Blacks Returning To The South

More and more black Americans are moving South finding a welcome home in the land their families once fled.CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports.

In central Alabama's black belt, so named for its people, Sundays are still sacred. The songs and symbols of slavery are still echoes of a painful past.

And it is from his pulpit that Rev. John Kennard says he has witnessed what some would call a miracle. The congregation like the town of Demopolis, Alabama, is growing. Families who had once abandoned the South are headed back home.

"People now realize they can come back to Alabama. Come back home, come back to Demopolis and they can earn a living and do some of the things they did up North. Now days, this is the home of choice," says Rev. Kennard.

Demopolis, Alabama, has a population of 8,000, a tiny ripple in a wave of African-Americans moving south to cities and suburbs in places like Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte and Dallas. University of Michigan demographer William Frey has documented what he calls the "Great Migration -- Back South".

"For the first time in the 1990's the South is gaining more blacks than it's losing," says Frey.

According to Frey, 50 percent of all black Americans now live in the South.

"The South has become much more economically vibrant. There's this attraction to coming back to a part of the county where there are a lot of friends and family," says Frey.

Family ties started to stretch in the 1920's when the great migration North first began. An estimated 4 million blacks fled the rural South to northern industrial cities like Chicago, Detroit and New York during the decade in search of higher paying jobs and better opportunities.

"You could not dream the American dream. As soon as you finished high school here the first thing you did was catch the first bus out of here and try to make a living somewhere else," remembers Rev. Kennard.

They headed for someplace, anyplace but the South, where racism was a way of life. They were leaving to escape the night riders, the lynchings, the daily humiliation endured by men like Rev. Kennard's grandfather.

"He remembered when the first black person in Demopolis bought a car and they made him take it back. Because a black person wasn't supposed to own an automobile," says Rev. Kennard.

Back when the South was old and segregation real, the only thing black's and white's in Demopolis had in common was their zip code. Today in the midst of the new South's economic boom, unemployment here is low. A new company has opened up every year for the past ten years and many of them owned by blacks.

Winston Muhammed is a good example. He moved back south from Chicago and opened a bookstore.

"Thirty years ago I wouldn't have thought I would have had a white customer walk in. I think that's a great change for Demopolis," says Muhammad.

Business in Demopolis is good but according to Rev. Kennard ife here is better than ever.

If things were so bad, why are folks coming back in such large numbers? "Because things are so good now. As bad as they were in the 40's and 50's, they're that good in the 80's and 90's," says Rev. Kennard.

Reported By Byron Pitts
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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