Opportunity, Affordability Lure More Blacks South Between 1916 and 1970, African Americans moved in droves from the Jim Crow South, seeking opportunity in the northern states. The 2010 census data shows that growing numbers of black Americans are choosing to relocate below the Mason-Dixon line, and from the cities to the suburbs.
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Opportunity, Affordability Lure More Blacks South

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Opportunity, Affordability Lure More Blacks South

Opportunity, Affordability Lure More Blacks South

Opportunity, Affordability Lure More Blacks South

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/135351251/135351244" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Between 1916 and 1970, African Americans moved in droves from the Jim Crow South, seeking opportunity in the northern states. The 2010 census data shows that growing numbers of black Americans are choosing to relocate below the Mason-Dixon line, and from the cities to the suburbs.


William Frey, senior fellow, Brookings Institution
Jason Johnson, politics editor, Source Magazine


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Between 1916 and 1970, African-Americans living in the South moved in waves from the Jim Crow South in hope of new opportunities to cities like Cleveland, New York and Chicago.

The latest census data shows that African-Americans are on the move again, this time in the opposite direction. In recent years, surprising numbers of African-Americans packed up their families and moved below the Mason-Dixon Line and from cities to the suburbs.

Jobs and a lower cost of living are part of the appeal, but there is also a cultural and historical attraction, a desire to return to places that previous generations called home.

If you've made this move, why did you do it? How did it turn out? And what does it mean to your family? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We begin with demographer and sociologist William Frey. He's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and joins us from his home in Washington. Nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. WILLIAM FREY (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And what kinds of numbers are we talking about and over what period of time?

Mr. FREY: Well, I think it's really startling for the last decade, where we have seen 75 percent of the African-American growth in the country is in the South. That's much bigger than it has been for many, many decades. And we've seen for the first time the states of Illinois and Michigan show declines, absolute declines, in their black population.

They've had out-migration before, but there used to be enough fertility there to keep the population growing. Now the out-migration is so big, even the fertility levels don't keep those gains going. States of New York, California also lost blacks this last decade.

So that's just one part of it. And of course, the other part of it, which you alluded to, is the movement from the city to the suburbs. You know, back in the earlier days, when the blacks moved north, the jobs were in the cities, the manufacturing jobs were in the cities, and there was a high degree of segregation, discrimination, very difficult to move to the suburbs.

Now this last decade, for the very first time, just very pervasive movement of blacks out of cities into the suburbs. Twenty-one of the 50 biggest cities in the United States showed a decline of blacks. And for most of those cities, it was either a flip from a gain to a decline, that is it was positive in the '90s and now negative in terms of out-migration, or the out-migration was bigger. So really a very, I would say, kind of a historic shift.

CONAN: Is it fair to say: Goodbye Chicago, hello Atlanta?

Mr. FREY: Well, yes, it's goodbye Chicago city, hello Atlanta suburbs, you could say, because even the city of Atlanta showed a decline of blacks and their suburbs ate up all of the gains of the black population there.

CONAN: And it's interesting. We think of the Great Migration, we talk about from basically World War I until a couple of decades after the Second World War. And these were largely poor people struggling for opportunities, as you say, in the manufacturing centers of the Northeast. It's a different kind of person who's making the return voyage.

Mr. FREY: Yes, I think what's initiating a lot of this is a new generation of African-Americans. After all, most of the people who move in any period of time are the younger, adult part of the population. And the younger adults in this last decade are now a couple of generations after the civil rights movement, after those laws have been enacted, getting many more African-Americans into the middle class, into professional jobs.

And a part of that is redefining where they want to live, and we find they want to move to the suburbs, just as many generations of whites have wanted to do, and into the very, you know, economically prosperous part of the Sun Belt, especially in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, in the South.

CONAN: It's interesting to look at some of the statistics. In Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Mississippi, white children became a minority for the first time.

