Census figures show Baltimore as 59% black

February 20, 1991|By James Bock

Baltimore's white population declined by almost 60,000 over the past decade while its black population grew only slightly, leaving the city 59.2 percent black in 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau reported yesterday.

The figures came as a modest surprise to city planners, who had projected that Baltimore -- which was 54.8 percent black in 1980 -- would top the 60 percent mark this decade.

Maryland's black population grew by almost one-quarter over the past decade, spurred by an influx of blacks into the Washington suburbs. Baltimore County's black population also grew substantially while its white population stayed almost the same.

For the first time, Prince George's County had a black majority. The county's white population plunged by almost 77,000, while the number of blacks soared by more than 120,000.

The state's overall 13.4 percent increase in population was composed of almost equal numbers of whites and blacks plus roughly a doubling of the relatively small Asian and Hispanic populations, centered in the Washington suburbs.

The racial breakdown of the census figures is important because it provides the building blocks for reapportionment of political power in the state. Whether blacks are getting their fair share of ++ power will be a key question in the redistricting battles.

The Maryland General Assembly is expected to call a special session this fall to redraw the state's eight congressional districts. The legislature's own lines will be redrawn next year. The City Council is already studying Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's councilmanic redistricting plan.

Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for the mayor, said Mr. Schmoke would have no comment on the new figures until city planners had analyzed them.

But George N. Buntin, executive director of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which has criticized Mr. Schmoke's plan for leaving the current majority-white council's boundaries largely intact, said the figures "just give us strength."

"If the city is 59 percent black, then we should have 59 percent of the seats on the council. We are looking for a redistricting plan that clearly will presume a majority-black council," he said.

The black population grew most markedly during the 1980s in Prince George's, Montgomery and Baltimore counties.

The black populations of both Baltimore and Montgomery counties almost doubled. Still, both counties are only about 12 percent black.

Montgomery County, which grew by almost 178,000 to become the state's largest subdivision, showed increases in all population groups. Its Asian population almost tripled to about 62,000, and the number of Hispanics more than doubled to more than 55,000.

Maryland is now 2.9 percent Asian or Pacific Islander and 2.6 percent Hispanic, the census showed. American Indians and others accounted for 1.2 percent.

Blacks' share of the population declined in Southern Maryland and over most of the Eastern Shore as whites poured into newly suburban areas.

Planners will take the census numbers released yesterday and break them down by voting precincts. Then the nitty-gritty of redistricting will begin.

The numbers do come with a caveat. The Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, may decide to adjust the figures using statistical means to compensate for an expected undercount of blacks and other minorities. The decision is due by July 15.

Several big cities -- led by New York, but not including Baltimore -- sued to force an adjustment of the count, since the Census Bureau's own figures show that minorities are much more likely to be missed in the count than whites. The suit has not been settled, but the Commerce Department agreed to consider an adjustment.

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