Southern Comfort

Blacks seeking integrated places to live are most likely to find them in the South and West. There, cities are burgeoning--and there's no rim of segregated suburbs for whites to flee to.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, integration is generally advancing everywhere. But cities in the Northeast and Midwest remain more segregated than those in the South.

As of 1990, the 15 most segregated metropolitan areas included 11 Midwestern or Northeastern industrial centers. Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland were nearly 90 percent segregated by living area, while highly integrated cities were found in Virginia, Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma.

Reynolds Farley, Ph.D., and William H. Frey, Ph.D., of the university's Population Studies Center, see many intricate factors accounting for the surprising results:

o Residential integration occurs more easily in smaller and mid-sized metropolitan areas--more typical of cities in the South.

o Cities and towns with military bases are less segregated due to frequent population changes.

o University towns, such as Gainesville, Florida, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, are generally more integrated, as education begets racial tolerance.

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o The greater the proportion of newer housing, the less segregation; homes built in the 1970s and 80s were subject to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and the South has had a recent construction spurt.

o The local government structure, in which power is vested in county-wide government subject to state control, prevented the proliferation of highly segregated suburban areas. By contrast, in the Northeast and Midwest, local towns had greater autonomy to exclude blacks.

o The presence of other minorities seems to buffer blacks.

o The number of pro-segregation whites is declining.

Reporting in the American Sociological Review, Farley and Frey predict that residential segregation will decline further in the 1990s, particularly in the South and West. However, where white suburbs surround a black central city, segregation is likely to persist.

PHOTO: Black girl and white girl playing

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