Sunday, September 02, 2007
From USA Today…
D.C.’s majority-black status slipping away
By Brian Westley, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Much has changed since Ben’s Chili Bowl opened nearly 50 years ago on a bustling strip known as America’s Black Broadway for its thriving black-owned shops and theaters.
Back then, the red-and-white diner was a popular hangout for black bankers, doctors and blue-collar workers who lived and worked along U Street. Even jazz greats Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald could be found devouring chili half-smokes and milkshakes after performing at nearby clubs.
Now, on some days, the crowd at the Washington landmark is mostly white, reflecting a neighborhood metamorphosis that has brought in high-end condominiums and businesses like Starbucks.
“Sometimes you look around and wonder, ‘Where are all the black people?’” said Virginia Ali, who opened the diner with her husband, Ben, in 1958.
A similar transformation is happening across Washington as the black population declines and more white residents and other ethnic groups move in. Demographers say if the trend continues the District of Columbia could lose its longtime majority-black status within 10 years. The changes are shaking up city politics, reshaping neighborhoods and displacing longtime residents.
Washington’s black population peaked at 71% in 1970 as tens of thousands of white residents left for the suburbs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But by 2006, the estimated number of black residents had fallen to 57%.
At the same time, the population of white residents, which plunged from 65% in 1950 to 27% 30 years later, is growing. By 2006, the census estimated that 38% of D.C. residents were white. The city’s Asian and Hispanic populations also are climbing.
Analysts attribute the shift to lower-income and middle-class black residents leaving for the suburbs while young white professionals and others able to afford expensive housing prices are moving in. The newcomers to D.C. are being lured by a robust economy, new condos and a chance to escape worsening highway congestion.
“The city today is occupied by a lot of singles and childless couples who have put incomes together,” said Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. “I don’t think it’s a straight-on white gentrification — it’s more affluent as a whole.”
Washington isn’t the only city where neighborhoods have gentrified in recent years. But William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, said D.C. is one of the few places seeing such dramatic change. He expects the city will cease to be majority black by 2015.
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