Mr. FREY: Yes, that's right. And, you know, some of that has to do with the aging of the white population. So there are two things going on there: the aging of the white population, meaning fewer whites, in many of those cases a decline of whites under 18, and then of course the new resurgence of African-Americans. So that's also a different way of looking at things.

CONAN: Would Hispanic immigration also contribute to that?

Mr. FREY: Yes, absolutely. Hispanic population shift, whether it's immigration or movement within the U.S. or just natural increase, has helped to bolster up the minority child population everywhere.

CONAN: And you're a demographer by trade. This has got to be a startling development to you.

Mr. FREY: Well, it is. You know, I, as you may have followed the last several months, the Census Bureau has been revealing the state-level data sort of a day at a time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FREY: And, you know, as I was looking at these numbers, the same kind of pattern kept replicating itself over and over again: city decline of blacks, suburb gains and the continued movement to the South. I mean, I knew it was happening on some level, but when you see it day after day, state after state, it really makes an impression.

CONAN: And is there an overall number that you feel comfortable talking about?

Mr. FREY: Well, you know, I do think the fact that we have a lot of these Northern states showing declines in the black population, as well as California, which was another destination during the Great Migration, you know, that really, I think, puts an exclamation point on the complete reversal of what happened, you know, 100 years ago, 70 to 100 years ago as blacks were leaving the South.

CONAN: William Frey, thanks very much for your time.

Mr. FREY: Sure.

CONAN: William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. He joined us from his home here in Washington.

As we watch the demographics of cities in Northern states change, we may also start to see some changes in the political landscape, both North and South.

Joining us now is Jason Johnson, a professor of political science at Hiram College in Ohio and politics editor for the Source magazine. He joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice of you to come in.

Professor JASON JOHNSON (Political Science, Hiram College): Thank you.

CONAN: And as we look ahead to 2012, how could this migration affect the political landscape?

Prof. JOHNSON: Well, we've noticed that Barack Obama has found a way to mention Charlotte a lot lately in...

CONAN: Where the Democrats happen to be having their convention.

Prof. JOHNSON: Yeah, they just happen to have it there. You know, he mentioned it in his speech about Iraq. I mean, the migration of not just African-Americans but educated, young African-Americans to the South has made places like Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia actually competitive for Democratic presidential candidates for the first time in almost 40 years.

CONAN: Well, Barack Obama carried North Carolina and Virginia. Georgia?

Prof. JOHNSON: Georgia at one point was considered a place where Barack Obama was going to be competitive. He spent a tremendous amount of money there, so much so that McCain had to go back to Georgia and try to shore up his base just to make sure that the election there remained, you know, remained a state in the red.

CONAN: But we've also seen places like Indiana and Illinois and to some degree some other places that you think of as Democratic bastions become a little more vulnerable.

Prof. JOHNSON: Exactly. What's been...

CONAN: Not that Indiana was a Democratic bastion but parts of it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. JOHNSON: Right, exactly. You know, what you've seen is, you know, an overall loss of population. I mean, you see Ohio lost, you know, two electoral votes. It lost congressional seats.

You know, there has been a movement to the South in general, but amongst African-Americans, again it's driven by sort of economic necessity, it's driven by the recession, it's driven by the fact that actually older African-Americans, as well, are deciding to retire down south.

So you have young people following their parents, young families following Mom and Dad to make sure that they have babysitting. I mean, there's lots of reasons, politically and culturally, that African-Americans are moving south.

CONAN: If you've moved your family south in the recent years, call and tell us why and how it's worked out for you, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Juan(ph), and Juan's with us from Portland, Oregon, which is not in the South.

JUAN (Caller): No, it's not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JUAN: But my - I'm divorced. I have three sons that have moved. My ex-wife remarried, and she and her husband, who are both African-American, as well as I, they moved to Atlanta, Georgia, because my ex-wife at the time felt that my children would have more of a quote-unquote "black experience" in the South.

