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The Truth About White Flight

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Chicago's South Shore Neighborhood

Chicago's South Shore Neighborhood

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama is a bitter woman. Although white people made her one of the most famous, loved, and wealthy women on our planet, and twice chose to elect her husband the President of the United States, she feels unending animosity towards whites. She revealed why in a 2019 interview: White Flight.

"As families like ours — upstanding families like ours who were doing everything we were supposed to do and better — as we moved in, white folks moved out because they were afraid of what our families represented. Because of the color of our skin and the texture of our hair. And so, yeah, I feel a sense of injustice,” the former First Lady angrily asserted. “I want to remind white folks that y’all were running from us. This family, with all the values that you read about, you were running from us. And you’re still running.”

Mrs. Obama was referring to the lakefront neighborhood where she grew up, South Shore in Chicago. “One by one, they packed their bags, and they ran from us.” White people “left communities in shambles. They disinvested. The neighborhood businesses were closing one by one, the blight setting in."

Naturally, the Chicago Tribune backs her up: “Blacks did absolutely nothing to drive out white people. Whites left simply because they did not want to live around black people—because of their aversion to an America where people of all races had a piece of the pie. For many whites, equality remains their No. 1 fear.”

South Shore Neighborhood of Chicago Way Back in the Day

South Shore Neighborhood of Chicago Way Back in the Day

The Story of South Shore

In 1950, 96% of those living in South Shore were white. By 1980, it had changed to 96% black. Thanks to the 2019 book The World Is Always Coming to an End by Carlo Rotella; we know how this came about. The author is a Democrat the same age as Michelle Obama. He lived five blocks from her.

In the 1950s, South Shore was the kind of peaceful community where no one had to lock their doors at night. Many residents would leave their car keys in the ignition while they slept. Children could roam the neighborhood until dark. Antisocial behavior was virtually non-existent.

The 1960s and 1970s saw an explosion of crime in South Shore. The rates of burglary, robbery, assault, rape and murder rose to three times that of Chicago as a whole. It became one of the most menacing parts of the city. Therefore, as Rotella admits in his book, "Whites' fear of crime wasn't unfounded, nor was it simply reducible to white people reacting to the arrival of black people. The story of their departure often took the form of 'enough is enough' after a gunpoint robbery, home invasion, or similar last-straw outrage."

The defining moment seems to have been when, in 1970, a black man murdered the Wee Folks toy store owner, Manny Lazar, who was “beloved by generations of children in the neighborhood,” writes Rotella. “The day ‘Mr. Wee Folks’ was shot was, for many of us, the day that South Shore died.”

The main asset for most folks is their home. Property values plummeted after the crime wave came. Fewer people wanted to rent a home or business in the area, which put landlords in a financial pickle. Restaurants and stores saw sales plunge as even regular customers began to seek safer districts in which to eat or do business. The number of empty storefronts started to snowball. People who had lived in South Shore for a lifetime commenced moving out, afraid for their property, their person, and their children. The worst part of the neighborhood earned the nickname Terror Town.

“No matter how committed you are to your neighborhood, that commitment is limited, and you’ll move on if the perceived rewards of moving are high enough or the penalties for staying severe enough,” maintains Rotella. It became common knowledge across major cities in America that the more blacks moved into your neighborhood, the more crime there would be, the more quality of life would deteriorate, and drastically lower property values would follow. The same story repeated itself from coast to coast. This had nothing to do with the color of anyone’s skin. It had to do with behavior. And culture.

Suppose it is all explained so neatly as nothing but white bigotry, as is the dominant narrative today, the one fabricated by Democrat propagandists. In that case, it becomes hard to understand another big city phenomenon: Black Flight.

Nearly 13,000 black residents - a quarter of them - fled South Shore in a recent 15-year period, according to the Chicago Tribune. The paper lamented “the exodus of middle-class African-American families seeking safe neighborhoods and job opportunities, crushing South Shore and other once-stable neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Sides.”

