Census Finds Blacks Still Rare in Northern New England

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From Associated Press

John Tucker is sticking it out in Vermont, but he isn’t urging his three grown children to join him.

“Would you be interested in being Jackie Robinson?” asked Tucker, a rare black in northern New England.

The region’s three states are the whitest in the country, according to 2000 census figures: Maine is 96.9% white, just ahead of Vermont (96.8%) and New Hampshire (96%). The number represents white-only responses divided by the state’s overall population.


Each state grew slightly more diverse during the 1990s, but their minority populations remain proportionately the smallest in the country.

One theory on the lack of diversity is that northern New England did not have the industries of Detroit or Chicago to draw Southern blacks during the 1930s and ‘40s, said Deirdre Mageean, a demographer at the University of Maine.

All three states have enjoyed record unemployment--below 3%--for much of the last decade. But until the 1990s, many industrial mainstays--machine tools, shoes, textiles--were in decline.

Tucker, who works on issues of race for a Burlington, Vt., advocacy group, said the region isn’t particularly attractive to people of color.

He cited the small numbers of others from the same background with whom to socialize, limited job opportunities and cultural offerings.

“I think if you’re young and black and starting a family there’s not much happening for black folks in these states,” he said Monday.


The region’s minority populations did grow during the 1990s.

All three states were at least 98% white in 1990, led by Vermont at 99%.

New Hampshire was 98% white in 1990. Since then, its Asian population has climbed from 0.8% of the state population to 1.2% last year. And its black population grew by 26%, more than twice the overall population growth rate.

Richard Haynes, an artist who lives in Portsmouth, N.H., said he has felt pressure to excel to be accepted. He said his photography and painting have received favorable reviews in local and regional media, but advertising agencies have turned him down.

“If I had to depend on New Hampshire for my commercial life, I would starve,” said Haynes, 51, who is black.

“So when I tell my African American friends about New Hampshire, I tell them, ‘If you come up here, you definitely have to bring yourself a trade with you, a trade you can do all on your own or you’re not going to survive.’ ”

Bonnie Johnson-Aten, an assistant principal at a Burlington middle school, moved to Vermont in 1985 from New York. She said things are improving for minorities--in subtle ways.

“African American hair requires certain” techniques, she said. “You have to know what you’re doing in order to take care of it. I’d have to go to New York every three or four months to get my hair done.”


Now, there are two shops in the Burlington area where she can get her hair done and drugstores carry the products she wants.

Ten states are more than 90% white, the others being West Virginia, Iowa, North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Kentucky.

California is 59.5% white, according to 2000 census figures. The percentage represents white-only responses divided by the state’s overall population.

Hawaii is the only state with a smaller percentage of whites, 24.3.