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Moving South: Reversing the Great Migration 1970-2017

by James Gregory

The Great Migration out of the South lasted three-quarters of a century, slowing in the 1970s. Since then Black Americans have been moving to the South in large numbers, in some sense reversing the Great Migration. But the story is more complicated. The exodus was largely from the rural South where as the new migration has little to do with rural areas, or with states like Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana which saw so many leave during the Great Migration. The big cities of Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Texas, and North Carolina have attracted most of those participating in the Move South, and often these migrants have come with skills and advanced education. Mostly this has not been a return migration. Some were born in the South, but except for the senior generation, they are usually not returning to home settings. Most were born in northern or southern states, children or grandchildren of those who left the South during the exodux.

Here are interactive graphics and maps that allow us to track the migration south starting with 1950 when the exodus from the South was in full flood. Select a state and see where people were born, both other countries and other states. This visualization tool is hosted by Tableau Public and may take a few seconds to respond. If slow, refresh the page.

Move between three visualizations with tabs below

Note on data issues: Birth state information is missing for about 5% of US-born persons in 1970 and about 2% in 1960. These birthplaces are labeled "United States, ns" in the charts. Birthplaces were not recorded for enslaved persons in the 1850 and 1860 censuses, so it is not until 1870 that reliable data on African Americans became available. Native Americans were not routinely included in decennial censuses until 1900.

Source: U.S. Census data from the Minnesota Population Center's IPUMS USA: Steven Ruggles, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Josiah Grover, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 6.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2015, the following samples: 1900 1%, 1910 1%, 1920 1%, 1930 1%, 1940 1%, 1950 1%, 1960 5%, 1970 1% State FM1, 1980 5% State, 1990 5% State, 2000 1%, 2010 ACS 1%, 2017 ACS 1%.

Maps and calculations: James Gregory.


Additional maps and charts

mapping Great Migrations
Mapping the Great Migration


Over the course of the 20th century, more than seven million African Americans left homes in the South to resettle in northern and western states. Historians have long described this exodus as the Great Migration, great not just because of the numbers of people who moved but also because of the social and political consequences.

The interactive maps and data tables below provide detailed information about the movement of African Americans out of the South. Use them to investigate volumes and directions.


Click to see map and charts
Big Cities and Great Migrations


Who settled in the big cities of the North and West? Three interactive maps show the answers decade by decade.









mapping Great Migrations Black Migration History for Individual States 1850-2017


The relocations of African Americans have been among the most consequential migrations in American history. Historians refer to one sequence as the Great Migration, referring to the exodus of more than seven million people from the South to states in the North and West in the decades between 1910 and 1970. But Black mobility began in the 19th century and continues into the 21st. Here are interactive graphics and maps that allow us to track the changing population of each state decade-by-decade since 1850. Select a state and see where people were born, both other countries and other states.






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