Back to the Future: How Maplewood and South Orange Became (And Always Were) “Diverse”

Along with their early 20th century character, Maplewood and South Orange have also maintained their longstanding demographic diversity.


Part of the traditional charm of our community has to do with the way it built out rapidly and fully before World War II.  Despite inevitable growth and development, and sometimes heart-rending change, the built environment in our towns has maintained its early 20th century character.  With some significant changes, they have also maintained their longstanding demographic diversity.


Many neighboring towns, and American suburbs and exurbs generally, grew rapidly 30 or more years later, reflecting significant social and demographic shifts through the latter half of the 20th century, while creating distinct patterns of racial and income segregation and re-segregation.  In recent years, rapid globalization, increasing income inequality, and political polarization have brought questions of diversity to the fore.  And, at the dawn of the 21st century, Maplewood and South Orange’s diversity became notable.


As the varied housing stock and lot sizes in our towns tell, Maplewood and South Orange have, since their rapid development in the 20s and 30s, encompassed a large socioeconomic range of households.  Broadly middle class for decades, with a median income that trends about 50% above the state average, but at least 50% below some of our western neighbors, our towns have long included the affluent, the middle class, the upwardly mobile, and the struggling. 


On many demographic measures, Maplewood has been fairly stable for more than 50 years. (I use specific numbers for Maplewood here, but South Orange patterns are mostly similar.)  Total population runs about 23,000.  About 20% of households are, and have long been, rentals.  The percentage of children under 18 has waxed and waned some, and is currently a bit above state and national averages at 28%.  About 40% of households have a child under 18.  The percentage of residents over 65 has likewise varied slightly in a narrow range over 50 years.  Currently at 11% it remains proportional to the state and national rates (13%), and between a fifth and a quarter of households include a senior citizen. 


While Maplewood and South Orange were nearly 100% white at mid-century, and more than 90% white until 1990, there was considerable ethnic diversity—several major national groups (more than 10% of the total) and many smaller ones—and our foreign born population has run about double the national average for decades.  In 1970, even as the foreign born population hit its low point nationally (5%) it was 11% in Maplewood.  In 2010, the national rate is 12% and Maplewood’s is nearly 20%.


As early as 1970, Maplewood began to integrate racially; in 1970 just under 2% of the population was black.  (Other racial/ethnic groups did not yet have even that minor presence.)  The black population more than doubled in each of the next decades, tripled between 1990 and 2000, and then leveled off in 2010 at around a third of total population.  Hispanic and Asian populations became measurable by 1990 at around 3% each.  The Hispanic population has since grown slowly to around 7% while the Asian population has held steady.   And in the past decade, the new census category of “two or more races” has also run at 3%-4%. 


In the cycle of generational succession, each new generation tended to be higher earning than the one it replaced.  Because there was no prior black community to join when black families began moving to town, at various times between 1970 and 2000, median black income (for families, for couples without children, for single mothers) was substantially higher than that of their white counterparts.  As the black community expanded, it encompassed a broader range of socioeconomic backgrounds.  It also became increasingly diverse ethnically, split between “native born black” and 1st or 2nd generation West Indian or Sub Saharan African (both of which census categories obscure a range of linguistic and national identities).  And by 2010 about 13% of the population over 65 was black.


Thus, by 2010, the black community in our towns was very similar to the historical white community:  heavily middle class, multi-generational, and representing several major ethnic, linguistic, and national origins.   Though still relatively small, Hispanic and Asian populations also show significant ethnic and national diversity.  And while ethnicity tends to be less salient after the 3rd generation (thus making white ethnic identity increasingly less pronounced), around 8% of Maplewood’s white population is foreign born, a level similar to that of 50 years ago.


Maplewood “became” diverse when it began to include substantive numbers of what Canada rather directly calls “visible minorities”, especially black residents.  The change was not always easy.  There was much community discussion and fears of “white flight” led to the founding of community organizations to support integration and diversity.


