Prince George’s County: Growing, and growing more segregated, census shows

October 30, 2011

This is the second in a two-part series on residential segregation in the Washington region and other parts of the country. (Read Part 1.)

Colonial and Georgian manses are rising at the Hamptons at Woodmore in Bowie, featuring four-car garages, opulent kitchens and model names such as Tara.

The fact that all the residents so far are African American, many of them new to Prince George’s County, underscores just how differently the county is evolving compared with the rest of the Washington region.

From Loudoun to Fairfax to Montgomery, communities that are growing are also growing more integrated, with people of every race and ethnicity living side by side. Prince George’s stands virtually alone as a place that is gaining population yet has an increasing number of residents living in neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly one race — in this case, African American.

A Washington Post analysis of census data shows that the number of Prince George’s neighborhoods where more than 85 percent of residents are the same race or ethnicity — what demographers consider a high level of segregation — has inched up, from 25 percent in 1990 to 27 percent last year.

Though the increase is small, any uptick is startling in comparison with everywhere else in the region. While the all-white neighborhood has all but disappeared from Northern Virginia, Montgomery and the District, the all-black neighborhood is on the rise in Prince George’s.

Behind the shift

Four factors are driving the changes in Prince George’s: It remains a beacon for middle-class African Americans who want to live around other blacks. It continues to lose non-Hispanic whites, and few whites are moving in. It has been less successful than neighboring counties in attracting Asians. And its fastest-growing group, Hispanics, are carving out enclaves of their own instead of dispersing throughout the county.

The result has been a dramatic shift in the nature of segregation in Prince George’s. Twenty years ago, fully a third of the county’s segregated neighborhoods were white. Today, none are. And there are only a few communities where whites are a majority, mostly in College Park.

Meanwhile, the arrival of affluent and accomplished blacks — not only from the District and surrounding counties but from throughout the nation — has transformed vast swaths of the county. More than a third of the county’s African American residents live in neighborhoods that are more than 85 percent black. From Bowie to Brandywine, three-quarters of the neighborhoods where household incomes surpass $100,000 are majority African American.

The Hamptons at Woodmore, where Sterling Crockett lives, is shaping up to be another one.

The black business executive, who could afford to live just about anywhere, moved from North Bethesda to Bowie four years ago with his wife, Florence.

To appreciate some of the reasons why, go back to the small town in southwestern Virginia where Crockett was one of only four black students in his graduating class.

An elementary school teacher once ordered a white classmate not to share her scissors with Crockett, and his high school hosted a “slave day,” auctioning off athletes to raise money.

“It was horrible,” said Crockett, 49.

As an adult, he yearned for a place where he could feel proud of who he is, where race isn’t everything, and where he and his family would live around other upwardly mobile blacks.

“I saw it as an opportunity to get into a community that is inhabited and run by African Americans,” Crockett said as he sat in the living room of his stone mansion, the largest in the new development in Bowie. “It’s a county of African Americans doing well — more black millionaires.”

Yet the Prince George’s experience also illustrates the limits of integration. Most blacks and whites still live in separate neighborhoods, despite the dismantling of legal segregation decades ago.

Today, integration has moved beyond black and white. Integrated neighborhoods often are created when Asians and Hispanics move into predominantly white neighborhoods, said John Logan, a Brown University sociologist who has studied segregation patterns for 30 years. He says these “global neighborhoods” pave the way for more blacks to move into a community without triggering white flight.

In the Washington region, 90 percent of whites still live in neighborhoods where they are a majority or the largest group. Many whites remain unwilling to buy houses in black neighborhoods, Logan said, and so are most Asians.

“It’s going to be a long, long time before that disappears,” he said.

White exodus

Some whites with deep roots in Prince George’s say they sense that the white exodus from the county is largely over and that Hispanics have helped make the county feel more diverse than ever.

Maryland state Del. Justin D. Ross (D) and his wife are raising four young children in Hyattsville, not far from the University of Maryland in an area that has long attracted a mix of people. His two oldest children attend University Park Elementary School, where the student body is 30 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic, 26 percent white and 8 percent Asian.

“We’re giving [our children] a competitive advantage in a real world that will look much different than the one my parents grew up in,” said Ross, 35, who is white and grew up in Prince George’s.

But most white longtime residents have friends and neighbors who have left the county and made little secret of why, said several who met on a recent afternoon to discuss white flight and diversity.

“A lot of white people don’t want to live around black people. It’s crazy, I know,” said John Petro, a developer who lives in a predominantly black subdivision in Bowie and has no intention of moving away.

“They don’t always say ‘black,’ ” said Jane Eagen Dodd, a retired schoolteacher who lives in an Upper Marlboro community with a rich mix of people from different backgrounds. “They say, ‘The county is changing.’ ”

Over the past decade, the county’s white population dropped by 50,000. At the same time, the county gained 72,000 Hispanics. There are now more Hispanics than whites in Prince George’s.

Hispanics, who were responsible for most of the county’s growth over the past decade, are not moving into areas that are majority black. Instead, they are clustered almost entirely in the neighborhoods around Langley Park and Beltsville. Langley Park is the only neighborhood in the county where more than 85 percent of the residents are Hispanic.

