Sunday, March 18, 2001

White flight tipping balance

Blacks now account for 43% of city

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's population is tipping; with 45,000 fewer whites living in the city, African-Americans and other nonwhites are close to becoming the majority populace, Census statistics show.

        That doesn't surprise some of Cincinnati's African-Americans, who for years have said that the political, social and economic structures in the city need to catch up with reality.

        Black civic leaders have estimated that the city's African-American population was at least 3 percent more than the 38 percent shown by the 1990 census.

  Shifts to east, north noted
  - White flight tipping balance
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        According to the 2000 census, they were right. The latest figures show that 142,176 African-Americans — or 43 percent of the city's residents — now call Cincinnati home, compared with 175,492 whites ( or 52 percent of the population).

        “When we talked about our impact in politics in Cincinnati, we used 40 percent,” said Norma Holt Davis, president of the Cincinnati branch of the NAACP. “This means we, as a group, can use our willpower.”

        U.S. Census data released Friday shows that the city's overall population dropped by 33,000, though the number of black people grew by 4,044 and other racial minorities by 2,500. Another 5,553 people identified themselves as belonging to two or more races, a category that didn't exist in the last census.

        Ms. Davis said the numbers mean blacks will be able to create voting blocs that will have a greater effect on elections.

        “It matters in the mayor's race, it matters in council races, it matters in city issues,” Ms. Davis said.

        Mayor Charlie Luken agreed, saying the population shift has made race a more important factor in city elections.

        “It is clear that the success that African-Americans have had in getting elected to council in the 1990s is much better.” he said.

        And black influence probably won't stop with politics, others predict.

        “One of our next major things is not just having representatives on City Council, but having black representatives within the business community,” said the Rev. Damon Lynch III, head of the Black United Front and pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine. “That has been our continuous struggle.”

        But is it a struggle over a shrinking pie? The city's population decline is expected to cause the loss of millions of dollars in federal and state aid.

        “It's simply not a very prudent thing to lose that many people,” said Ernie Waits, a longtime activist who managed the council campaign of Theodore M. Berry, Cincinnati's first African-American mayor, in 1955.

        The degree to which race becomes a factor in city elections, he added, depends on how fairly the African-American community is treated.

        In 1999, the black vote wasn't enough to defeat changes to Cincinnati's political structure.

        Black wards opposed nearly 2-to-1 the independent election of a strong mayor. The charter change passed handily with strongest support from the city's mostly white, Republican wards.

        Since the charter change, city officials have been forced to deal with myriad race issues, including:

        • Allegations of police misconduct and racial profiling.

        • Claims of discrimination in city administration.

        • Citizen's anger toward City Council members who have openly criticized black city employees.

        • Accusations that some City Council members have targeted African-American organizations and programs for inspection and greater scrutiny.

        It is important to look at how elected officials perceive Cincinnati's black population, said Ms. Davis and the Rev. Mr. Lynch.

        Nearly 72 percent of the 198,061 African-Americans living in Hamilton County reside in Cincinnati, but that isn't the perception, the Rev. Mr. Lynch said.

        And blacks have moved from relative isolation in a few neighborhoods, such as Over-the-Rhine and the West End, to throughout the western half of the city.

        Although data on migration and the racial breakdowns of neighborhoods were not immediately available, initial census data show that population in the Over-the-Rhine area decreased by about 20 percent, in the West End by about 3 percent, and in Avondale by about 13 percent.

        At the same time, areas in Westwood and College Hill appear to have had significant gains in total population over the past decade.

        “We have to be careful that we do not become even more segregated,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said. “We need to make a conscious effort to build a new community that is economically and culturally diverse.”

        While that diversity has been reflected in elected city officials — with four of nine council seats going to blacks in 1999 — he said the business community is not so integrated.

        He pointed out that Downtown Cincinnati Inc. and the Cincinnati Business Committee have few African-Americans among their leadership.

       Enquirer reporters Ken Alltucker, John Byczkowski and Susan Vela contributed to this article.


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