1968 Chicago Race Riots

1968 Chicago Race Riots

Chicago At Large

I live in Chicago. It is known as the city of neighborhoods. Eighteen of them are at least 90% black today, more than half of which were over 75% white sixty years ago. Between 1960 and 1980, murders tripled in Chicago. Does anyone really believe whites would have uprooted from where they had lived for generations if the crime rate had remained the same?

Still, the prime catalyst for White Flight was no doubt the race riots of 1968. No community that suffered race riots in the sixties ever returned to its former glory, from Watts to Detroit to New Jersey. The Chicago riot saw over 2,000 arrests after blacks burned 260 businesses to the ground, hundreds of bystanders were wounded, and nine killed. It is estimated that half a million whites moved out of the city in the five years that followed. By 1980, Chicago fell below 50% white for the first time. It had been 86% white. Today, it stands at around 30%.

Now Black Flight is the thing. It began in the 1980s, right after White Flight. Fully 1/3 of the blacks in Chicago have moved out since the eighties. And not only Chicago. Of the ten American cities with the biggest black communities, nine have seen a reduction in black population since 2000. The black population has increased in the suburbs of almost every one of the largest 100 metropolitan areas. The Chicago Tribune bemoans, “The loss of the black middle class deprives their communities of their skills, tax revenue, and political clout, while also robbing a younger generation of desperately needed role models."

Benton Harbor Michigan 1950s

Benton Harbor Michigan 1950s

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America the Beautiful

A study of 70 metropolitan areas by Leah Boustan, published in the New York Times, shows that by the 1970s, two white families had moved out of America's inner cities for each black family that moved in. Suburbanization, however, happened all across the country, even where black/white ratios did not substantially change. A lot of folks thought the big cities were too crowded and noisy and smelly.

Boustan writes, "Only a portion of White Flight can be traced back to the now-classic dynamic of racial turnover. It is wonderful to be able to see grass and trees instead of hallways and speeding automobiles. The newly prosperous families were seeking larger houses and more open space."

Safety, a higher quality of life, excellent schools, and economic opportunities beckoned whites and blacks to leave the core cities for greener pastures. The late black economist Walter Williams declared, "It turns out that blacks, like whites, want better and safer schools for their kids and don't like to be mugged or have their property vandalized."

Sheryll Cashin, Professor of Law at Georgetown and black civil rights activist, clarifies the situation for us: “To the higher income black people, if you don’t want to love and help your lower-income black brethren, why would you expect white people to? If you can’t do it, no one in society can do it.”

Benton Harbor Michigan Today

Benton Harbor Michigan Today

My Hometown

I grew up in the Twin Cities of Benton Harbor and Saint Joseph, Michigan, which would eventually become the most racially segregated urban area in the United States, with Benton Harbor 99% black and St. Joseph 99% white. Both cities are the same size.

St. Joe had always been lily-white. However, before the 1970s, Benton Harbor was an integrated community where blacks and whites worked side by side, went to school together, and played sports on the same teams. Black and white children played with each other, and their parents would sometimes socialize.

Terrible race riots in Benton Harbor tore the town asunder in 1966, severe enough for the small city to be featured on the national network news. Blacks terrorized white families that had been their friends and neighbors for years. The Black slogan became “This is our town now!” And whites let them have it.

White Flight is always blamed on white people as if they would vacate the homes and neighborhoods where their families had enjoyed living for decades merely because of someone else's skin complexion. My Grandmother had lived alone for 20 years in her beautiful home, which featured enormous, gorgeous, stained-glass windows. Those windows had been there 100 years unmolested. Blacks busted them all out with rocks and bricks. If Grandma worked in her yard, young blacks would come by on their bicycles or in cars and shriek, “We are going to kill you, white bitch!”