I understand that because, unfortunately, the South has some history of segregation, and there are experiences that - there's a lot of support for a lot of African-American-themed celebrations and such in the South, where here in the North, I do find that a lot of things are sort of melded into one type of stream, which I actually find appealing.

I wanted my children to have friends and experiences that were multiracial, rather than my own experience. I'm from - I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I went to an all-black elementary school. By the time I got to middle school, my parents bused me, through city bus, 40 miles a day to the white neighborhood so that I would have communication skills, and I would have friends and experiences that weren't limited to simply an African-American community.

CONAN: I guess different generations looking for different kinds of experiences. But as you point out, part of that Southern heritage is the legacy of Jim Crow.

JUAN: Yes, absolutely. And...

CONAN: And I wonder, just following up on William Frey's demographic information, did they move to Atlanta proper or to the suburbs outside Atlanta?

JUAN: They are in a suburb. They're actually in Lawrenceville.

CONAN: And so his in particulars seem to be accurate in this regard.

JUAN: My kids are definitely getting an African-American experience that they would not have experienced in Portland, Oregon. What I'm saying is that African-American experience, they certainly have a lot more African-American friends there than they would have even thought of having here in Portland.

But I get concerned sometimes because as they get ready to go into society, that sometimes people that simply grow up in all-black neighborhoods, it's hard to make that migration and it's hard to understand some of the jokes that go on in other communities on jobs and everything. And I really like the balance that you get in a multi-racial city more than what you'd get in sort of one cultural experience. So I get a little concerned, but...

CONAN: Jason Johnson?

Prof. JOHNSON: Well, it's interesting. As somebody who just left the Cleveland suburbs to do a year's visiting faculty at Morehouse, I am one of those Midwesterners who left and I often tell people I was following LeBron. I just couldn't go that far south.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. JOHNSON: And the interesting thing is that, you know, the suburbs in Atlanta are actually incredibly diverse and I think that's actually one of the reasons why young African-American professionals like myself are leaving these cities because they do want their kids to have friends who are Asian, and Latino and American Indian, et cetera, et cetera.

And places like Atlanta, and even Nashville and Charlotte are becoming increasingly diverse and a real drawing point for sort of, you know, graduating millennials and generation X-ers who are starting new families.

CONAN: Juan, thanks very much for the call.

JUAN (Caller): Thank you so much.

CONAN: And we wish your family the best of luck. Here's an email from Angelique from Lawrenceville, Georgia, same community. Thanks for exploring this topic. Please talk about the role of higher education on this issue, specifically, do we see African-Americans going to college in the South and staying, as I did?

Prof. JOHNSON: Yeah, in many instances - and that's what's changing the politics. You know, when you think of political candidates and you think of national campaigns, it's not just who's running. It's where do you get that base from? Where's your farm team? And when you have African-Americans moving from New York, moving from Pittsburgh, moving from Detroit and going to these Southern cities and going to college and deciding to stay, those people become city councilmen and then they become congress people and then they run for mayor and they run for governor.

So, again, it is transforming the viability of minorities in these states. In another 20 years, Texas might be as comfortable a Blue state for Democrats as California is now, if these trends continue.

CONAN: On the other hand, when we saw a lot of migration of Italians and Irish from Brooklyn and Queens out to the suburbs in Long Island and Connecticut and New Jersey, a lot of those people turned into Republicans once they got outside of the five boroughs.

Prof. JOHNSON: Yeah, and what's interesting, I don't think that African-Americans, Generation X, we're not necessarily strong Democrats. You know, many people, when you see these sort of different financial problems, that's why you have more young African-Americans who are in favor of vouchers, more young African-Americans who are exploring different aspects of the Republican Party. So these changes are happening just like in previous generations.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go to another caller and we'll go to Valerie. Valerie is with us from Conway in South Carolina.

