The Rise And Fall Of 5 Great American Cities

Arthur Keith
6 min readMar 16, 2021

What the Census reveals about systemic racism — a quick primer.

Photo by Hieu Vu Minh on Unsplash.

I’m too young in my writing career to write about writing yet. Nothing I’ve published has moved the needle much. I’ve certainly not done anything that has gone viral nor made more than a few bucks a month.

However, many times on Medium, it’s been said that a good place to start writing is that from which you already know about a certain subject. Honestly, I know a lot about a lot of different things. (Street smarts: not so much.) Geography was always the subject in which I was most interested. Everybody else? Not so much. There’s a good chance that Millenials and those in Gen Z did not even have to take a geography class to graduate.

I always get super excited when new Census numbers come out! My parents got us a World Book Encyclopedias set, and I gravitated to the US states' articles. We had the 1964 edition, so the populations of cities and towns were based on the 1960 census. That gave me the framework to know the relative sizes of cities today.

I’m a geek, I know.

Boy, things have changed! Most all of America’s largest cities in 1950 were east of the Mississippi. Today, eight of the ten largest cities lie to the west. The chart below identifies the five biggest losers in population since the 1950 census. Suburbanization began after WWII, and it continues.

This isn’t just alarming. It’s shocking.

There are many commonalities as to why these cities contracted to the extent they did.

Some were stops along the Underground Railroad, which paved the way for the enslaved to try to reach some sort of freedom. Cleveland and Pittsburgh were known as safe harbors, that is, until the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was implemented, forcing many to continue their northward course to Canada.

They all played a part in the Great Migration beginning in 1916. About six million Blacks from the rural South fled to the North to escape racial discrimination and Jim Crow laws. All of these cities were known for major manufacturing — unskilled yet higher-paying jobs were plentiful. Still, there was major friction between the Blacks and European immigrants, as they competed for the same jobs and housing…

Arthur Keith

My goal is to inform, educate, & entertain. 8x top writer: LGBTQ, Music, Climate Change. Directionally dyslexic--pointing is fine! You can clap up to 50x!