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CHAPTER I. Population: Growth, Distribution, and Composition


Page Figure 2. Resident Black Census Population and Corrected Estimates of the Population, for Selected Years: 1790 to 1975.. 5

Population: Growth, Distribution, and Composition

Growth ...
Slave Population-Growth and Distribution
Migration. ..
Age and Sex Composition..

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1. Total Resident Population for Selected Years:

1790 to 1975.... 2. Decennial Census Counts and Corrected Estimates

of the Black Population: 1900 to 1970.... 3. Black Population by Free-Slave Status and

Change in Slave Population, by Region: 1790

to 1860... 4. Distribution of Black Slaves and Slaveholding

Families, by Selected Divisions and States: 1790

and 1850.... 5. Distribution of the Population by Region for

Selected Years: 1790 to 1975.... 6. Distribution of the Population by Urban-Rural

Residence and Nativity for Selected Years: 1890

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12. Estimates and Projections of the Population by


Resident Black Census Population and Corrected
Estimates of the Population, for
Selected Years: 1790 to 1975

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I. Population: Growth, Distribution,

and Composition



lowered fertility was the major factor contributing to this drop.

Blacks constituted a much larger proportion (19.3 percent) of the total population in the first census (1790) than in any succeeding census year. For the 140-year period extending from 1790 to 1930, the proportion of Blacks in the Nation declined, reflecting the more rapid growth rate of the White population which resulted from the waves of immigration from Europe. The proportion of Blacks began to rise after 1940 and reached 11.5 percent in 1975 (tables 1 and 2).

Slave Population-Growth and Distribution

At the time of the first census in 1790, the Black population numbered about 757,000. A century later the Black population had grown nearly tenfold, to 7.5 million. By the mid-1970's, the number of Blacks in the United States was over 24 million, more than 30 times the number in 1790.

Limited information is available on the size of the Black population living in this country prior to the first census. In 1650, just a few years after the importation of Black slaves began, it is estimated that the colonies contained about 1,600 Blacks. Estimates of the Black population around the time of the birth of our Nation are 462,000 for 1770 and 562,000 for 1780.1

The growth rate of the Black population has varied considerably since the first decennial census. The Black population grew at a rapid rate-in excess of 2.0 percent per year --between the first census and the 1860 census, the census preceding the Civil War. The sustained growth can be attributed to two factors-the continued importation of slaves and the natural increase (excess of births over deaths) of the resident population (table 1). The importation of slaves into the United States was forbidden by law after January 1, 1808, but illicit slave traffic continued until the Civil War.2

Following the Civil War, the growth rate of the Black population experienced a downward trend as a result of the complete cessation of the slave trade and declines in fertility. This trend appears to have continued, with only a few interruptions, through the depression years 1930 to 1940 (tables 1 and 2).

A pattern of more rapid growth developed after World War 11; the growth rates in the 1950-60 decade (the height of the post-war "baby boom"') approached a level close to that of the pre-Civil War years. The average rate of growth in the 1970's showed a decline from the peak rate of the 1950's;

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The first census in 1790 showed that almost all (92 percent) Blacks were slaves. The proportion was only slightly lower (89 percent) in 1860, 5 years prior to the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. During the time span from 1790 to 1860, the proportion of Blacks who were slaves showed little variation, ranging from a low of 86 percent in 1810 and 1830 to a high of 92 percent in 1790.

The legal prohibition of the African slave trade in 1808 had little effect upon the growth of the slave population. As shown by the figures in table 3, the increase in the slave population was fairly stable during the 70-year period from 1790 to 1860, partly because slaves continued to be imported illegally into the Nation and rates of natural increase were high.

During the pre-Civil War period (1790 to 1860), the slave population was highly concentrated in the Southern States (over 90 percent lived there). In 1790, four StatesMaryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia (which included West Virginia) -contained most of the slave population. By 1850, the slave population had spread, and concentrations

also found in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee (table 4).




'U.S. Bureau of the Census, Department of Commerce and Labor, A Century of Population Growth in the United States: 1790-1900, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1909, p. 8.

? According to the Encyclopedia of American History, Richard B. Morris, Editor, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1961, p. 544, "one estimate of the slaves brought into the U.S. illegally, 1808-60, places the total at 250,000."

Census Bureau studies have shown that there is net undercount of the population in the decennial censuses. Estimates of the Black population (and growth rate) corrected for net undercoverage have been developed for the census years 1900 to 1970 and are presented in table 2. The discussion on growth patterns since 1900 is based on these corrected estimates.


