Perkins, who appreciated her Los Angeles upbringing, admits that the East coast seems to be more conducive to various self-expressions. “I knew in 11th and 12th grade that I wanted to grow locks, but it wasn’t until I moved to DC and went to Howard that I figured out it was actually an option,” she said. “My mother has always had a sophisticated Afrocentric style of dress and had worn hairstyles ranging from naturals to fingerwaves. [It was] never an issue of feeling that I couldn’t express myself culturally. However, when I look at some of the African American teenagers coming up in LA right now, I don’t know how much they value styles and choices that are centered in African tradition like perhaps a lot of the youth in New York do,” she said, adding that the composition of New York cannot be ignored when discussing its impact on individuality. “The Black population in New York City is significantly more diverse than the Black population in LA. In New York, you are the minority if you are African American; when I meet people here, their first question to me is which African country or part of the Caribbean am I from.”
As Harlem, Brooklyn and Washington DC represent Black meccas of the East Coast, Atlanta is the Southern mecca, representing upward mobility, prosperity and of course, the Buppy culture.
Akiim DeShay of BlackDemographics.com, who is a native of Rochester New York, said that Atlanta made a positive impression on him after having lived there for a short time in high school. He witnessed the stable and middle class life of Atlanta that encapsulates the city’s image as a destination for many looking to start a family, take part in the burgeoning Black Hollywood, or just live in a stable African-American community. Maybe it’s unintentional but Atlanta has definitely reaped the rewards of being branded as the place to be for successful African-Americans.
“Atlanta has its problems but it also has a reputation of opportunity and prosperity,” said DeShay, who now resides outside of Dallas. “So even those who are living in poverty, high crime areas, and segregation continue to hear from others or the media about how booming the city is. They see folks from all over the country who broke their neck to move there with horror stories of places they escaped from.”
Despite the fact that Atlanta has its negatives like any other big city, much of its leverage and reputation comes from the fact that African-Americans can see themselves reflected as engines of everyday business.
“Go to any of Atlanta’s business centers and it is normal to see African Americans working in all sectors of the economy at all levels,” said DeShay. “Ask for a supervisor, manager, or even the CEO, and don’t be surprised if a Black man or woman appears. Majority Black middle class neighborhoods surround the city’s southern half. In an environment like this, how could anyone fail? Well of course it happens but don’t tell that to any of the thousands of African Americans who move there every month.” The attraction is evident; the Atlanta area gained 445,000 African Americans between 2000 and 2008 which is by far the largest Black population gain of any metropolitan area in the United States.
While the city has long been a destination for Southerners, California only began to experience Black migration in large numbers in 1940. Many Black residents of Oakland and Los Angeles will tell you that their parents or they themselves moved to California from various locations in the South for job opportunities in the aftermath of World War II. The period between 1940 and 1970 is known as the Second Great Migration, in which the state of California absorbed about 5 million blacks.
The longer history of Blacks on the East coast has dictated the dominant nature of East coast culture in music and history. Don’t we often wonder why certain cities over-represent when it comes to producing notables? “Cities such as New York and Philadelphia have historically been large markets for the culture and the arts. After all, the Harlem Renaissance and Du Bois’ classic Philadelphia Negro occurred in these cities,” said Dr. Ray. “The legacy of these triumphs still lives on. These cities have also historically had a thriving Black middle class and Black political representation. These dynamics set the tone for allowing equitable opportunities for Blacks to be productive, creative, and upwardly mobile.”