In 1790, when the first census was taken, African Americans numbered about 760,000—about 19% of the population. In 1860, at the start of the Civil War, the African-American population increased to 4.4 million, but the percentage rate dropped to 14% of the overall population of the country. The vast majority were slaves, with only 488,000 counted as “freemen.” By 1900, the black population had doubled and reached 8.8 million. In 1910, about 90% of African Americans lived in the South, but large numbers began migrating north looking for better job opportunities and living conditions, and to escape Jim Crow and racial violence. The Great Migration, as it was called, spanned the 1890s to the 1970s. From 1916 through the 1960s, more than 6 million black people moved north. But in the 1970s and 1980s, that trend reversed, with more African Americans moving south to the Sunbelt than leaving it. By 1990, the African-American population reached about 30 million and represented 12% of the population, roughly the same proportion as in 1900.
Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003, and We, The American Blacks, U.S. Census Bureau, 1993.