For the first time since integration efforts began in Oak Park in the late 1960s, Oak Park's black population decreased over the past 10 years, according to U.S. Census data released Tuesday.
The drop in African American population was 5.7 percent or 662 people. Oak Park was not alone in losing black residents, as Cook County saw a 9 percent drop in its black population. That translates to 124,670 people.
"I would say it really is more of a leveling off," said Rob Breymaier, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, which works to promote diversity and integration in the village. "It's not like it was a dramatic drop, but to me it's a historic event."
It's hard to say where, exactly, those African Americans relocated, he said. The U.S. Census hasn't yet released data on housing stock and income. But it's possible blacks moved to more affordable places. Berwyn's black population, for instance, quintupled (to 3,373) and Cicero's tripled (to 2,690).
In neighboring Austin, black flight was dramatic, as 24,162 blacks left the Chicago neighborhood in the last 10 years, a 22.9 percent drop. Conversely, suburban Cook County added 56,783 African Americans, a 16.9 percent increase.
Oak Park's white population decreased by 5 percent, also mirroring county trends. But the village's Asian and Latino populations went up significantly, increasing by 13.8 percent and 48.3 percent respectively. That amounted to 2,489 Asians and 3,521 Latinos living in the village as of last year.
Breymaier believes those increases show an expansion of Oak Park's diversity. The housing center, village hall and local real estate businesses have actively tried to bolster those groups here, he said.
"It's a good thing because it means our population is broadening in its diversity," he said. "One of the things that I think we've had a historic issue with is we weren't attracting Latinos at the same rate as the rest of the region was, and it looks like we've remedied that."
Meanwhile, neighboring Cicero's Latino population surged by 9.5 percent (to 72,609) and by 64 percent in Berwyn (to 33,676).
Overall, Oak Park's population dropped by 1.2 percent since the last census, to 51,878.
For more on this story, see the Feb. 23 print edition of Wednesday Journal, and check OakPark.com for updates.