Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Map of Slavery

Via Matthew Yglesias and Edge of the West, here is a map showing the prevalence of slavery in the Southern states in 1861. (Click on the link for a larger version.)




What I found fascinating was that -- notwithstanding the Great Migrations of the 20th century -- the map very closely mirrors where blacks tend to live today. Here is a map based on the 1990 census (click for a much larger image):



A map based on the 2000 census is here.

The similarities are obvious just by considering the fact that both in 1861 and today, most blacks lived in the Black Belt and especially in the Delta region of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Also notable are the absences of blacks in the northern mountainous regions of Arkansas, and of Georgia up through Appalachia. Fewer blacks lived in the coastal regions of Mississippi and Alabama.

Then if you compare the maps more closely, even more similarities jump out. For example, both in 1861 and today, hardly any blacks lived in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, especially compared to the surrounding counties. For another example, there is a pocket of three mostly white counties north of Birmingham, and then higher concentrations of black people in a stripe of countries stretching from northern Alabama through Nashville. In Florida, the highest concentrations of blacks are consistently found in Leon County and a few surrounding counties in the panhandle.

Much about America has changed in the past 150 years, but there are still underlying similarities that show up in surprising ways.

P.S. Although this 1950 map isn't very legible, I think it shows most of the same similarities:

UPDATE: I wonder how much of this is related to the existence of sundown towns in largely white areas. As author James Loewen points out, "Most Americans have no idea such towns or counties exist, or they think such things happened mainly in the Deep South. Ironically, the traditional South has almost no sundown towns." It actually doesn't seem so ironic to me: Areas that traditionally had slavery and where upwards of 50% of the population was black would have had a very hard time keeping blacks completely out. Indeed, given that so many blacks today live in areas where slavery was once practiced, by definition they could not have been expelled in most of those places.

Instead, most sundown towns were in historically white areas both in the North and in white areas of slave states. For example, all of the sundown towns in Arkansas, so far as I can tell, were in areas that hardly had any slavery. Their racism arose from the fear of the unknown, I'd guess.

Anyway, because of the prevalence of sundown towns, blacks would have had a hard time moving to many locations outside of the traditional areas that had practiced slavery.

6 Comments:

Blogger Bruce said...

Comment re. Leowon's book. I was born and raised in one of the most prominent examples of a sundown town in his book. I am also a member of a number of multiracial familes who have lived in the town for about 150 years. The books main point - that there are lots of "sundown town" is marred by a lot of nonsense that just isn't and wasn't so.

8:39 PM  
Blogger John Thacker said...

Regarding Leowon's book, he claims that "Other signature American edibles such as Krispy Kreme doughnuts (Effingham, Illinois30) and Tootsie Rolls (West Lawn, Chicago) also come from sundown communities," immediately following a sentence listing several foods that were invented in apparent sundown towns.

That's at best a stretch or poor writing, and at worst misleading. A Krispy Kreme manufacturing and distributing sites (and the first outside North Carolina) was located in Effingham. (It is not now, but I'll assume it was at the time of the book.) The company located the site there largely because of local incentives, and then sold it. (A quick search for "Effingham Krispy" will confirm this.)

Most readers of the book would not, however, reach the correct conclusion from reading that sentence, especially in the context of the previous sentence. Such overreaching and sloppy rhetoric makes me worry about the rest of the book.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

To Mr Thacker, you're quite right. Fact-checking was apparently sloppy for this book.

In the case of my hometown, Anna, it was supposedly named after the phrase "Aint No Niggers Allowed". Of course, it was actually named after the wife of the farmer on whose land the IL Central RR went through. The "ANNA" phrase is folklore from black communities in Alexander county to the south. White people in Anna had no idea of this till it was written up in a newspaper story written a decade or so before Leowon's book. Leowon doesn't appear to know this.

He claims riots in Carbondale IL in 1970 were race riots. They were student antiwar riots - Carbondale is the home of Southern Illinois. Its black population is pretty small.

Lots of other little inaccuracies that any local person would know. Its a shame because racism is very real and the phenomenom he writes about is real.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

The "sundown town" book may indeed be quite inaccurate, for all I know. Still, for present purposes, even a mere rumor of a sundown town (however untrue) might be enough to keep black families from moving there voluntarily (why take a chance?). And that would have reinforced the traditional geographical areas in which people lived.

8:41 PM  
Blogger John Thacker said...

Still, for present purposes, even a mere rumor of a sundown town (however untrue) might be enough to keep black families from moving there voluntarily (why take a chance?). And that would have reinforced the traditional geographical areas in which people lived.

Oh, it's absolutely true that towns and neighborhoods did things to keep blacks out, and in some cases reputation can create the effect. Certainly, whatever the flaws in details of the book, it does seem like some towns had sudden drops in population of blacks or prevented them from moving in.

Undoubtedly that was response for some of the outrage when Jimmy Carter in 1976 endorsed people who wanted to maintain "ethnic purity" in their neighborhoods through voluntary methods (but that he favored open housing laws). OTOH, it's easy to see that there can be something charming about neighborhoods in cities with particular ethnic culture, whether Chinese, Italian, Polish, Black, or what have you. But at the same time, it can definitely have dark undertones as well.

At the same time, as the author admits, it's difficult to tell the difference between towns and neighborhoods that merely use zoning to keep anyone poor out, not just the average black person, especially since those policies can lead to the same self-fulfilling prophecy.

9:51 PM  
Blogger miriam said...

I know loads of Northern blacks who have retired, or moved, to the South.
Many of them have family there--family who never moved North. That might explain part of it.

My black friends have told me, also, that money goes farther in the south. Housing costs are much lower, for instance. So you can cash out your expensive Northern home and buy one in the South for one-third the price.

11:45 AM  

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