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Three generations of her family 10 people in all are moving to Atlanta from New York, seeking to start fresh economically and, in some sense, to reconnect with a bittersweet past. Brown, her 82-year-old mother and her 26-year-old son, who has already landed a job and settled there. It is also depriving the black community of investment and leadership from some of its most educated professionals, black leaders say.
The economic downturn has propelled a striking demographic shift: black New Yorkers, including many who are young and college educated, are heading south. The movement marks an inversion of the so-called Great Migration, which lasted roughly from World War I to the 1970s and saw African-Americans moving to the industrializing North to escape prejudice and find work.
New York has lost some of its cachet for black people, Professor Crew said.
During the Great Migration, blacks went north because you could find work if you were willing to hustle.
Many black New Yorkers who are already in the South say they have little desire to return to the city, even though they get wistful at the mention of the subways or Harlem nights. Ross said she had grown up hearing stories at the dinner table about segregation.
Many blacks also have emotional and spiritual roots in the South. In the 1950s, her parents moved to Harlem, and then to Queens, from Atlanta. She plans to join her 26-year-old son, Rashid, who moved to Atlanta from Queens last year after he graduated with a degree in criminology but could not find a job in New York. Flake, pastor of the 23,000-member Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens, said he was losing hundreds of congregants yearly to Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
About 17 percent of the African-Americans who moved to the South from other states in the past decade came from New York, far more than from any other state, according to census data. Spencer Crew, a history professor at George Mason University who was the curator of a prominent exhibit on the Great Migration at the Smithsonian Institution, said the current exodus from New York stemmed largely from tough economic times.
Of the 44,474 who left New York State in 2009, more than half, or 22,508, went to the South, according to a study conducted by the sociology department of Queens College for The New York Times. The percentage of blacks leaving big cities in the East and in the Midwest and heading to the South is now at the highest levels in decades, demographers say. New York is increasingly unaffordable, and blacks see more opportunities in the South.
By DAN BILEFSKY Published: June 21, 2011 In Deborah Browns family lore, the American South was a place of whites-only water fountains and lynchings under cover of darkness. Albans, a neighborhood that is now being hit by high unemployment and foreclosures.
It was a place black people like her mother had fled. Brown, 59, a retired civil servant from Queens, the South now promises salvation. The migration of middle-class African-Americans is helping to depress already falling housing prices.