Last week school started for most Rappahannock students, and this week marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on (Big) Washington and his “I Have a Dream” speech. End-of-summer rituals and half-century marks seem similar in that they are useful and thought-provoking bookends — a time to take stock and put things in context.
So it is that I find myself exploring how Rappahannock County has changed in the last 50 years. Just quantifying those changes in demographic snapshots can in itself be illuminating.
For example, at the time of the Rev. King’s famous speech, almost 20 percent of Rappahannock’s population was black; now it is only around seven percent. Thus, today’s Rappahannock ranks 36th in highest percentage white population, and 95th in percentage black population, out of the 135 counties and independent cities of the Commonwealth.
In the meantime, people in Rappahannock are getting older and older. The percentage of the population composed of individuals 20 or younger has decreased steadily, while those persons 65 years and older have increased by more than 50 percent. Rappahannock’s median age is now about 10 years older than that of Virginia as a whole.
Fifty years ago, Rappahannock’s total population had reached an ebb of roughly 5,000 — half what it was more than a century earlier, in 1850! Now the population, registering incremental increases decade by decade, stands at a bit over 7,000. These population gains are pretty evenly distributed around the county, with the exception of the Town of Washington, which saw its number of residents drop from 255 in the last half century by about 20 percent.
The lack of development in the county is manifest in the low number of residents per square mile: not even 27 (while in 1930 it was 29). Of the state’s 135 counties and independent cities, Rappahannock ranks 128th in terms of population density.
What conclusions are be drawn from these interesting data points? That’s up to you!