Demographic studies have shown that, in general, migrants tend to have higher levels of education than nonmigrants, and this was the case for African Americans migrating from the South to the North. Often this is not true, however, with return migrations. Return migrants generally have lower education levels than those who stay at their destinations-perhaps because those with lower education levels have fewer employment opportunities.
But this characterization may be relevant only for those who return soon after their departure. Demographers who have specifically studied the return migration to the South have found that the conventional wisdom does not hold: African Americans moving back to the South generally had higher occupational and educational status than nonmigrants. On average, their incomes were higher than those of the overall African-American population of the South. Unlike the previous migration from south to north, which included many agricultural workers, the net migration rates for those African Americans with college degrees or with at least some college were higher than for those with lower education levels.
Today, 50.5 percent of African Americans moving south have a college education. Some southern states have indeed experienced a "brain gain," attracting thousands of black college graduates. Between 1995 and 2000 Georgia (and Atlanta in particular), Texas, and Maryland had a particularly large influx of college-educated African Americans.
New York was the top brain-drain state, losing more than eighteen thousand African-American college graduates over that five-year period. Interestingly, as noted by demographer William H. Frey, "The major black 'brain gain' states are distinct from those gaining the most white college graduates. Although southern states such as Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas are among the largest white gainers, the top 10 list also includes six western states. Comparatively, then, the South appears to exert a stronger 'pull' on highly educated blacks than it does on their white counterparts." Among the top ten "gainers" of black college graduates, only two (Arizona and Nevada) are not southern states.
This specific migration has contributed significantly to the growth of the middle class in many southern cities. In addition, returnees have entered the political life at high levels with great success. Several elected officials, such as Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin and former Houston mayor Lee Brown, migrated south.
While the "collective characteristics" of the migrants can provide a glimpse into the range of factors prompting them to return to the South, the migration itself is distinguished by the diverse backgrounds and motivations of its participants. The personal decisions they make are of great importance in understanding their move; however, there are also several broad social, political, and economic transformations that assured a more promising future for African Americans in the South.