Black Americans moving to the South flipped Georgia

Georgia on our minds.
Georgia on our minds.
Image: Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage
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Back in November, Joe Biden’s presidential win marked the first time a Democrat took Georgia since Bill Clinton barely won the state in 1992. And not even a week into 2021, Georgia’s Senate runoff election is projected to give power back to the Democrats.

There are a variety of reasons why Democrats improved their results in Georgia in 2020, including voter registration efforts by Democratic state leaders like Stacy Abrams, and a turn away from Trump by white voters in suburban Atlanta. But there was also a deeper long-term trend at work. The state’s Black population, after falling dramatically in the 20th century, has been steadily rising.

The share of people identifying as Black in Georgia fell from 47% in 1900 to just 26% in 1970, according to US Census data. This decline was part of what historians call the Great Migration—the movement of about 6 million African Americans from the South to the Northeast, Midwest, and West from 1916 to 1970. These men and women, many who were descendants of slaves or were even born into slavery, generally moved to escape persecution and to find jobs in industrial centers like New York, Chicago, and Oakland. The Great Migration is the largest internal movement of any group in American history.

Over the last thirty years, Georgia’s black population started increasing again, almost doubling from 1.8 million to 3.5 million from 1990 to 2019.  Georgia’s overall population has also been growing briskly, but the Black population is expanding particularly fast, meaning its share has risen from 27% to 33%. The growth has been particularly large in Atlanta and its suburbs, a part of the nation where Biden saw some of his largest gains on Hillary Clinton.

Georgia is appealing to Black Americans for many of the same reasons all types of Americans have been moving to the South. “They want lower cost of living,” Brookings Institution fellow Andre Perry told The Atlanta Voice. “They’re pursuing job opportunities that are sometimes drying up, up North.” Perry also suggests they may find the area appealing because it offers “cultural cohesion,” given the deep roots of the African-American community in the region.

A large share of Black Americans moving to Georgia come from expensive states like New York and California. Their net migration to Georgia from these two states alone averaged over 5,000 per year from 2014 to 2018. Given the narrow margins of the 2020 election, these migrants could have flipped the state to the Democrats.