40

I was looking at a 2016 election map of Mississippi. I saw a that most of it was red, but the western part looked very blue. I looked up one of those counties, and not surprisingly for an American deep South county, it had a high percentage of African-Americans, with most if not all blue counties in the state having a African-American majority or at least a African-American plurality. I am not saying that this is necessarily an indicator of a high nonwhite population, but in this case it is. That was only being used to say how I knew this.

Is there a historical reason that to this day there's a higher concentration of African-American people in the Northwest area than in the South? I suspect there was a large slave operation in that area.

  • 1
    Welcome to History:SE. Could you edit your question to clarify what you've looked into already, complete with links and references, and context if applicable? In particular, please let us know what you find missing or unclear about the Wikipedia entry on the topic, if one exists. This allows those who might want to answer to do so without needing to redo the work you've already done. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and Help Centre and, in particular, How to Ask. Please cite the map - it is very difficult to discuss a map without a reference to the map. – Mark C. Wallace Mar 24 at 11:29
  • 1
    edit.urban.org/sites/default/files/ms-shareblack-01.png This is an example of the African-American population. – Number File Mar 24 at 12:18
  • 1
    Neato, I was just discussing this exact thing with my son (he was actually explaining what he'd found to me). – T.E.D. Mar 24 at 12:46
  • Could it have something to do with proximity to the Mississippi river and access to trade? – kimchi lover Mar 24 at 13:20
  • That seems possible. Rivers have historically been very important. – Number File Mar 24 at 13:28
77

You are describing part of what is referred to as the Black Belt in the American South. It can be seen here in a map of majority-black US counties.

enter image description here

Your suspicions for the reason for this are quite correct. This corresponds to the interior of the old cotton belt. This area was historically the richest river-fed southern soil, with the largest plantations, using the largest percentage of enslaved African-Americans. You'll note that for the north/south-oriented western portion, you can practically make out the outline of the Mississippi river.

After full-blown slavery was outlawed, this area largely set up a sharecropping system under the ownership of the same plantation masters that was as close to the old slavery system as could be legally countenanced. The workers were technically free, but living under a kind of debt peonage system where they didn't own anything, worked for someone else for a percentage, and would have trouble putting away enough money to afford to go seek their fortune elsewhere. Millions did anyway, of course, but the majority stayed.

The politics of this area and the states it passes through have been largely divided on racial lines since the Civil War ended. It would probably be most accurate to say that, perhaps due to the potential political power of that many black voters, there's generally been a dominant White Supremacy party wing in every state that has a large Black Belt component since the Civil War ended*. Until the 1950's and '60's most of the black citizens in this area were not allowed to vote. The effort to realize their voting rights in the 1950's and '60's effectively destroyed the New Deal Coalition which the White Supremacists were part of.

This faction eventually landed in the Republican party in the new sixth party system, with the newly-enfranchised black voters almost unanimously going over to the other party, for what should be obvious reasons. This is how we got to today's party affiliation demographics in states like Mississippi, where about three quarters of whites identify or lean Republican, while blacks identify or lean around 6 in 7 Democratic.


I shouldn't leave off without mentioning the tremendous cultural impact this region has had on the greater US, and the world. Jazz, Blues, and Soul were invented here. Indirectly, Rock, Hip Hop, and Gospel trace their cultural lineage here as well. This means it is the cradle of most popular music (at least in English-speaking areas) worldwide. The African-American Vernacular English dialect originated here (which is why it is somewhat similar to Southern American English), before the post-Reconstruction diaspora spread it to large cities all over the US. This is the dialect of English used predominantly in all those forms of music, as well as the one seen in other US popular culture exports on TV and movies whenever a character is meant to sound like they hail from a tough (iow: poor) urban environment.

* - Obviously this gets controversial as we get into modern politics, and I'm really sorry for that. I'm not here to hurt feelings, but modern voting patterns were part of the question. Those evolved slowly from historical voting patterns, and historically southern political White Supremacy is an incontrovertible fact, literally encoded in law.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    By the way, that dept peonage system smells a lot like good old feudalism from the Middle Ages. – Kaz Mar 24 at 19:49
  • 7
    @Kaz - if you remove the feudal reciprocal obligations lords theoretically had to their underlings, yes. Note that a similar debt-based model was used elsewhere in the US to trap workers in labor-intensive one-industry areas, particularly in small mining-oriented company towns in Appalachia. The main difference was they couldn't quite as effectively prevent the workers from voting (but they still used things like poll taxes to try). It may or may not be a coincidence that these are two of the most poverty-stricken regions of the US today. – T.E.D. Mar 24 at 20:08
  • 9
    And the cotton belt itself arises from ancient shorelines: npr.org/sections/krulwich/2012/10/02/162163801/… – curiousdannii Mar 24 at 22:58
  • 1
    Can you clarify what you mean by “for what should be obvious reasons”? – user76284 Mar 25 at 22:06
  • 1
    @suchiuomizu Repeating the preceding sentence doesn't help. What does the fable of the chicken and the pig have to do with it? The answer would be improved by clarifying that. – user76284 Mar 25 at 22:47
44

T.E.D.'s answer (+1) is complete with regard to the human history of the Americas, but the rich soil in the "cotton belt" or "black belt" has a geological explanation as well. The article "How presidential elections are impacted by a 100 million year old coastline" by Craig McClain, "Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium", describes recent research determining that this soil was the result of an ancient coastline where the skeletons of marine plankton accumulated.

enter image description here

The resulting chalk formations along the line of the old coastline underlie the well-drained, fertile soil. As elsewhere observed, this land was more recently preferred for plantations, and the descendants of some of the slaves that worked on them still live nearby.

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Beats me. I've upvoted it and added a picture from the link, as this is the exact thing my son was trying to tell me when we discussed this issue earlier this week (as mentioned in the earlier question comment), but with a handy hyperlink. – T.E.D. Mar 25 at 1:21
  • Is that percent, percent of the population that was slaves? – Azor Ahai -- he him Mar 26 at 15:21
  • @AzorAhai - The legend on the top says "Percent Slaves 1860". This data would have been easily attainable from the 1860 US Census. Slaves had to be specifically accounted for, because they had a separate factor applied to them in the calculation for a state's Congressional representation and presidential electors. This is the infamous "Three Fifths Rule", which can be found in the US Constitution in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3. – T.E.D. Mar 26 at 17:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.