Blacks in Virginia: By the Numbers

Michele P. Claibourn with the Weldon Cooper Demographics & Workforce Group has accomplished something remarkable in her new paper, “Blacks in Virginia: Demographic Trends in Historical Context“: She has brought fresh insights and perspectives to a well-worn topic.

Click on chart for more legible image.

In this chart, Claibourn shows the changing percentage of the African-American population in Virginia. During  Reconstruction, the percentage stood at 42%. It declined steadily for decades as African-Americans fled Jim Crow-era oppression and sought better opportunities in northern states. After bottoming out in the 1960s, the African-American population has stabilized. Other minority populations, virtually non-existent before 1970, have surged.

The distribution of African-Americans within Virginia has remain consistent, with the population concentrating in the Tidewater and Piedmont, as seen in Claibourn’s maps below. What I find interesting is that African-Americans west of the Blue Ridge Mountains have gone from a significant minority population to a nearly non-existent one.

Claibourn also calculates a “dissimilarity index” to measure racial segregation. A dissimilarity value of 0 would indicate that the population of a neighborhood contains the same racial proportions as for the political jurisdiction as a whole. The higher the index, the greater the residential segregation. Overall, segregation peaked around 1970, plunged in the 70’s and 80’s and then declined slowly after that. Richmond’s index (52) is slightly less than the average for the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, Hampton Roads (49) is even lower, but the Washington Metro area (62) is somewhat higher.

Washington MSA. Click on map for more legible image.

This map shows how the African-American population in the Washington metro is heavily concentrated in eastern half of the District of Columbia and Maryland counties to the east.

Richmond MSA


The African-American population in the Richmond region is concentrated in the cities of Richmond and Petersburg and in the outlying, rural counties. The suburbs are predominantly white, as seen at left.



Hampton Roads MSA

The same pattern — African-American concentrations in older cities and in rural counties — applies to Hampton Roads as well, as seen here.

Claibourn also details the racial gap in education and income. That’s all familiar terrain but it may be worth a look to those interested in the topic.


Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Not sure I understand the point of this. What new trends does this study show, if any?

    1. No new trends. I just hadn’t seen the historical information before. I thought it was interesting. Did you realize that the African-American population as a percentage of the total population dropped in half since 1860? I didn’t.

      Did you realize that the African-American population in Virginia had become more geographically concentrated? I didn’t.

      Did you realize that the Washington Metro was more segregated than the Richmond metro? I didn’t.

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Of course African-Americans left as soon as they could 100 years ago. Who would want to put up with the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws and various other racism in Virginia and the rest of the South, not to mention the generally poverty-stricken lifestyle and economic scene?
    Suggest you read “The Strange Career of Jim Crow” and ‘The Warmth of Other Suns.”

  3. larryg Avatar

    ” Did you realize that the African-American population in Virginia had become more geographically concentrated? I didn’t.”

    on the Virginia maps, it seems to show largely the opposite. I’m with Peter, long, long after the Civil War blacks had to use different water fountains, go to different schools and could not be seated in eating establishments, etc.

    The maps show them fleeing….. for good reason. The ones that stayed now get called “over proliferating bad parents sucking up welfare dollars”.

  4. Obviously, African-Americans had good reasons for leaving Virginia during Jim Crow. Duh! You’re missing the point. I just never realized the extent to which there was an emptying out.

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    I am not surprised that the DC Metro area is heavily segregated. Back in the 1970s DC was proudly proclaimed “Chocolate City” by the African-American residents. In 1970, 70% of the residents of DC were black. Today, the percentage is probably under 50% –

    So, the question is partially about the current level of segregation and partly about the trend in that level of segregation.

    And a funny thing happened on the way to de-segregation ….

    Yesterday, I went to the retirement ceremony for a high school friend who spent the last 31 years in the US Army. My friend is an African-American and his friends, neighbors and family were allin attyendance in addition to his Army buddies.

    My friend grew up on a street of large, fine homes where every family was black. This street was a holdover from the days of forced segregation and it was home to dozens of middle class and upper middle class black families. I remember clearly going to visit classmates who lived on that street. The poor redneck white kid with long hair visiting his wealthy black friends. Somewhere, Harry F. Byrd must have been rolling in his grave.

    So, as expected, I got to catch up with not only my high school buddy but with his parents and their friends as well. Most are in their late seventies and early eighties. All have lived in the area for at least 50 -60 years. All are black. They are the people who were in their twenties during the racially segregated years of the 1950s. They marched with the Civil Rights Movement and they prospered once prosperity became possible for Virginia’s African Americans.

