7:30pm August 30, 2011

District Sees End of The Chocolate City Era?

Chocolate City — Washington has lost its black majority

In the 1975, Parliament released the album “Chocolate City” as a tribute to Washington, the first city to have a majority black population in the wake of race riots and unrest during the proceeding decades.

For years after, the Chocolate City moniker was a symbol of pride and power, as Detroit, Newark, Chicago, Oakland and Atlanta and other cities saw gains not just in their populations of African Americans increase but in their black voting power as well.

But now Washington is no longer considered a “Chocolate City,” and other cities like it may be next to lose their black majorities.

According to William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, the black population probably slipped under 50 percent sometime in February. The city once had black population of greater than 70 percent.

Additionally, a more detailed Census study revealed that the city was not only becoming whiter but younger as well, with white residents between 25 and 29 years of age making up 51 percent of the city’s 70,000 residents, compared to 30 percent of blacks of similar ages.

These findings come as little surprise to population experts and residents alike, who have witnessed a decade of gentrification, primarily by young upper-income whites working for the government and affiliated agencies. The city lost almost 10 percent of its black residents between 2000 and 2010 but still managed to grow by almost 40,000 people, causing many to be troubled by what they say is a forced displacement of blacks.

Former District Mayor Marion Barry, who despite his significant legal troubles has remained a beloved advocate of the city, said in the past that stopping gentrification should be a key priority.

“We’re going to stop this trend — gentrification. We can’t displace old-time Washingtonians,” he said in March.

Tom Sherwood, co-author of Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C., told the New York Times in July, “You can’t help but look around and see the face of the community changing before your eyes. That can be an uncomfortable feeling, and you’re going to have some people acting out, expressing their concern in racial code words.”

But, while some residents are upset at what some city residents say is imposed gentrification, others say that the changing demographics can lead to better life in the city.

In the same Times piece, District Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton said, “This is a cosmopolitan, artsy town. Black people laid down a culture that lives here. The flavor of the city is not going to change with whites moving in.”

But these changes are about more than race and relocation — they also signal a major shift in the electorate.

In 2008, 93 percent of the city voted for President Barack Obama, reflecting the city’s long-time support for the Democratic Party. If Chocolate Cities like Washington, Atlanta and others start to fade to white, it may mean a major loss for Democratic and liberal voting blocs.

In 2005 an analysis by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research found that the most liberal voting cities correlated with high black populations.

“The list of America’s most liberal cities reads like a who’s who of prominent African American communities,” the report said. “Gary, Washington, D.C., Newark, Flint, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Birmingham have long had prominent black populations. While most black voters have consistently supported Democrats since the 1960s, it is the white liberals that have slowly withered.”

Courtland Milloy, an acclaimed local columnist for the Washington Post, says mourning over the end of Chocolate City is all in vain, since he believes that spirit vanished in the 1990’s. He wrote: “But Chocolate City was not just about numbers. It was a feeling, a state of mind, a taste and tempo unique to a place and time. Roberta Flack at Mr. Henry’s, Smokey Robinson at the Carter Barron, late nights at the Foxtrappe Club. In the 1970s, black residents in a post-riot town made their move from the ‘streets to the suites,’ while Parliament Funkadelic captured the pride, power and sense of new found freedom in a song called ‘Chocolate City.’ All of that is long gone.”

About the Author

Reniqua Allen



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