America's black population is a product of the most painful chapter in the nation's history - the transport of hundreds of thousands of African slaves to toil in the fields of the southern states. The country was rent apart by a bloody civil war, partially over slavery, and the issue continues to dominate race relations to this day. Slavery is still the dominant topic in African-American sociology, and the Washington establishment is still torn over whether the country's blacks deserve an official apology for the treatment of their ancestors. Meanwhile, President Bill Clinton's 'national dialogue on race' - in which whites are supposed to sit down with blacks and other ethnic minorities and feel each other's pain - appears to be bogged down and going nowhere. But while professors and politicians seem unable to devise a solution to the problems of race consciousness stemming from the slavery era, ordinary black folk are voting with their feet. In a remarkable turnaround from the first half of this century, the mass migration of African-Americans from the poor, racist south to the manufacturing jobs of the north is being reversed. New figures suggest that about 400,000 blacks migrated from the northern states to the south between 1990 and 1995 - almost double the total of the five years before that. The biggest loser is the north-east, with a loss of 233,000 blacks, followed by the mid-west, from which more than 100,000 African-Americans headed south. In 1900, nine out of every 10 black citizens lived in the south - a legacy of the plantations, cotton fields and other workplaces to which their forefathers had been sent as slaves. But a mixture of the need to find work and escape the hostile, segregationist attitudes of states like Mississippi and Alabama prompted such a northerly flow that by 1980 only one in two blacks resided in the south. Cities like Washington DC, with a black population of around 70 per cent, are direct demographic creations of that era of migration. Several factors have prompted the turnaround: the fact that the 'sun belt' of the United States is now where most of the new jobs and new wealth is being created; the emergence of a large black middle class with the financial power to uproot the family and move to where the better jobs are; and, perhaps most surprisingly, a relaxation of the endemic racist attitudes of the south. 'The south is no longer the problem. The north has been southernised and the south has been nationalised,' said Leslie McLemore in the Washington Post. A professor who was born in Mississippi and who moved to Massachusetts as a student, he has now returned home because of the easing of racial tensions there. 'Otherwise I would be in Massachusetts now,' he said. Atlanta, the jewel in the sun belt's crown, has gained the most new black residents. Texas has also benefited from an influx - largely from California, which until recently was hit badly by the recession of the early 1990s. If Saddam Hussein moves his chemical laboratories to another town, or Boris Yeltsin gets a new heart murmur, do mere members of Congress deserve to know right away? That is the issue at the centre of a simmering row between the House of Representatives' intelligence committee and the CIA. The spy agency delivers daily reports of 'raw' intelligence data to the president, and similar reports to important foreign policy officials, but not to Congress. Although legislators can eventually get their hands on most classified documents they ask for, what they lack is the daily influx of the raw stuff from around the world. The congressmen at issue believe they are just as competent as the president to sift through the wheat from the chaff in these daily documents, and claim that not getting them leaves them out of the loop and not able to respond to White House foreign policy decisions. Most non-congressmen believe it is a blessing that the legislators are not able to poke their noses into overseas issues that by tradition should be the president's domain. In any case, CIA director George Tenet knows his stuff as he tries to persuade Congress members to back off - he was, not that long ago, arguing exactly the opposite case when he was chief of staff on the Senate's intelligence panel. Chinese New Year without firecrackers? Where do you think you are, Hong Kong? For years, New York's Chinese community was able to enjoy the holiday to the sound of fireworks in the streets while their Hong Kong relatives had to make do with the big show over the harbour. But that was before Mayor Rudy Giuliani - the Big Apple's killjoy-in-chief - stepped in. As part of his drive to improve the safety and quality of life on the streets, he banned the use of firecrackers last Lunar New Year and this week ignored residents' pleas to change his mind. While most New Yorkers ignore a lot of the mayor's decrees - most recently, an unsuccessful attempt to ban jaywalking - Manhattan's Chinatown celebrated the festivities with barely a whizz or crackle in sight. Let's hope that when Rudy runs for president he does not need the ethnic Chinese vote.