“White flight” doesn’t get as much attention as it used to. But that doesn’t mean it has disappeared.

In Shelby County, 10 ZIP codes lost more than 50% of their white residents between 2000 and 2020.

The term “white flight” is usually used to describe white Americans’ migration from cities to the suburbs during the 1950s through 1970s, after urban neighborhoods and schools were desegregated. 

In recent years, white residents have returned to city centers such as Downtown Memphis. But, others have continued to move away from diversifying neighborhoods — especially middle-class suburban ones — in recent decades, according to recent studies. In Shelby County, the seven ZIPs that lost the largest share of their white residents between 2000 and 2020 are all located outside the I-40/240 loop. 

Much of modern white flight is white people leaving majority-minority counties altogether, according to a 2015 study published in the American Sociological Review. Shelby County, which is about 54% Black, lost about 28% of its white residents — about 125,000 people — between 1990 and 2010.

Jacob Steimer is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at Jacob.Steimer@mlk50.com

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