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22 Pages

The Black Middle Class: Past, Present and Future

WithRobert B. Hill

As Franklin E. Frazier noted, the early precursors of contemporary middle class blacks can be found primarily among small elite subgroups of free blacks during the 18th and 19th centuries. Between 1790 and 1860, the number of free blacks soared from 60,000 to 500,000, raising their proportion in the total black population from 8% to 11%. The black middle class experienced its first major growth as result of World War I. By 1983, one-fourth of all black family heads 25 years and older were college-educated, compared to two-fifths of similar-aged white family heads. While the number of professional and technical workers increased by 34% among whites between 1972 and 1980, it soared by 55% among blacks. A significant source of the growth of the black middle class was the public sector. Between 1970 and 1980, the number of blacks in government jobs jumped from 1.6 million to 2.5 million, raising their proportion among all black workers from 21% to 27%.