White Flight is the phenomenon of lower-, upper- and middle-class whites moving from cities to the suburbs. Its opposite (but related phenonmena) is gentrification, a process in which wealthy whites move back into an urban area, displacing the current residents and rapidly driving up the cost of living so that the previous residents are forced to move. Both practices have been extensively documented by students of demographics and urban development. White flight, in particular, has negative connotations, especially for those left behind in the suddenly impoverished neighborhood.

Behavior resembling White Flight is long traceable in Oakland history. By the 1890s, though the city’s demographics were largely caucasian (making the phenomenon more obviously class-based), the wealthy had begun to flee downtown to settle in Vernon Heights, or Cleveland Heights. Within a decade or two, Piedmont had become the elite’s new safe haven (and remains so today). The general movement was away from the flatlands, into the hills. After WWII the wealthy began to abandon Alameda County for Contra Costa (and for some, Napa), as former hamlets like Walnut Creek began to boom.

White Flight began on a large scale after WWII, when African-Americans began to try to establish homes in America's cities. Many of these men and women were starting to enter the middle class themselves, with good jobs, education, and community values. In many cases, however, racism led whites to attempt to keep blacks out. When this proved unsuccessful, the white population moved to the suburbs, establishing new and primarily racially homogeneous communities. This practice was termed "white flight," and resulted in class and racial segregation in many American cities.

White Flight was a major contributing factor in the changing racial demographics of Oakland neighborhoods in the 1960's.  With the societal shifts brought about through the civil rights movement, predominantly white public schools began to be integrated by African American children being bussed in from neighborhoods in East and West Oakland.  Neighborhoods that had been almost exclusively working-class and lower middle class whites started to be integrated with African American families moving out of declining areas to live closer to better schools.  This in turn caused many white families to either move out to the suburbs, such as the Contra Costa County cities of Pinole, Hercules, Concord, Walnut Creek, Orinda, Moraga, etc., move to the more upscale neighborhoods of Montclair and Piedmont, or enroll their children into private schools. 

There are many examples of the effects of White Flight on Oakland, California.  One would be Oakland Technical High School, located in North Oakland, which until the 1960's was mainly a white middle class high school.  Today, Oakland Tech has a minority student body enrollment of approximately 87%, with over 55% of the students considered socioeconomically disadvantaged

Oakland Technical High Student Enrollment by Subgroup (School Year 2010–11)


Percent of Total Enrollment

Black or African American


American Indian or Alaska Native






Hispanic or Latino


Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander




Two or More Races


Socioeconomically Disadvantaged


English Learners


Students with Disabilities