Census tracks black presence
Last Modified: February 18. 2013 2:06PM
WILKES-BARRE – The black population in Luzerne County remained fairly stable in the 20th century until it seemingly exploded in the 1970s and thereafter.
According to U.S. Census figures, the number of blacks crept up and down between about 800 and 1,000 in the decennial censuses between 1900 and 1960 while the county’s overall population grew steadily through the 1940s – from 257,121 in 1900 to 445,109 in 1930.
Then the total county population began a steady decline.
Wilkes University history professor Michael Davidson said the population growth of Luzerne County was most dramatic from the middle part of the 19th century through to the first two decades of the 20th century, and its demographic history is closely linked with the rise and fall of anthracite coal mining and related industries.
The population leveled off in the 1930s, he said, coinciding with a steep decline in coal demand associated with the Great Depression and accelerating mechanization of the industry.
Davidson hasn’t studied what might have caused an ever-increasing growth of Luzerne County blacks before 1970, when the population reached 1,886.
In 10 years, the black population here grew 22.5 percent to 2,311 in 1980.
Wilkes history professor Diane Wenger concurred with Davidson that the total county population dropped because of the decline in the coal industry. She wasn’t sure why the black population began to climb a couple decades later, but she suspected it was because the area offered a better quality life than bigger cities that had larger concentrations of blacks.
Violent crime rates in New York City skyrocketed in the 1970s. Between 1965 and 1975, crimes such as murder, rape and robberies doubled or tripled, according to disastercenter.com.
“Perhaps, it’s that NEPA is seen as a much more desirable and safe area in which to live than New York City and other urban places,” Wenger said. “And if folks were moving out because there was no work in the mines that may have meant housing was available and affordable for those newcomers looking for a safer city.”
Jacqueline Walters, coordinator of Disability Services at Penn State Hazleton and a black community leader, said increased employment opportunities over the last couple decades also attracted more people of color to the area.
Larger companies with diverse workforces that relocated to Luzerne County also had people of color transfer here, Walters said.
Currently, the municipalities in Luzerne County with the largest black populations are Wilkes-Barre, with 5,373; Hazleton, with 1,380; and Jackson Township, with 1,170.
Jackson Township has the largest percentage of blacks – 25.2 percent of the total population. Wilkes-Barre ranks second at 12.9 percent, while Newport Township comes in third at 12.1 percent.
The black population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, skyrocketing from 6,084 to 13,250.