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Map of Alabama's Black Belt region. Counties highlighted in red are historically considered part of the Black Belt region. Counties highlighted in pink are sometimes considered part of the region.
2004 Presidential Election Results, Kerry in Blue, Bush in Red. Kerry took most of the black belt counties.

The Black Belt is a region of the U.S. state of Alabama, and part of the larger Black Belt Region of the Southern United States, which stretches from Texas to Maryland. The term originally referred to the region underlain by a thin layer of rich, black topsoil developed atop the chalk of the Selma Group, a geologic unit dating to the Cretaceous Period. The soils have been developing continuously at least since the Pliocene Epoch. Because the underlying chalk is nearly impermeable to groundwater, the black soils tend to dry out during the summer. The natural vegetation of the chalk belt consisted mainly of oak-hickory forest interspersed with shortgrass prairie, while the sandy ridges flanking the chalk belt supported pine forest.

For lack of a reliable source of water, the earliest settlers avoided farming the black soil until the discovery that deep artesian wells could be drilled to supply people, livestock, and crops. Beginning in the 1830s, cotton plantations became Alabama's greatest source of wealth. Before the American Civil War, these plantations were worked by African American slaves and the region attained its highest density of population, giving the Black Belt great importance in the state legislature.

The Black Belt's largest city, Montgomery, became the capital of Alabama in 1846. Because Alabama was geographically central to the slave states, Montgomery was also the original capital of the Confederate States of America. The region's distance from the front lines during the American Civil War saved it from much of the ravages of war. Many of the Greek Revival mansions of the plantation owners are still present, as are some of the accompanying slave quarters. Gaineswood in Demopolis and Magnolia Grove in Greensboro, Alabama are among those that can be visited by tourists today.

Although the infestation of the cotton crop by the boll weevil destroyed much of this system around 1910, the effects of a cotton economy remain evident. Descendents of freed slaves remain on the land, and make up the largest proportion of the population in most Black Belt counties. Thus, the term "Black Belt" is understood today as a demographic characterization as much as a geologic one.

Some of the most important events of the American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968) occurred in the Black Belt, including Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her bus seat, which led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott; the Selma to Montgomery marches; and voter registration reform, focusing in Selma, Alabama, allowing African Americans to vote (see Voting Rights Act).

Today, Alabama's Black Belt includes some of the poorest counties in the United States. Along with high rates of poverty, the area is typified by declining populations, a primarily agricultural landscape with low-density settlement, high unemployment, poor access to education and medical care, substandard housing and high rates of crime.

Contents

Counties

The list of counties comprising the Black Belt is often dependent on the context but historically includes 18 counties:

Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Monroe, and Washington counties are sometimes included in the region, but are usually considered part of Alabama's southern coastal plain. Lamar does not meet the soil traits but is often included due to its lack of enterprise.

Demographics

As of the 2000 census[1], Alabama's 18-county Black Belt region had a population of 589,041 (13.25% of the state's total population). There were 226,191 households and 153,357 families residing within the region.

The racial makeup of the Black Belt region was 52.24% African American (307,734 people), 45.87% White (270,175 people), 0.25% Native American (1,472 people), 0.52% Asian (3,067 people), 0.03% Pacific Islander (153 people), 0.31% from other races (1,850 people), and 0.78% from two or more races (4,590 people). Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 1.09% of the population (6,404 people).

The median income for a household in the Black Belt region was $27,130, and the median income for a family was $35,698. Males had a median income of $32,226 versus $22,021 for females. The per capita income for the region was $15,633.

A July 1, 2007 U.S. Census Bureau estimate placed the region's population at 575,783, a decline of 2.25% since 2000.[2]

Politics

In recent electoral maps, the Black Belt has appeared as a "Blue Belt" because of its strong support for the Democratic Party. With the exception of parts of the city of Birmingham, the outline of Alabama's 7th congressional district roughly matches the western Black Belt region. Artur Davis currently represents that district in the United States House of Representatives.

See also

References

  • Tullos, Allen. "The Black Belt" Southern Spaces, (April 19, 2004)
  • Rogers, William Warren, and Robert David Ward, Leah Rawls Atkins, and Wayne Flynt. Alabama: The History of a Deep South State. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8173-0714-1
  • Phillips, Doug (2004) "Alabama Black Belt". Discovering Alabama Teacher's Guide.

External links

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