What is the Black Belt?

What is the Black Belt?

Just what is the “Black Belt,” anyway?*

There are two satisfactory answers to this question.

The geographic Black Belt has to do with the color of the soil. Early settlers of the mid-south were very attuned to the agricultural possibilities of the area. Almost all southern soils are red or brown, so the markedly dark (black when wet) soils of a broad belt across middle Alabama and Mississippi quickly caught everyone’s attention. These soils are the clay-rich byproduct of the white chalky bedrock of the Selma Group of rocks and are very dark in color. In its strict sense, the Black Belt is the black soiled region of central Alabama and Northeast Mississippi.

The cultural Black Belt is a history-based term. As cotton agriculture emerged in the Black Belt in the early 19th century, it reached its peak in the broad and fertile river bottomlands along the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers. But the large, plantation-based system extended well south of the geographic Black Belt into south Alabama and parts of adjacent Mississippi. Those areas, with a similar economy, population and culture, often legitimately consider themselves to be part of the Black Belt.

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