VALERIE (Caller): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

VALERIE (Caller): I'm very happy you're talking about this topic because we moved to South Carolina about five years ago when we retired, from New Jersey. And I have a 16-year-old now and he's in school and everything, but we always lived in a diverse neighborhood. But being down here, it's a more diverse neighborhood, I have to say, where he's enrolled in school in Conway.

CONAN: And more diverse in what way?

VALERIE (Caller): Culturally, race-wise.

CONAN: So there are different kinds of peoples there - whites, blacks, Hispanics?

VALERIE (Caller): Yes. Well, actually, his school district is more white than black and there are quite a few Hispanics and multi-racial children here so it's more diverse.

CONAN: And I wonder, did you go with any trepidation and was that in any way valid?

VALERIE (Caller): I did. I did. My mother, actually, is from the area and she relocated some years ago. And we, more or less, my sisters and I, when we retired, you know, we brought our families and just migrated with her. I find it to be less expensive tax-wise, as far as property is concerned. But food and other things, you know, taxes are just as high.

CONAN: Okay. Well, Valerie, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

VALERIE (Caller): Thank you so much.

CONAN: We're talking about the reversal of the great migration. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let me reintroduce our guest. Jason Johnson, political science professor at Hiram College in Ohio, politics editor for the Source magazine and author of the forthcoming book, "Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell."

And as you talk with African-Americans about the political implications about this, there are also, as we keep hearing, cultural implications. Yes, connections with old roots down South, but there are a lot of connections up north as well.

Prof. JOHNSON: Exactly. And the thing is, it can create tension. You know, there was a belief maybe 20, 30 years ago, oh, goodness, I can't take my son or daughter out of Brooklyn and take them to Atlanta. They won't be able to handle it. But what a lot of Americans are realizing, of all colors, is suburbs are suburbs. I mean, for the most part, everyone wants to make sure their kids can go play soccer and football. Everyone wants to make sure that they Boosters are raising enough money one way or another. So I think, in some respects, as the same strip malls appear in every city, African-Americans are finding it less difficult to make these moves culturally than perhaps 25 or 30 years ago.

CONAN: Is there any sense, though, of abandoning people in the communities up north? This new middle class, well, that was the source of new prosperity in some neighborhoods in Cleveland, and Chicago, and New York and Pittsburg.

Prof. JOHNSON: The problem is that there's nothing else people can do in those areas. I think what's happened on some of those cities - again, you look at a Pittsburg, you look at a Detroit, you look at a Cleveland and many of those cities, they have reached a saturation point for black businesses and black politics. I mean, if you really think about it, many of those cities the old guard is still there.

Your opportunities to advance from city council to mayor to Congress is somewhat limited. And the South is seen by many as an open place, a place where black Republicans can be more competitive.

CONAN: We have two African-Americans from the South in Congress right now.

Prof. JOHNSON: Exactly, exactly. Would that happen in Ohio? Chances are next to nil. Would that happen in Michigan? Not likely. So it's a much more open opportunity. And so you're not so much abandoning your roots as much as you are expanding and setting roots in a new place.

CONAN: And expanding a cultural imprint, a footprint?

Prof. JOHNSON: Most definitely. You know, Washington, D.C. is sort of colloquially referred to as the chocolate city, although demographically that's changing.

CONAN: Oh, it certainly is.

Prof. JOHNSON: Yeah. But Atlanta is a chocolate city. It's considered a place where whatever roots you bring can be planted there as well. And the same, again, with Nashville. The same - even with people who are deciding they want to take a look at New Orleans. So there's not as much tension as there used to be.

And again, Generation X isn't used to living in the same neighborhood for years. So the idea of picking up and leaving after you go to school or just for a job is not as strange.

CONAN: Stay with us. Coming up after this break, we want to hear more of your stories. If you grew wary of your Northeastern city, picked up stakes and settled in the South, we want to hear why and how it's changed things for your family. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. And here are headlines from some stories we're following today here at NPR News.

