Reconsidering the Southern Black Belt
The portion of the South known as the Black Belt lies at the heart of what was once the cotton-and-tobacco plantation region and retains a large black population. Despite the Black Belt's high poverty rates and relatively slow economic growth, its large net loss of blacks to urban areas over the course of the twentieth century has effectively ended and more are now returning. Rural southern blacks still face a low-wage economy and their prospects are conditioned by a legacy of both southern agricultural paternalism and, due to interregional migration, inner-city decline. A number of writers have noted the importance of familial and community ties for returnees and express cautious optimism about their abilities to further erode the region's old social and economic barriers. More generally, anti-poverty strategies in the Black Belt, public and private, will be successful only insofar as they are sensitive to the social exclusion that continues to restrict the full participation of blacks in rural southern labor markets and civil society.
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