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Boston is losing Black population, new census data show, even as it could soon elect its first Black mayor

Like the rest of the country, Boston is becoming more diverse. But the proportion of Black people in the city has gone down.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

In a city where people of color are in the majority, Boston has seen a decline in its Black population over the past decade, according to new census data, a significant shift that unfolded as the city is on the cusp of historic change in its political leadership.

As in the rest of the country, Boston is becoming more diverse, with the proportion of Asian, Hispanic, and multiracial residents increasing. But the proportion of Black people in the city has gone down at a higher pace than its white population.

The percentage of Black people in Boston dropped by 3.3 percentage points in 2020 from 2010, compared to 2.4 points for white people. And while the city’s overall population has been increasing, the number of Black residents has been dropping steadily, with 8,809 fewer in 2020 than in 2010.


The Black population decline can be seen in Mattapan and Roxbury, raising concerns about Black people, including those in the middle class, moving out of the city as their neighborhoods increasingly become gentrified, said James Jennings, professor emeritus at Tufts University who has been poring over the census data.

“This is what people at a community level have been saying for years — that the neighborhood is changing, that Black people are being moved out of their community,’' Jennings said.

Jacquetta Van Zandt, the host of the Politics and Prosecco podcast and a Roxbury homeowner, said she is shocked by the new data, though she understands why Black people in the city are moving elsewhere.

“Black people are finding that there are cities that are beckoning them that are more amenable to their needs. They’re more amenable to the fact that they want to live in a city, get paid well, work and play in that city — all for affordability,’' said Van Zandt.


Luc Schuster, director of Boston Indicators, a research project for the Boston Foundation, said the 2020 census data reflect a continuation of trends and patterns long seen in Boston and in its urban core, which are becoming increasingly multiracial and multiethnic.

The new census data show that as the Black population in Boston declines, numbers of Black families are increasing in other parts of Greater Boston, where housing costs are less expensive, Schuster added. In cities and towns around Boston, the Black population is up 13 percent while the white population is down about 4 percent.

The change can be seen in Brockton, where the Black population is up 28 percent compared to 2010 and in Randolph, up 23 percent compared to a decade ago. And in Stoughton, Black population boomed 76 percent during that same period, said Schuster, who has been reviewing the census data.

“There’s a lot of interesting data on first-time Black home buyers purchasing houses in places like Brockton now and not in the city of Boston,’' Schuster said. That “relates to gentrification in neighborhoods like Roxbury and Mattapan.’'

He said the number of racially mixed families has increased over the years and Black immigrants from countries such as Haiti and Jamaica have been among new arrivals who are helping to boost the Black population numbers in the region as they settle down in more affordable places outside of Boston.

The new data were released as Boston is amid a historic political change, with Acting Mayor Kim Janey the city’s first Black top executive and a mayoral race that does not have a single white male candidate.


Janey, who was serving as City Council president, also became the first woman to serve as mayor this year when she took over from Martin J. Walsh, who left to be US labor secretary.

She is running for a full term, alongside two other Black candidates, City Councilor Andrea Campbell and former chief of economic development, John Barros. City Councilors Michelle Wu, who is Asian-American, and Annissa Essaibi George, who is Arab-American, are also competing.

Harvey Young, dean of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts who specializes in Black issues, said Boston’s declining Black population could lead to “a slow cultural loss” in historically Black communities, such as Roxbury, Mattapan, and parts of Dorchester.

“When you are the majority in an area, you can make demands in the way you can’t [otherwise]. That is something worth watching,’’ he said, noting the potential for significant loss of “political prestige” in the city’s Black communities.

Key to watch in the race, he and others say, are coalitions of people from different cultures and races who want to elect a mayor who has a lived Boston experience that is “other than white.”

Those groups could be central in giving their candidate a push through the preliminary election Sept. 14. The top two contenders will then compete in the general election on Nov. 2.


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons. Sahar Fatima can be reached at sahar.fatima@globe.com Follow her @sahar_fatima.