Lawmakers have released details about budget cuts that will come as the result of the $38 billion in reductions that party leaders agreed to last week. Funding for disease prevention, health insurance programs and high speed rail grants are among the programs to face reduction. Those cuts would apply to the rest of this fiscal year, which ends in September.

And ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was rushed to a hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort town where he's been living under house arrest. This happened on the day he was supposed to be questioned over corruption allegations. The 82-year-old has a history of health problems. He had gall bladder surgery last year. Mubarak stepped down in February as mass protests swelled in Egypt.

And you can hear more on those stories and, of course, much more later today on All Things Considered. Now, we continue our conversation on the return of African-Americans to the South with Jason Johnson, professor of political science at Hiram College.

If you're part of this return migration, we want to hear your story. Why did you move South? What has it meant to your family? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And let's go to McKinley. McKinley with us from Hilton Head in South Carolina.

MCKINLEY (Caller): Hello there.


MCKINLEY (Caller): And I'm very excited to be on the air right now. I listen to your station all of the time. You guys are fantastic.

CONAN: Well, thank you for that.

MCKINLEY (Caller): About seven years ago, I moved south due to happenstance and economy turning sour from the Detroit area. I moved here to South Carolina looking for work and to assist a friend of mine who got out of the Marines. After being here for about five or six years, getting established with the work, which was abundant here, I moved my family down here, which is - I'm in an interracial family. And I found that the South has been incredibly refreshing in comparison to my experiences in the central area of Michigan.

CONAN: Hum. Is there no regrets at all?

MCKINLEY (Caller): Oh, absolutely none. The people have been a lot more friendly, communicatable(ph). When it comes to the constant strain of bigotry that I experienced in some of the towns I lived in in Michigan, here it's been nonexistent in comparison.

CONAN: It's interesting. Do you see yourself - there was a time when the Great Migration people moved up in historic numbers from the South to the northern cities in places like Detroit. Do you see yourself as part of a historic movement?

MCKINLEY (Caller): Well, it was always confusing to me, reading it in the history books and learning how the black community was treated so badly in the South. And of course, that fear resonated inside of me when I decided to move down here. Interestingly enough, one, when it comes to the, of course, gorgeous weather and two, the fight down here has been so predominant and so long, I think it's a lot more of a relaxed interracial mingling environment for all the communities, especially the black community.

CONAN: Okay. Do you still struggle to get the Tigers' games, though?

MCKINLEY (Caller): Actually, not too much of a sports fan. I'm a hockey man.

CONAN: Okay. All right. Thanks very much for the call, McKinley. Good luck to you.

MCKINLEY (Caller): Oh, good luck.

CONAN: And he raises an interesting point. Yes, people fed the Jim Crow South and did not find, necessarily, utopia in the north.

Prof. JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, one of the great myths of any African-American kid who was growing up in the '70s or '80s reading history books was to hear about black people fleeing the South to the north, but racism didn't magically disappear. And I think many African-Americans who move south are surprised, as the last caller was, to find that while there are still lots of sort of backwards and racist beliefs, it is much less hostile than many people from the north perceived the South to be.

And I think part of that is because, again, the kinds of Africans-Americans who are moving down South. You notice, people are moving down South to work. People are moving down South who have jobs and therefore they're more capable of combating some of those preexisting stereotypes that may be in the past.

CONAN: Let's go next to William, William with us from Nashville.

WILLIAM (Caller): Yes. This - I actually live in Atlanta. I'm headed back there driving from my home state of Minnesota. I moved to Atlanta in, like, '95 just before the Olympics and I think that I was a teenager or actually in my early 20s at the time. One of the things that I think that really attracted me as a young adult was that being in Minnesota there was a - you know, you have a decent population of African-Americans and other minorities, but it's not - you still feel like a minority.

And when I came to Atlanta, I didn't feel that. I mean, you can go to places like malls and you can see black people all over the place. And you can go to, you know, just driving on the freeway - and you can't do that in Minnesota. You know, when you get pulled over by the police in Minnesota, you automatically think, you know, it's because you're black, because you're a minority and they got nothing better to do. Or if you have a nice vehicle and you're driving that and you get pulled over, it's because, you know, you're not expected to make as much.