Additionally, in 2000, the census made the first meaningful count of same-sex households. Maplewood became identified as a community with a higher than typical percentage of gay families.  In some ways it was a natural fit.  Gay couples were found to live in greater numbers in neighborhoods that are more urban, more diverse, and that have old housing stock.  This became another facet of diversity in Maplewood/South Orange.


National trends show more racial and ethnic diversity almost everywhere over the last two decades.  Immigration is up sharply, with most immigrants now from outside of Europe.  However segregation levels for minority groups, especially blacks, remain high, and socioeconomic integration has decreased significantly over the past forty years. 


In bucking those last two trends—racial and economic segregation—Maplewood and South Orange are indeed notably diverse. 



US Census, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010

US Census American Community Survey 2005-2009

Gates and Ost, The Gay and Lesbian Atlas, 2004

Congressional Research Service, The U.S. Foreign-Born Population: Trends and Selected Characteristics, 2011 

US2010:  America in the First Decades of the New Century

Mixed Metro.US:  Mapping Diversity and Segregation in the USA

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Marcia Worth (Editor) February 25, 2013 at 12:15 AM
Hi -- I can't speak to Maplewood, specifically, but South Orange's past reflects patterns of immigration significantly. South Orange is what is sometimes called a "first-ring suburb," and what is unusual about such communities -- and certainly true of South Orange -- is that familiar immigrant narratives (first generation lives in a city, second generation is successful and moves out, etc.) don't apply. What we find here is that successive generations often stay or return. In this, I would argue that South Orange's diversity dates back several generations. South Orange has seen ever wave of East Coast immigration and national migration, dating back to its earliest settlement and before the nation was established.
Chris Hildebrand February 25, 2013 at 01:51 PM
In the mid 1960s there was a fair housing movement locally started by religious groups in Maplewood and South Orange which began to break down the barriers to Black families moving into our two towns. There was great resistance in some neighborhoods, and legal action had to be taken to "force" integration which was slow but successful. The Fair Housing Council made up of brave committed leaders, both Black and White, is responsible for the beginnings of the diversity that today we are very proud of.
Michael Paris February 25, 2013 at 02:51 PM
Thanks to Julie Burch for yet another wonderful piece that helps us think about where we have been, who we are, and where we are going.
Andrew Lee February 25, 2013 at 05:59 PM
Nice article. I appreciate the acknowledgment of nuances in the African-American community and the recognition of LGBT diversity. My only comment is that you do not seem to acknowledge that there is another wave of change washing over the towns, and really the entire Country. That's the increase of multi-ethnic people. You can see it in the day cares around the community. You can see it at the playgrounds. And you can see in the school enrollment statistics in the younger grades. It will be interesting to see what the next few years brings.
Andrew Lee February 25, 2013 at 08:38 PM
Just to clarify. I mean multi-ethnic people who also cross racial categories.
Julia Burch February 25, 2013 at 08:46 PM
I think I did acknowledge the increase in multi-ethnic residents in my note about the percentages in the new "two or more races" census category. More generally, I am being descriptive, not predictive, and using the best available data, over perception. Interestingly, the percent identifying as "two or more races" actually dropped slightly from 2000 to 2010 (from 4% to 3.4%). I didn't note it because I don't believe that decrease is significant--not least because of changes in census methodology from one census to the next, and given the variability and imprecision of that (and many census categories). If you want to explore this some more, the Mixed Metro US site I listed has data on mixed race households, by census tract. Maplewood and South Orange have several census tracts with rates of intermarriage that are above the metropolitan area average. 2 are White/Asian, 2 are White/Black, and 1 is White/Latino. Given their methodology, I didn't see a simple way to generalize to the towns as a whole, so I didn't make a point of it in my post.
Julia Burch February 25, 2013 at 08:54 PM
(I should note, that Mixed Metro US data is for 2000.)
Nancy Gagnier February 25, 2013 at 09:31 PM
