Blacks in state richest in U.S. Census shows Md. has best educated black population.

July 24, 1992|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

MITCHELLVILLE -- Oliver and Frances Henderson have all the suburban trappings a couple in their mid-30s might want: the five-bedroom, $250,000 brick home on a quiet Prince George's County cul-de-sac, the lush lawn, the two cars and the two careers to pay for it all.

They're black, they're proud and they're prosperous. And they are not alone.

According to newly released census figures, Maryland has the nation's most affluent and highly educated black population.

Of all states that are at least 10 percent black or have a black population of more than 1 million, Maryland ranks No. 1 with a median black household income of $30,746. One in six Maryland blacks age 25 and over has at least a bachelor's degree.

Nearly 100,000 black Maryland households -- one in four -- earned $50,000 or more in 1989. And more than 10,000 of those households had six-figure incomes.

Like the Hendersons, four-fifths of high-income Maryland blacks live in the suburbs, lured by better housing and schools. Almost half live in Prince George's County, where blacks became a majority in 1990.

"We were just looking for the American dream, I guess you can say," says Mr. Henderson, 35, a federal government lithographer who moved to Enterprise Estates in 1987. "We wanted someplace quiet, where children can go outside and play, with trees to climb on and a dog in the front yard."

The Hendersons are part of a black migration from the District of Columbia to Prince George's that began in earnest in the 1970s. Migration figures show a net influx of more than 60,000 residents from Washington to Prince George's in the 1980s alone.

"Prince George's is exciting," says George Grier, a Greater Washington Research Center demographer. "It has become the premier middle-class, suburban black community in America."

To be sure, Maryland blacks' prosperity is relative. Even in Prince George's, black household income was just 88 percent of the white median in 1989. Statewide, blacks' household income was only 73 percent of whites'. Nationally, it was 63 percent.

The influx of well-educated black government employees, teachers and professionals has helped turn Prince George's from a blue-collar enclave into more of a white-collar county. In large areas of central and southern Prince George's, black households now have higher average incomes than white households in the same neighborhoods.

Valerie Green, 43, a transplanted Washingtonian, has watched the creation of Prince George's black middle class. She sells real estate in Fort Washington to mostly black clients. She lives in posh Tantallon, a predominantly black Potomac River subdivision.

As Mrs. Green tools through Tantallon in her Mercedes 300E sedan, an ad for one of her listings -- a $280,000, five-bedroom colonial -- sets the scene: "You can drive your golf cart home from the greens of Tantallon Country Club or dock your boat at the nearby Tantallon Marina. Enjoy living at the 'right address' in scenic Tantallon . . ."

The Green family -- husband Lee is a self-employed marketing consultant, and the couple has three daughters -- moved from Southeast Washington to a modest rambler in Oxon Hill and then to a sprawling, white brick home in Tantallon.

"The objective was to develop an economic base that would provide a foundation for further growth and something to pass on to our children," she says. "Our generation was raised by people who worked very hard, and we have worked very hard to develop the same value system and goals for our children. Now it's coming to fruition."

Mrs. Green doesn't view blacks who move to the Prince George's suburbs as having pulled up their roots. In fact, she says, many buyers seek out predominantly black neighborhoods which to live and large black churches in which to worship.

But the Hendersons don't regard predominantly black neighborhoods as a magnet. They want their 2-year-old daughter, Imani (the name means "faith" in Swahili), to grow up in a culturally diverse area.

"If you're black professionals, you're dealing with all types of people," Mr. Henderson says. "It's to anyone's advantage to live in a community that is racially balanced."

Baltimore, where more than a quarter of blacks live in poverty, is also home to significant black affluence. More than 18,000 black city households, or one in eight, had incomes of $50,000 or more.

But John H. Morris Jr., a black partner in a major Baltimore law firm and a city resident, says the census numbers may overstate blacks' true economic status.

"The significant question is disposable income. After you pay taxes and take care of housing costs and expenses related to work and schooling, there's not a whole lot left," he says. "I wouldn't necessarily call it real prosperity."

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