But one of the things that I've learned in Atlanta that really drew me there was that you had a large concentration of black wealth. You had neighborhoods that were, like, you know, black neighborhoods that were like all mansions. And you couldn't find that in Minnesota, or too many places where you have an all-black neighborhood that's a wealthy neighborhood.

Businesses and, you know, there's so many different type of mindsets that attract - you know, whether you're talking about the entrepreneurship, you're talking about the art industry, the music. You're talking about just the party lifestyle. If you're talking about just the, you know, some family values or the cultural values. I think those are the things that really attracted me. And a lot of my friends that have come from different places, those are the same things that attracted them.

And I think that it's for the youth, I think that it's a, hey, you know, we have an opportunity to really do something, whether it's a business or whether it's making a movement or whether it's changing society, in the sense of on a large, humanitarian scale, as well as having so many different subcultures in Atlanta, whether you're talking about religion, philosophy, education. There's so many different diversities within just the black diversity, within the black community that you don't see in a lot of cities. And I think that that's what attracted me.

CONAN: William, you make it sound as if the census is really old news to you.

WILLIAM: Oh, yeah, it is. I mean, being in Atlanta, you know, when I first moved down there, all I knew was people that was from someplace else. And then when I got, you know, a little bit more comfortable and, you know, I gained so many more friends that were, you know, from and around Atlanta - which a lot of people, when you first moved down during the, I guess, the work field, that you don't really see a lot of the locals unless you're really, you know, what you consider the suburbs in Atlanta, you know, the suburbs is still a - it's like (technical difficulties) Atlanta, because it's, you know, still black. It's kind of (technical difficulties)...

CONAN: William, your phone is betraying you, but we appreciate the phone call and urge you to drive carefully.

WILLIAM: Thanks, thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And one of the points he raised I wanted to pick up with you: religion. Is this making changes in black churches, North and South?

Prof. JOHNSON: Definitely. The sort of conservative reputation of African-American churches is being transformed by have people who are slightly more progressive and liberal from up North coming down to these churches. It's also making these churches younger. It's also leading to the rise of Creflo Dollars and Bishop Eddie Long churches that become extremely popular because they're attracting people.

And one other point I wanted to add, which is key: He talked about sort of the party culture. And a lot of times this is dismissed, but to be perfectly honest with you, in the young black professional community, if you're single, you're told to go to Atlanta or D.C. I mean, the culture of those cities is considered a great place to go down, meet a spouse, you know, meet your future husband or wife. And that is a driving force for young professionals.

CONAN: Let's go next to Jocelyn(ph), Jocelyn from Houston.

JOCELYN (Caller): Hi, Neal. Great to be with you guys. I actually moved to Houston from outside Chicago, but I'm a Southerner. I grew up in South Carolina. And my family's a little different. I'm in a second marriage to a white Canadian, and so we have this really strange family dynamic. But moving to Houston, what I found surprising is the amount of diversity within our own little planned community. It's one of those brand-new communities that all have little spindly trees in our front yard.

But I was really surprised, because our neighborhood has lots of diversity. We have Asian people and we have African people living in our neighborhood. And the west suburbs of Chicago was extremely white. And as a matter of fact, when we moved there, I had little ones. And I remember thinking, my gosh, how are my kids going to be accepted? And they had a wonderful experience there.

And, indeed, my youngest, who will be a senior in high school next year, well, you know, she's a little Midwest kid. And I remember when we first moved here and kids would ask her where she's from, well, she'd say, well, I'm from Chicago. And they'd say, oh, you know, you must really like - and they start naming all this really kind of urban kind of stuff. And she is like an alt-rock kind of, you know, indie-rock kid. And it was a little different for her, but, you know, she's thrived. She's done really well. Her very best friends are African. She has lots of friends, both black and white. And it's been different.