Great article! One of the members of the Fair Housing Council of M. & SO passed on his file to the Community Coalition on Race a few years ago. It started in 1963 and part of its mission was that "no one should be denied the opportunity to dwell anywhere in the community because of race, religion, or nationality, and that the long-range interests of our community will be best served by fair and open housing.” For more info. on that group's (and others) pro-integrative work in our towns go to http://www.twotowns.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/ED-Comments-Report_2011.pdf. As Julie Birch notes, racial integration is not the norm even as racial diversity grows across the country. Worse, integrated suburbs have a tough time staying that way unless, according to researchers Myron Orfield & Thomas Luce, "clear race-conscious strategies, hard work, and collaboration among local governments" are in place. For a look at some current studies on residential integration in American suburbs and major metropolitan areas, go to http://www.twotowns.org/2012/10/24/fall-forum-sustainable-integration-solutions/
Andrew Lee February 25, 2013 at 10:16 PM
Interesting that Maplewood and South Orange went in the opposite direction of the national trend. http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/race/cb12-182.html From a data perspective, if you look at the K, G1 and G2 populations in SOMA, they are about 6-8% "Two or more races", while G3 is 3% and G4 and higher are 1% and under. http://www.nj.gov/education/data/ But perhaps it depends on perception. I am mixed race, and so is the majority of my family, hence I may look it for more. Awhile back I did look at those census tracks, and if I recall correctly, I live in one that has one of the highest percentages of non-White and non-Blacks, as well as intermarriage.
Julia Burch February 26, 2013 at 01:46 AM
Andrew, I wasn't looking at school data, but if you do, you want to look at more than one year. There's an interesting pattern there and it's not clear what it means. The district began collecting data for 2 or more races in 2006-2007 and for the first two years virtually no students were so identified. Then a bump in kindergarten and few elsewhere. For the past 3 years, the pattern is as you notice it: higher numbers identified multi-racial in the primary grades, and fewer thereafter. Either we are losing most of those students in particular (which seems unlikely) or the identifications are changing by the upper elementary grades, which is certainly interesting and worthy of further exploration.
Kalani Thielen February 26, 2013 at 03:18 AM
Marina Budhos February 26, 2013 at 01:53 PM
I would like to point out that we are part of a larger trend nationally and within New Jersey, especially, where the suburbs are far more diverse than urban centers, such as Manhattan, which have become unaffordable, and the suburbs are first destination for foreign-born and immigrant families, not traditional cities. We are less of a destination for these families because of our high taxes. This is just one of numerous articles that have been detailing this trend. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/census/2006-08-03-suburbs-diversity_x.htm. My college students, who draw from Passaic County, for instance, come from school districts that are highly diverse, with significant economic diversity.
Andrew Lee February 26, 2013 at 08:05 PM
I think that's because groups of kids are moving through. In 2009-2010, you see the bump at G1, then in 2010-2011, at G1 and G2, and then in 2011-2012, at G1 G2 and G3. If the pattern holds up, I believe that we will see this bump go through the elementary schools and then higher. I also think that the District is inadvertently understating the number of mixed race children because the current registration form does not break out race and ethnicity into two questions (as appears to be required by federal regulations on reporting). https://www2.ed.gov/policy/rschstat/guid/raceethnicity/index.html The current form also asks for "group" in a singular form. This needs to be changed.
Julia Burch February 26, 2013 at 09:04 PM
Andrew, I haven't looked carefully at this, and as I said, worthy of further exploration, but it's still pretty "noisy" data. Reporting requirements may be part of it, along with the newness and imprecision of the category. There's also often a fair bit of fluctuation from year to year for any group, which can appear more pronounced for groups with small numbers overall. Anyway, still early to identify clear patterns (beyond the fact that now that we are counting multi-racial students, we "see" them in the data).


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something