Diversity in Alabama

Diversity in Alabama

  • August 7th, 2019

Diversity in Alabama

Since we began getting results of Census 2000, newspapers and television have been telling us about the growing racial diversity in Alabama. Alabama’s black population is growing faster than the white population; the Hispanic population is the fastest growing ethnic group in the state. A careful examination of the flood of Census information tells us a more detailed story about how our state is changing.African American. Alabama’s racial patterns have distinctly regional dimensions. African Americans make up 26 percent of the total population, but the state’s black population is distributed very unevenly. A broad swath of the northern portion of Alabama is heavily white, as it has been since the founding of the state. This is an area where much of the terrain never lent itself to large numbers of big plantations in the agricultural economy of the early 1800s. Slavery was not as pervasive in that part of the state, and into the 21st century the concentration of African Americans is not as heavy in the north as in the south where the plantation experience was more common.

Of the 67 counties in Alabama, there are 10, all in the Black Belt region, having a black majority. Conversely, there are 13 counties, all in the northern half of the state, where less than 10 percent of the population is African American.

Asian. Nationally, 0.9 percent of the American population is Asian. In Alabama 0.7 percent is Asian, accounting for 31,346 people. The Asian presence is small and highly concentrated in a few counties, largely in the metro areas. Jefferson, Madison, and Mobile Counties each have more than 5,000 Asians. Montgomery, Lee, Tuscaloosa, and Shelby have 2,200 or fewer each, and other counties’ numbers drop off sharply from there. Several counties have fewer than 10 Asian persons living there.

Hispanic. No county in Alabama comes close to approximating the U.S. Hispanic population share. Nationally, 12.5 percent of the American population is Hispanic. Counties in Alabama that have seen an influx of Hispanics in the last decade now have 5 to 7 percent Hispanic population. Some counties have experienced very little Hispanic immigration at all. Just 28 Alabama counties account for 81 percent of the state’s Hispanic population. Several counties have fewer than 100 Hispanic people. The largest concentration of Hispanics, 10,284, is in Jefferson County, accounting for 1.6 percent of Jefferson County’s total. Other Deep South metro areas—Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, Greensboro-Winston Salem-High Point, Atlanta— experienced 300 to 600 percent increases in Hispanic population during the 1990s and have Hispanic populations tens of thousands greater than Birmingham’s.

The diffusion of minorities across Alabama is less rapid and far less pervasive than recent press accounts imply. While residents in Alabama counties with no Hispanic presence a decade ago have been talking about the recent difference, broadly speaking, Alabama is still an ethnic frontier for immigrant minorities. We can expect ethnic pioneers to continue trekking into Alabama during the current decade; Census 2010 should have a new and different story to tell.

Annette Jones Watters