BLACK BELT, a crescent-shaped prairie named for its unusual black soil, extending mostly along the Alabama River in Alabama but also up the Tombigbee River in northeastern Mississippi. Decomposed limestone under-lies the belt, causing it to lie lower than the surrounding country and making it more fertile.
Whites entered the Alabama Black Belt after the Creek cession of 1816, but their suspicion of the dark soil kept them from settling the region until the Jacksonian migration of the 1830s. Then whites entered the Mississippi portion as well, replacing indigenous Choctaws and Chickasaws, who had been forced west of the Mississippi. Fertile soil and access to the port at Mobile situated the Black Belt to become a major cotton plantation region. From 1830 to 1860, it was Alabama's most prosperous area, was home to the most slaves, and produced the most cotton. It was also the bulwark of the Whig Party and boasted three of Alabama's five capitals—Cahaba, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery.
During the Civil War, the Black Belt supplied food to Confederate soldiers. Having almost no railroad connections with the West or North, it remained practically untouched by Northern armies. After the war, it again became the South's leading cotton region, a distinction it lost to Texas by 1880. By the early twentieth century, boll weevil infestations had forced many Black Belt farmers to convert to food crops. Even then, the Black Belt remained the principal cotton region east of the Mississippi.
Today the term "Black Belt" sometimes refers to parts of the South that were dominated by plantation agriculture before the Civil War and thus were home to large numbers of slaves. In Chicago the "Black Belt" was a South Side neighborhood that became heavily African American during the Great Migration of the 1910s and 1920s.
Fite, Gilbert C. Cotton Fields No More: Southern Agriculture, 1865–1980. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1984.
Rogers, William Warren, et al. Alabama: The History of a Deep South State. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994.
R. S.Cotterill/w. p.
black belt • n. a black belt worn by an expert in judo, karate, and other martial arts. ∎ a person qualified to wear this.