Even though the Asian population in Prince George’s grew over the past decade, it still lags far behind other counties. In Loudoun, for instance, the number of Asians more than quintupled to 46,000. In Prince George’s, where the population is almost three times the size of Loudoun’s, Asians grew by just 4,000, to 35,000.

Prince George’s is home to the Sri Siva Vishnu temple, one of the largest Hindu houses of worship in the region, and boasts more than half a dozen cricket fields, more than Fairfax, Montgomery and Howard combined.

But Asians “would rather come here to visit than live here,” said Gayatri Varma, an immigrant from India who works at the University of Maryland and lives in Beltsville.

Many Asians buy houses elsewhere, Varma and others said, because they are looking for the best public schools. The Prince George’s schools rank among the lowest in the state in test scores, though they have been improving in recent years.

A demographic outlier

The growth of Asians and Hispanics has remade much of the region, block by block.

Even in once-rural Loudoun County, the share of all-white neighborhoods has plunged from 82 percent in 1990 to 14 percent now. Overwhelmingly white neighborhoods have almost disappeared in Montgomery and Fairfax counties as well as in the District.

In the city, however, Wards 7 and 8 remain deeply segregated. Last year, nearly all blacks east of the Anacostia River were living in neighborhoods that are virtually all black and have high poverty rates.

Neighborhoods with stubbornly high levels of segregation are often found in cities such as Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland and Milwaukee. Most were shedding jobs and residents long before the recession began and have not attracted the Hispanics and Asians driving growth and diversity elsewhere.

But Prince George’s has neighborhoods that are like almost no others in the United States: segregated African American enclaves with median household incomes above $100,000.

Most are outside the Beltway in the central part of the county, including Lake Arbor, Marlboro Village, Marlboro Meadows, Brock Hall, Kettering and Woodmore.

The only other black enclaves in the country with incomes that high are two small tracts in Queens and one in Brooklyn.

The much larger DeKalb County in suburban Atlanta may offer the best point of comparison. Like Prince George’s, DeKalb is an affluent majority-black county that is both growing and growing more segregated.

But its white population has stabilized in the past decade. The county is now split into a northern half that is largely white and Hispanic and a southern half that is largely African American.

DeKalb rivals Prince George’s in terms of its concentration of college-educated black professionals. But even DeKalb lacks the pockets of wealth found in African American neighborhoods in Prince George’s.

A racial safety zone

Scholars of the black middle class say many African Americans want to live together.

“They enjoy interacting with other blacks,” Karyn Lacy, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, wrote in her book “Blue-Chip Black,” for which she interviewed dozens of parents in Prince George’s. “Scholars have focused so much on the burden of blackness that they have devoted scant attention to the possibility that there is something enjoyable about being black and participating in a community of blacks.”

Residential integration is not a goal, particularly for younger black professionals born after the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, said Bart Landry, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who has returned to Prince George’s for an update to his 1987 book, “The New Black Middle Class.” He said many residents find comfort, after spending the day in a predominantly white workplace, in returning to a home where all their neighbors are other African American professionals.

“They’re where they want to be,” Landry said. “They’re not thinking about integration. It’s not on their radar screen. . . . Their goal is to live in a community of like-minded, like-valued people, and these are other middle-class blacks.”

Chris Ellis, 24, who grew up in Forestville and Upper Marlboro, was one of only a few black men around when he moved to Staten Island to attend St. John’s University. He was disoriented and sometimes discomfited by the change.

“I never actually had been a minority,” said Ellis, who attends Rutgers Law School in Newark and works in New York City.

Bob Ross, head of the Prince George’s chapter of the NAACP, said the county’s largely black neighborhoods represent a sense of security. He has told his children that they will face harsher realities when they grow up and venture out into the world.

“It has its safeguards,” he said. “You tell your kids, ‘When you leave, you’re not going to be treated the same as you are in Prince George’s County.’ My youngest son, who’s 22, had a rude awakening when he moved to Arizona. He saw people were not as kind as they were here. They looked at him more by his color than the contents of his mind. We’ve still got to prepare our kids to go out to the real world. But here is a safe zone.”

Troy and LaShonda McFarland have traveled around the world with the Air Force, but this year, when they considered where to retire and raise their two young children, they chose Prince George’s County.

The couple said Anne Arundel and Calvert counties were on their initial list of possibilities because they heard about underperforming Prince George’s schools. But they could get more land and a bigger house with more amenities for their money in Prince George’s. Plus, LaShonda McFarland, who is a counselor at Melwood Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, decided that the way to improve the system is to work from inside. She is confident that her children will thrive in the county’s public schools because “it’s all about parent involvement.”

Standing at the front door of their 6,400-square-foot, four-bedroom brick home in Bowie, the couple said that they could not imagine raising their children, TaKaya, 8, and Troy Jr., 6, anywhere else.

“It was important to us to settle where they could see African Americans at their best,” LaShonda McFarland said. “It’s amazing because my daughter can go outside and see a female doctor across the way and that’s what she wants to be when she grows up. It’s like we have our own set of mentors in the neighborhood.”

Carol Morello writes about demographics and the census, as well as a lot of other stuff that comes down the pike. She has worked at the Washington Post since 2000.
Dan Keating analyzes data for projects, stories, graphics and interactives. He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer at The Miami Herald for exposing vote fraud, and a team that was a Pulitzer finalist the year before for uncovering police fraud.
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