Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These most basic and priceless birthrights of humanity, affirmed by no less hallowed a document than the U.S. Declaration of Independence, are most valued by black Americans, who fought, struggled, and died to gain the “unalienable rights” that most other Americans took for granted. A century ago, our pursuit of these rights and desire to escape deadly and debilitating racism sparked the migration of more than 1 million African Americans from the South to the North, which saw its black population rise by an estimated 20% between 1910 and 1930. What we now know as The Great Migration was the result of African Americans seeking better job opportunities and a safer, more secure quality of life.
Against that historic backdrop, I have become accustomed to raised eye-brows and looks of skeptical surprise when I tell people that if I had to choose a location to start a new business today, I would choose the South. For more than 15 years, I’ve asserted my belief that the South offers a more supportive business environment and more fertile opportunities for black entrepreneurs than the Northern urban centers that have boasted the largest black populations during the latter half of the 20th century. According to study of U.S. Census Bureau data released by the Brookings Institution last year, 56% of the nation’s black people live in the South, with 72% of America’s black population growth since 2000 taking place in the region.
That analysis is supported by the results of the 2007 BLACK ENTERPRISE Top Cities for African Americans, our latest ranking of the best metropolitan areas for blacks to live, work and play. Seven of the top 10 metros identified by our readers and editors are in the South, including two each in North Carolina and Texas. What is driving what some are calling the “reverse migration” of black people to the South? The same thing that attracted their parents and grandparents to the North decades ago: a chance for better jobs, more business opportunities, and an improved quality of life for their families.
To be sure, much has changed in the South in the years since I was required to go to the back doors of restaurants to get the food I paid for. It didn’t matter that I was serving my country as soldier in the U.S. Army at the time. Back then, racism trumped patriotism. However, while the progress the South has made over the past 50 years in the area of racial tolerance has been significant, and African Americans have discovered the hard way that other regions of the nation have their own brands of virulent racism, the popularity of the South is about more than just race.
The fact is, African Americans desire the same things that all Americans want for their families: employment opportunities with well-paying positions that can keep up with—or stay ahead of—the cost of living; the chance to own affordable homes in safe neighborhoods; quality options for educating our