It was not skin color but menacing behavior that caused Benton Harbor to empty itself of whites. With them went the businesses and the tax base, leaving behind what the blacks would make into a cesspool of a city. They had every advantage from the start. It's not like they were pioneers on the frontier that had to clear acres of virgin forest whilst being attacked by wild beasts and savage Injuns. They took over a beautiful city with broad avenues that had been the commercial hub of the region. Benton Harbor featured thousands of fine homes, superb schools, and magnificent business buildings on a major river with sparkling beaches along the Lake Michigan Coast. Outstanding infrastructure was already in place—a splendid port, great roads, bridges, sewers, clean drinking water, and utilities. The heavy lifting had been done. What the blacks who took charge didn't have was the cognitive ability to manage a municipality. Benton Harbor would become the Murder Capital of America (the murder rate was triple that of Chicago or New York). Eventually, the downtown would look like a ghost town.

The State of Michigan and the Federal Government would pour millions of dollars into the city that never seemed to improve a thing. In fact, through a series of corrupt black administrations, a mountain of money simply disappeared. Anytime the state would ask the town to account for the missing funds, charges of racism would be screamed out by local blacks, augmented by national race hustlers and their white progressive partners in crime from the major media outlets.

There came a day when Benton Harbor passed a law that you had to live within the city limits to work for the municipality. Many whites still worked for the town as teachers, firefighters, and police officers but had moved away for the safety of their families. The city administration sought to force the whites out of employment so they could replace them with blacks. Advertisements were placed seeking residents only to apply for some 200 jobs. Incredibly, in a town with the highest unemployment in the nation and the highest percentage of people living on welfare—not one soul came looking for work.

Across the river, it was a whole 'nother story. St. Joe prospered, and it was clean, safe, and quiet. No one I knew locked the doors of their homes, even at night while they slept inside. People left keys in their cars all night; even for a lone teenage female, it was safe to walk about at all hours in the dark. Crime was so rare that a mailbox being knocked down made headlines in the local newspaper. As long as blacks stayed on their side of the river, St. Joe remained virtually crime-free.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alex Kotlowitz came to live in my hometowns for about six months in the nineties. He was doing research in preparation for writing his fascinating book about the area, The Other Side of the River.

In the book, the author relates that in the white city of St. Joseph, there were only three murders in forty-three years, all of which were 'crimes of passion.' In one twenty-five-year stretch, there were no murders.

Some residents of St. Joe referred to the black city across the river as ‘Benton Harlem,’ and the bridge to it, ‘the longest bridge in the world; from St. Joe to Africa.’ The black city (Benton Harbor) was full of broken homes, trash-filled yards, dilapidated buildings, packs of stray dogs, gangs, drugs, rapes, shootings, and murders. Some souls got shot for five dollars or a pair of tennis shoes. Half the people lived from the fruit of other people’s labors (on welfare).

Benton Harbor had to eliminate standards in order to hire black teachers, firefighters, and police officers. That did not portend well. It was widely known that the new black cops were reluctant to arrest one of their own race. Benton Harbor had twenty murders, eighty shootings, six hundred reports of shots fired, and fifty stabbings in one year. Most crimes never saw anyone convicted for them. There were ten murders in two weeks at one point. White people avoided the town—not because of racism but because they feared for their lives.

While the kids in the schools of St. Joseph were among the brightest in the state, the whole Benton Harbor School System performed miserably on all state tests—right at the bottom of Michigan’s 550 school districts—and its average high school senior could barely read at an eighth-grade level.

The black boys of Benton Harbor hated St. Joe and all it stood for—white prosperity—and considered the people who lived there ‘the enemy.’ Racist blacks often beat up the few white students condemned to attend the nearly all-black Benton Harbor schools. Some of those boys walked the halls of their high school shouting, “Kill the white people!” At no one in particular.

My Grandmother's Home was in the Heart of Benton Harbor, Michigan

My Grandmother's Home was in the Heart of Benton Harbor, Michigan

Why White Flight

Journalist Tom Jacobs hawks the Democrat party line. White Flight had only one possible cause. “Frightened whites,” he writes, “from pure prejudice,” sought to “recreate a hyper-segregated society” in the suburbs.

