Ken Plum: Changing face of Virginia

virginia map
(© niroworld – stock.adobe.com)

The results of the 2020 U.S. Census remind us that the world around us changes in more ways than we might consciously detect or understand. That small sliver of the world known as Virginia has undergone many changes before and after receiving its name.

For many, the history of Virginia started with the English landing at Jamestown in 1607. Humans inhabited the land area of what is now known as Virginia for 15,000 to 20,000 years before the English arrived. Its first inhabitants probably crossed the glaciers at the now Bering Straits and made their way along the edges of the glaciers down river valleys and probably entered what is now Virginia in its southwestern area. Archaeological findings support this explanation of the settling of Virginia.

At the time English colonists arrived in the spring of 1607, Virginia was inhabited by the Powhatan Indians, who had a total population of about 13,000 to14,000 with a rich history of culture and traditions and a government of 30-some tribal groups. With aggressive English expansion throughout the state the number of Indians in Virginia was but a fraction of the number at its highest point and with the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 were eliminated from official statistics. Adding to the original settlers were thousands of enslaved Black persons who were brought here without their consent.

The census report released last week paints a different face for Virginia. The country passed two milestones on its way to becoming a majority-minority society in the coming decades: For the first time, the portion of white people dipped below 60%, slipping from 63.7% in 2010 to 57.8% in 2020. And the under-18 population is now majority people of color, at 52.7%.

Between the 2010 census and the new census, Virginia’s population grew by 7.9%, slightly higher than the national growth rate of 7.4%. Virginia remains the 12th most populous state.

Fairfax County is now the second most racially diverse county in Virginia and is now a majority-minority population following Prince William County. While white residents remain the largest racial or ethnic group in the county, they are no longer the majority, making up 47.1% of the overall population with 542,001 residents — a drop of nearly 50,000 people from 2010, when the county’s 590,622 white residents constituted 54.6% of its population. Compared to the rest of the United States, Fairfax County ranked 42nd out of 3,143 counties in the country on the racial and ethnic diversity index of the 2020 Census.

This new face of Virginia as identified in census results will be redistricted at the federal, state and local levels. Virginia will retain eleven seats in the House of Representatives, but the boundaries of the districts will be redrawn by the General Assembly to reflect shifts in populations. Likewise, House of Delegates and State Senate seats will be drawn by a commission approved by the voters last year to reflect population shifts. That commission has already been hard at work holding public hearings throughout the state. Local governments will redistrict themselves.

Even before official counts until today we can trace a different face for Virginia.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.


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