Maps represent population changes between 1990-2000 (top left) and from 2000-2010 (bottom left).
The Delaware County borough of Yeadon was one of the first Philadelphia suburbs to become almost entirely black. Jacquelyn Puriefoy-Brinkley, in her 70s, remembers growing up here during the 1940s and ’50s, when the borough was whiter—and segregated. “Our parents realized we were growing up in a segregated community and they wanted to protect us from the disappointments and hurt of segregation,” she says. “So they tried to give us everything.” Her father and others even founded the nation’s first private black swim club 1958, she says, after they were turned away from the all-white (and now-defunct) Yeadon Swim Club.
Yeadon was atypical, a suburb home to a black middle-class enclave that Puriefoy-Brinkley says was better educated and more prosperous than neighboring whites. “The most important thing to my parents and the parents of my peers was education,” says the co-chair of the Southeastern Pennsylvania First Suburbs Project and a former Yeadon councilwoman. “Everything was focused on preparing us for a good satisfying and productive adulthood.”
Puriefoy-Brinkley left Yeadon in the ’60s and moved to Society Hill and then to Boston, teaching, helping to oversee school desegregation and then working for Planned Parenthood. But when her father died in 1995, she moved back into the book-laden, split-level house where she grew up. She says the neighborhood changed. By 1990, the once predominantly white community had become 67 percent black. (The latest data shows the black population now stands at 89 percent.) The white exodus created a dwindling tax base, and the William Penn School District had slumped. Newly arrived urban blacks, some from just across the city line in West Philadelphia, found out that the suburban dream had just relocated another 20 minutes west.
“We have people who required services that we didn’t need [growing up], and fewer people to pay for it,” Puriefoy-Brinkley says.
Inside the Cutting Edge barbershop on Church Lane, Yeadon’s main drag, three black men chat about the state of the county borough. The men agree that Yeadon is stuck in a rut. One that’s defined by high property taxes and poor services. “William Penn used to be number one. Now it’s crap,” says John, a 30-year-old barber.
“Soon as I moved in, bang, they was out,” said a 37 year old who wished to remain anonymous, referring to white flight.
According to Census data, the level of segregation between blacks and whites in the Philadelphia area is declining at a slower rate than during the 1990s—which had already been pretty slow. But the racial dividing lines are moving fast. Just as white city-dwellers fled neighborhoods when black families arrived after World War II, suburban whites are fleeing to the exurbs as blacks and Latinos move to older suburbs. As growth pushes farther out, the Philadelphia region continues to be sharply divided by race and class. Segregation persists, though you’re unlikely to hear about it.
The local media reports on the 2010 Census data released last week have concentrated on the area’s booming Latino and Asian population, and the fact that Philadelphia grew for the first time after 50 years of decline. What has not been reported, however, is that growth continues to be divided. The last decade saw rapid growth—overwhelmingly white—in far-flung counties like Chester in Pennsylvania, Gloucester and Ocean in New Jersey, and Cecil in Maryland. The white population dropped everywhere else, as blacks, Latinos and Asians moved to resegregating older suburbs.
Letters to the Editor