    So, what was the biggest topic of conversartion?

    The loss of a strong and distinct black culture in DC.

    It wasn’t the talk of frustration but, rather, nostalgia. Nostalgia for trips to the KoKo Club, nostalgia for the Choclate City that attracted or produced music stars of the caliber of Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Marvin Gaye, Roberta Flack and (most poingnently for me) the incomperable and recently deceased Chuck Brown.

    When I asked the assembled elders where they lived today I was suprised to find that they all lived on that same street I remember from the 1970s. While I don’t know this for sure, I assume it’s still a street of fine homes inhabited almost entirely by upper middle class African-American families who live there because that’s where they want to live – not because that’s where they have to live.

    1. That’s been my observation. I think most of the segregation we see today is voluntary. People like to live around other people like themselves. Black people like to attend black churches — not stuffy old white-people churches. Like you observed, black people like black music and entertainment. Why do so many blacks who leave D.C. wind up in Prince George County? Is it because Montgomery County and Fairfax County are racist? Or is it because black people like to live around other black people?

      As long as it’s voluntary, there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s not an indictment of society.

  6. DJRippert Avatar

    And … the story of DC shows where the rubber meets the road in contradiction to the oft-quoted theories of comfortable white libtards:

    “No opportunities are being created for low- and middle-income people in the city,” he said. “I drive to Georgetown ever day, and very rarely do I see African Americans on construction jobs.”

    Now – who do you think he sees on those construction sites? White Norweigan – Americans? Construction is a hotbed for the employement of illegal aliens. Politicians from both parties turn a blind eye. So-called conservatives don’t want government “regulating” business by enforcing the law. So-called liberals want America to lift up every poor person in the world. Meanwhile, the construction and real estate industries pour campaign money into the pockets of the un-American bastards who blithely hire illegals and pay them low wages under the table.

    Who pays the price for this outrage?

    Me? No. I benefit. Hiring illegals makes housing cheaper.

    The long suffereing poor people of Washington, DC? Oh yeah! Big time. The city is undergoing a construction-fueled Rennasisance and it’s not benefitting those who live there.

  7. DJRippert Avatar

    ‘The maps show them fleeing….. for good reason. The ones that stayed now get called “over proliferating bad parents sucking up welfare dollars”.’

    Spotsylvania County – population: 122,397, number of TANF recipients (April, 2012): 823, percent non-white: 17%.

    TANF recipients per 1,000 people – 12

    Fairfax County – population: 1,081,726, number of TANF recipients (April, 2012): 2,986, percent non-white: 37%.

    TANF recipients per 1,000 people – 2.8

    Lee County – population: 25,146, number of TANF recipients (April, 2012): 524, percent non-white: 4%

    TANF recipients per 1,000 people – 21

    City of Richmond – population: 204,214, number of TANF recipients (April 2012): 5,659, percent non-white: 62%

    TANF recipients per 1,000 people – 28

    Pittsylvania County – population: 63,506, number of TANF recipients (April 2012): 429, percent non-white: 25%

    TANF recipients per 1,000 people: 7

    Fauquier County – population 68,010, number of TANF recipients (April, 2012): 195, percent non-white: 15%

    TANF recipients per 1,000 people: 2.9

  8. larryg Avatar

    re: “voluntary” segregation –

    translates into schools that are predominately one race … and ..for some troubling reason.. the predominate black schools do not score as well as the predominately white schools – especially in DC.

    and…. we are told that this is because of “bad” teaches and teacher unions who just happen to be predominately black if they teach in predominately black schools.


    1. DJRippert Avatar


      Not in this case. The African-American enclave I described is small – perhaps a few dozen houses. That neighborhood is contained within West Potomac High School’s boundaries.

      ” In 2009-2010, West Potomac’s student body was 41.42% White; 23.87% Black; 21.73% Hispanic; 8.17% Asian; 4.81% Other.”.

      By my observation, the segregation of the areas served by West Potomac is more about Hispanic / non-Hispanic than black / white.

  9. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    “Voluntary” segregation is a hoot.

    So is this”they just tend to like to be together” bullshit.

    Too bad no one is African-American on this blog.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “Too bad no one is African-American on this blog.”.

      Now who is being racist?

      How would you possibly know that?

Leave a Reply