The economic boom in cities of the Midwest, Northeast, and West - spawned particularly by World War II - had come to a grinding halt by the early 1970s. Many of the factories and plants that had lured African Americans from the South during and after the war were abandoned in the wake of a globalizing economy and the oil crisis of the early 1970s. The new economic order literally destroyed communities and eliminated hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
For instance, in Detroit - the heart of the nation's auto-manufacturing industry - jobs were cut by more than half in the thirty years following the end of World War II. In 1947 the city harbored 3,272 manufacturing firms, which employed approximately 338,400 people; in 1977 the number of firms had withered to 1,954 employing 153,300 people. As manufacturing companies increasingly sought cheaper labor and resources abroad, the region previously known as the heartland of American industry was transformed into America's Rust Belt.
But the Rust Belt was not the only region in the country to experience economic transformation during this period. As manufacturing declined in the Northeast and Midwest during the 1970s, it grew in the states of the South and West. In 1963 the East North Central region (primarily Michigan and Illinois) produced 30 percent of the nation's manufacturing output, while the South produced 21 percent, and the West 14 percent. By 1989, however, the East North Central's manufacturing output had been cut almost in half, while the output in the South and West grew to 29 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Lured by cheaper - and nonunion - labor, less expensive land, temperate weather, tax breaks, and other government incentives, manufacturers were increasingly choosing the Sun Belt states for their new production facilities.
The migration deluge from the South hit Los Angeles late, compared with the big cities of the East Coast and Midwest. But beginning in the 1940s, upwards of 300,000 African Americans poured in, pulled by the industrial boom that accompanied World War II. After the war, they stayed. Now, more than a few migrants and their descendants are packing their bags. Over a five-year period in the early 1990s, spurred in large part by California's sagging economy, some 103,000 African Americans relocated to the South. Between 1995 and 2000, 221,000 left the West.
Thus, for those seeking job opportunities, there was a curious symmetry between the original Great Migration and the return migration. Both often involved compelling reasons for departure at the origin and job prospects at the destination.
The economic attractions of the South extended beyond manufacturing employment. African Americans were also drawn to an overall lower cost of living in the region, as well as thriving middle-class communities and career opportunities. As returnee John Ash told Ebony magazine: "The high cost of land and high property taxes in California made Atlanta very attractive to us. ... It just seemed as if we could get more for our money by settling here."
Dr. Terry Reynolds, a dentist who chose to open his practice in Atlanta in the 1970s, liked the city because "blacks are in businesses here that you would not conceive of them being in anywhere else." Reynolds's business partner, Dr. Walker B. Moore, added, "Atlanta is alive. ... Other cities are dying."
During the 1990s, Atlanta, which some called "the Harlem of the '90s," was a favored destination. It gained close to 160,000 black residents in six years. These returnees saw the city as a new promised land, a city with unlimited opportunity, a great place to raise their children.
Washington, D.C., and the metropolitan areas of Houston, Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth, Norfolk, and Orlando all saw large gains in their black population during the 1990s.