A National Perspective - Overview

  A Century Ago, Booker T. Washington wrote of the Black Belt: "The term seems to be used wholly in a political sense - That is, to designate counties where the black people outnumber the white."

    Today, the Southern Black Belt remains a social and demographic crescent of counties containing higher than average percentages of black residents. The region stretches through parts of Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas.

    The Southern Black Belt stands in contrast to the rest of the country. Though over 12 percent - 30 million people - of the United States are African-American, about half live in the South. The map on the previous page shows counties that are 12, 25 and 40 percent or more black. Nearly all the counties are southern. Nearly all are rural.

    The Historic Black Belt's Conditions remain some of the worst in our nation. The Black Belt is still home to persistent poverty, poor employment, low incomes, low education, poor health, high infant mortality and dependance.

    Our Findings show some of the special conditions - poverty, low levels of education, and unemployment - affecting the contemporary South and Black Belt. We map these circumstances and describe them statistically. We also introduce a neglected but important, if not new, factor - dependance - to the equation for socioeconomic well-being in addition to the education, employment, and rurality factors commonly used to explain poor conditions.

    The Analysis reveals an extraordinary correspondance of the patterns of poor quality of life and the largely non-metropolitan, Black-Belt South. The greater southern region holds far more of our nation's poor people, people who have not completed high school, and those who are unemployed than are found in the Northeast, the Midwest, or the West.

    Within the South, it is the Black Belt's 623 Counties that contain most of the larger region's poverty, low levels of education, and unemployment. In fact, the Black Belt, by itself includes more poverty than any of the other three major regions of our nation - the Northeast, Midwest, or the West. There is more poverty in the Black Belt - black and white - than in the area served by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Furthermore, the Black Belt matches any other region in persons who have not finished high school, and the Black Belt challenges the other U.S. regions in unemployment.

    Dependance in the nonmetropolitan Black Belt is exceptionally high, and especially for black youth. Dependance is considered so high that, without human services to support economic opportunities, rural development is severely restricted.

    To improve quality of life for those in the Black Belt is a major challenge to each of the Black Belt places, their states, the region, and to the nation of which the Black Belt represents a major part. The Black Belt and it's people deserve a well-researched, systematic, and comprehensive regional strategy for change.

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