In 1890 (the first census for which urban-rural data for Blacks were available), most Blacks (80 percent) resided in rural areas. Eighty years later, the situation had completely reversed; Blacks had become a highly urbanized population. Most of the urbanization occurred in the years after 1940, fed by the large influx of Blacks to northern cities from southern rural areas (table 6).

The most recent census indicated that Blacks were more urbanized than Whites. Of the Black population, 81 percent lived in urban areas in 1970 compared with 72 percent of Whites. Urban Blacks have concentrated in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas and continue to comprise an increasing proportion of the population in these cities. The proportion of Blacks of the total central city population rose from 16 percent in 1960 to 23 percent in 1975, as a result of modest increases in the Black population and the exodus of Whites to the suburbs. The proportional increases of Blacks in the large metropolitan areas ( 1 million or more) were even greater during this period (tables 6 and 7).

The proportion of Blacks in the total suburban population (outside central cities of metropolitan areas) showed a slight decline from 1960 to 1970. Since 1970, there is some evidence that the proportion has risen slightly, as a result of a higher annual rate of growth among Blacks than among Whites in the suburbs (table 7).

In 1790, most of the free Blacks and a small proportion of slaves resided in the North; however, until recent decades, the vast majority of Blacks continued to live in the South. The movement of large numbers of Blacks from the South to the North began during World War I and gained momentum after the war. During the 1920's, for example, the net outmigration of Blacks from the South was about 749,000; during the previous decade the figure was only about 450,000. In the 1930's, there was continued net outmigration from the South, but at a much diminished pace from the 1920's.

During the last three decades (1940 to 1970) Blacks left the South in very large numbers; the South lost close to 1.5 million Blacks in each of the three decades. This movement resulted in the profound changes in the distribution of the Black population, which are discussed in the next section. Analysts have provided a number of reasons for the exodus from the South, such as the pursuit of economic benefits in the North, which had become highly industrialized; a desire to elude racial discrimination, segregation, and injustice; and agricultural depression in some parts of the South, At first the North was the destination of most Blacks; however, substantial numbers later migrated to the West Coast, primarily to California, as reflected in the sharp rise in the proportion of Blacks in the West during the 1940-75 period (tables 5 and 8).

In the 1970's, a new pattern of migration appears to be emerging; the South has been experiencing a decline in the volume of Black outmigration and, at the same time, an increase in Black inmigration. In fact, during the 5-year period from 1970 to 1975, the number of Blacks 5 years old and over moving to the South closely approximated the number moving from the South–302,000 inmigrants versus 288,000 outmigrants (table 9).

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Age and Sex Composition

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The age distribution of the Black population has shown substantial change over the past 100 years. In 1870, the Black population was relatively young, as reflected in a median age of 18.5 years. Over the next seven decades (1870 to 1940), the median age increased by 6.6 years to 25.1 years. This marked increase in the median age of the Black population was primarily a result of declines in fertility over this period (table 10).

The median age in 1960 and 1970 implied a drop from the 1940 level-a drop which reflected the impact of increased fertility during the baby boom era. Between 1970 and 1975, this pattern reversed itself; the median age rose from 22,4 in 1970 to 23.4 years in 1975. The latter figure was almost identical to the 1960 figure.

The proportion of the Black population below the age of 15 has varied from census to census, also reflecting changes in fertility levels. The proportion declined from 38 to 30 percent between 1910 and 1940, then climbed to 37 percent in 1960, and by 1975, had dropped again to 32 percent (table 10).

Black persons 65 years old and over have constituted an increasing share of the total Black population since 1910. By 1975, 7 percent of the Black population, or double the corresponding proportion in 1910, was in this age group. The growth in the relative number in this age category has resulted primarily from declines in fertility.

An excess of females over males in the Black population has appeared consistently in the census returns for over 100 years. In the last census, there were over 1 million more females than males in the Black population. The sex ratio (the number of males per 100 females) of the Black

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Each census from 1790 to 1910 indicated that about 9 out of every 10 Black Americans lived in the Southern region. After 1910, this proportion began to decline and its downward movement accelerated during the 1940-70 period, due to the predominately one-way migration stream from the South to the North (noted above). In 1940, 3 out of 4 Blacks were residents of the South; by 1970 only one-half (53 percent) were in the South. This downward trend, however, appears to have halted in the 1970's, and in 1975, the proportion of Blacks who lived in the South was about the same as the 1970 level (table 5).

As a consequence of Blacks moving out of the South, the proportion of Blacks in both the North and West have shown substantial increases over the years. The proportion of Blacks in the North was 39 percent in 1975, almost four times the percentage in 1910. The West, which had only 1 percent of the Blacks in 1910, contained about 9 percent in 1975.

Throughout the census history, the geographic residential distribution of the Black population has been less diversified than that for the White population (table 5).

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