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  Chapter One:

  Size and Growth Rate
  Life Expectancy
  Age Structure
  Population Drift
  Urban, Rural, Suburban
  Foreign Born
  Large Cities



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Large Cities

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Minority migrants from the rural South and minority immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean settled predominantly in large cities.
Almost all of the residents of the ten largest American cities of 1900 were non-Hispanic whites. Less than 4 percent of these urban residents were black. The Asian, mostly Chinese and Japanese, city population was too small to register on the chart. The category of Hispanics had not yet been invented for statistical purposes, but their numbers were negligible outside of the Southwest and there were no large cities in that region. 

In 1900, about 90 percent of the black population resided in rural areas of the South. A northward migration to the cities began around 1900 and intensified during World War I and World War II. By 1950, about a fifth of the combined population of the ten largest cities was black. In their magisterial study, St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton described the huge black community in Chicago as “a metropolis within a metropolis.” Except for modest-sized populations of Hispanics in Los Angeles and New York City, very few Hispanics lived in the ten largest cities in 1950. 

Between 1950 and 1990, southern blacks continued to move to large cities. By 1990, they accounted for nearly a third of the combined population of the nation’s ten largest cities. Blacks constituted a majority of the population in Baltimore, Detroit, and New Orleans. The Asians and Hispanics who entered the country in large numbers after 1965 also favored the large cities, as did American Indian migrants. By 1990, the share of these newer minorities in the ten largest cities was equal to that of blacks and nearly as large as the proportion of non-Hispanic whites. The combined minority residents of Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and New York City represented 73 percent, 64 percent, and 61 percent, respectively, of the populations of those cities. In each case, however, the surrounding suburban areas had substantially less minority representation than the central city. 

The cities that were the ten largest in the United States also changed during the century. As residents of the big cities of the Northeast and Midwest moved to the suburbs or migrated to the South and West, only three of the ten largest cities of 1900—New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia—remained among the nation’s ten largest in 1990. Rapidly growing Sunbelt cities such as Houston, San Diego, and Phoenix joined the list of America’s ten largest, replacing cities such as St. Louis, Boston, and Cleveland.

Chapter 1 chart 10

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

For 1900, see SA 1939, table 20, and CB, Negro Population, 1790–1915 (1918). For 1950, CB, Census of Population: 1960, Characteristics of the Population, vol. 1, page 1-68, table 29. For 1990, 1990 Census of Population, General Population Characteristics, United States Summary, table 276. See also St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1945). For the minority proportion of American cities in 1990, see SA 1999, table 48.


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