If whites move out of a city, it is because of White Supremacy, goes the Democrat narrative. If whites move into a non-white neighborhood, it is called "gentrification" and also White Supremacy. The only acceptable explanation for White Flight - or anything else whites do - is White Supremacy and Systemic Racism. The massive wave of black-on-white racial crimes had nothing to do with it. No one would leave their home and friends behind because of mere physical danger.

Ascribing White Flight solely to racism is "reductive," writes Charles Marohn in the American Conservative. “For an individual or a family whose home is losing value, when another home on the outskirts of town—one that just happens to be newer, more spacious, and served by better schools—is gaining value, it’s very logical to make that move given the opportunity.”

As William Voegeli says in City Journal, “Rather than being a single result derived from a single cause, this social transformation, unfolding over decades, involved decisions and actions by millions of people in dozens of metropolitan areas—and almost certainly had multiple causes, interrelated in ways too tangled for simplistic explanations.”

Did white people have a duty to imperil their families and face financial ruin by staying put? Maybe the real story is about black villains and their white victims. The narrative indoctrinated into our populace is the opposite: white villains and black victims. That should not surprise us. Every narrative of Democrats is the opposite of the truth.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 25, 2021:

Kyler J Falk ~ Thank you very much for taking the time to read my article. I appreciate the astute observations you made in your commentary. And I am well pleased to read that you found my work interesting and insightful.

You hit on a dilemma that is generally hidden by political correctness with your report on what happened when inner city kids were imported into your high school. I have no doubt that your report is true: “their gang culture bled into every interaction they had. Each class they attended was interrupted by boisterous behavior, and if they passed each other in the halls it became yelling, fighting, and even threats of death.”

As you say, the result is “undesirable behavior shoehorned into it under the guise of progress. There's been multiple stabbings since then, and gang violence is more prominent in the area now.” That is what ‘progressives’ want for you and your children while their children attend private schools you cannot afford.

And you made a major point with this: “I hope that as time goes on people grow more aware of the dangers of this so called, "progress," and opt for better programs for these troubled children, rather than diminishing the experience of others to the detriment of everyone.”

That is the thing. To be all ‘inclusive’ ruins the education for children who actually WANT to learn.

Kyler J Falk from California on October 21, 2021:

This was a very interesting and insightful article, James, and it hearkens to my own experience and that of my family and friends even now, here in California where we boast our functional diversity. It most closely reminds me of my high school, a decreasingly-white majority school in a beautiful valley, that is taking on funding for reaching out to inner city children and taking them into special programs. The first ever students to be taken in were part of a gang violence reduction program, one was a blood and the other a crip, both were African American.

We only had about 12 African American students in the entire school during my time, and they were all what you hear people call, "whitewashed." The second these two program kids arrived, the black kids were split between supporting the two as their gang culture bled into every interaction they had. Each class they attended was interrupted by boisterous behavior, and if they passed each other in the halls it became yelling, fighting, and even threats of death.

Parents were already removing their kids from the classes with these two boys in them due to constant interruptions, but it took one of the boys stabbing the other during a large fight among the two black groups for them to finally realize that this was probably a really bad idea, and so the boys were removed from the school and the process discontinued. It only took two years before they gave it a shot again, and this time my younger brother was attending the school.

Unlike the last test-run with only two students from a gang violence reduction program, they began to take in migrant students in bulk. The school went from majority-white two years prior, to white children being outnumbered which nobody actually cared about because no one at the school was anything less than anti-racist. However, it took my younger brother getting jumped in the bathroom by three Mexican gangbangers and getting stabbed in the stomach for the school to start paying attention to the damage they were doing.

It didn't matter, though, it was too late and the funding too cushy. My brother was pulled out of school and into an independent study program, many of his friends' parents did the same, and to this day the school in a mostly-white district is having undesirable behavior shoehorned into it under the guise of progress. There's been multiple stabbings since then, and gang violence is more prominent in the area now.

I hope that as time goes on people grow more aware of the dangers of this so called, "progress," and opt for better programs for these troubled children, rather than diminishing the experience of others to the detriment of everyone.

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