It's been a little bit more difficult for me, because I actually loved Chicago. As a matter of fact, going to a Cubs game tomorrow, watch the Astros get beat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOCELYN: But it's just been really different for me, and I wasn't keen on coming back South, but work brought my husband here. And it's turned out to be a really good move for everyone. So I'm in the process of trying to make this my community.

But I have to tell you, it is much easier for people of means, because this is a driving community. So if you don't have access to a car. If you aren't able to get around, there's virtually no public transportation. And I find that just, you know, it's just inconvenient, but...

CONAN: Lots of things are a lot easier for people of means.

JOCELYN: Yeah, absolutely. But, yeah, but again, it's been a good move for the family, but it's been a really interesting to kind of see my experience of growing up in the Deep South and the segregated South, and then being back, you know, in a large kind of metropolitan Southern city.

CONAN: Well, Jocelyn, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

JOCELYN: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: One of the things, Jason Johnson, that we've been hearing consistently: yes, Atlanta, OK. That's long established. But Hilton Head, South Carolina - relatively new community. A lot of these suburbs relatively new places where there are not entrenched political elites, and new things can be established.

Prof. JOHNSON: Exactly. As I mentioned before, you know, new Republicans, new Democrats, people with different ideas, one way or another. And you also notice a lot of these budget fights that we hear going out in Michigan, and in Ohio and in Wisconsin right now, as people are fighting about cutting budgets for state resources, we're not hearing those arguments as much in the South anymore. Because if you start destroying the resources that people want to stay in a state, they're not going to want to stay anymore. I mean, you hear a lot of these people saying, I was going down because of a job. I went down because, you know, there might have been better schools. If you make those things less available in these older states up North, people are going to want to leave. And that includes African-Americans of means, like she just mentioned.

CONAN: But then the budgets can get strained. Obviously, if you're adding more population, especially more prosperous people moving in, your tax base increases. I remember talking to the mayor of San Antonio, who's had just a completely different experience than mayors in Chicago or Cleveland or Detroit, for sure.

Prof. JOHNSON: Exactly. I think that's one of the things some of these Republican governors have been missing. It's, like, you've got to attract people there. All the budget cuts in the world - it ends up being a vicious cycle. And you're going to lose people because you keep trying to cut the budget to attract them there, and then they see no social resources, so they go down South.

CONAN: So you would anticipate that come the election of 2012, Georgia again will be in play? North Carolina, Virginia?

Prof. JOHNSON: I definitely think - if the president of the United States can do a better job of galvanizing his base - I mean, I believe somewhere close to 40 percent of the population of Georgia is in metropolitan Atlanta. If Barack Obama pulls that, then the Republican candidate he runs against will have to compete in Georgia. If the Democrats do really well after the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina will stay in the Democratic column.

So, yes, I see a lot of these Southern states being competitive, whereas nobody would have imagined that even 10 years ago.

CONAN: But Michigan might be in play, as well.

Prof. JOHNSON: And Ohio will very likely turn red. I mean, Obama's numbers in Ohio are abysmal right now. And, again, as they lose younger African-Americans, younger whites, younger Latinos and these states get older and poorer, in many respects, there're less likely places where Democrats can be successful.

CONAN: And has the Republican Party been taking advantage of the opportunity - yes, to black congressmen from the South - but to recruit amongst Latinos and African-Americans?

Prof. JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, if you look at the last cycle, the Republicans did fantastic. They put two African-American Republicans in Congress. They elected an Indian-American woman in South Carolina. They elected a Latino woman in New Mexico. I mean, the Republicans in the South seem to get it. The Republicans up North, not so much.

CONAN: Jason Johnson, thank you very much for your time today.

Prof. JOHNSON: Thank you.

CONAN: Jason Johnson is a professor of political science at Hiram College in Ohio. His forthcoming book is called "Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell."

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