walking in urban neighborhoods already knew, black folks are leaving the cities in droves.  They are leaving for the suburbs where public schools are better and square footage cheaper.  They are also heading to cities where church and cookouts are year-round.  They are also leaving for their home on high.

In cities like Atlanta and Washington, blacks headed to the suburbs.  While the black population shrank in Atlanta, declining from 61% to 53%, its population swelled by 40% in the suburbs to 1.7 million, making the region’s black population second only to New York.  While the Washington, DC area remains one where blacks thrive professionally and socially, black Washingtonians are no longer in the majority.  Having lost roughly 1% of its population per year since the last census, the group is believed to have dipped below 50%.

In northern cities, however, black people are leaving the area all together. Chicago lost 180,000 black residents, and its metropolitan area lost 3.5% overall, making its black population smaller than Atlanta’s by 66,000.  Detroit’s population plummeted to the lowest number since 1911.

Other cities that lost black residents include Cleveland, Dallas, Oakland, and Philadelphia.

As these cities undergo redistricting, black political numbers will likely shrink.  Some worry that Detroit will likely lose one of its Congressional seats, both of which are currently held by black politicians. Judging by other cities, this is a likely outcome.

In recent years, Chicago has had a succession of white mayors.  New Orleans black population has yet to return to its pre-Hurricane Katrina 67% percent.  The floods swept away most of the city’s presiding black officials.  The city currently has a white mayor, police chief, and district attorney, all of which replaced blacks.  The same is true for the majority white city council and school board. Briefly, the city’s congressman was a Vietnamese American.

Many are now trying to figure out how to reconcile this new demographic reality and by extension, the changing hues of our legislators.

Yolanda Young, Esq. is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and the author of the award winning memoir, On Our Way to Beautiful (Random House).  Her latest book is Thurgood’s Legacy:  Black Lawyers Reflect on Life, Law School and the Legal Profession, Graduates Reflect on Law school, Lawyering and Life.  The activist and lecturer is a frequent contributor to USA Today and the founder & editor of the popular legal blog: On Being A Black Lawyer (OBABL). She is often called upon to offer legal, political, and social analysis for Fox5 and NPR.  She has spoken at Dillard University and Harvard Law School, and testified before the United States Congress.


  1. A member of Duke Ellington's band who moved from Harlem as one of the first Blacks in what was then all White Jamaica Queens said "it will be just a matter of time until the crime and problems of the inner city will follow Blacks to the suburbs." That's the case with many of the suburbs that Blacks have moved to over the last 20 years. Unfortunately many Blacks who have moved out to the boonies regret that move with the advent of near $5 a gallon gas and little or no public transit to the job while their counterparts, including many whites who live in the City either walk to work or pay a couple of dollars per trip via public transit. I have a friend who can barely afford to pay the $250 in gas and tolls she has to pay on her commute to and from work. Many African Americans in the suburbs feel trapped in the boonies because they can't afford to move back to their old neighborhoods. It's interesting to note that many of the suburbs where African Americans have moved to from the inner city also have some of the highest foreclosure rates in the country as well.