Black Southerners

Black Southerners
Total population
11,054,127 (1980)
Protestantism, Islam, Atheism
Related ethnic groups
African Americans, African Americans in Chicago

Black Southerners are African-Americans living in the Southern United States, the region with the largest population of African-Americans in the United States.[1]

Despite the Jim Crow era leading to major migration to the North, the majority of the black population remains concentrated in the Southern states, and have heavily contributed to the cultural blend (Christianity, foods, art, music (see spiritual, blues, jazz and rock and roll)) that characterize Southern culture today.


African Americans accounted for nearly 45% of the Southern population through the early 20th century.[2]


The history of African-Americans in the South dates back to 1619, when the first ship containing African-Americans for slavery was headed towards San Juan, Mexico was intercepted by two pirate ships expecting to steal precious metals like gold and silver. To their surprise, the ship had 350 Africans from The Kingdom of Ndongo, on the Kwanza River in north central Angola. The Pirates took 60 of the best and healthiest slaves to the English colony of Jamestown with the hopes of selling them to the manpower-deprived city. The settlers of Jamestown purchased 32 (17 men and 15 women) people with the hopes that the free labor would help expand the colony. They worked wherever they were needed up until 1705.[3] Between this time and the American Revolutionary War in 1775, more African-Americans were brought to the colonies as they expanded rapidly.

Revolutionary War – Jim Crow era

African Americans played arguably the most vital role in America gaining independence from Britain. After suffering from ongoing oppression, they saw it as an opportunity to break free from slavery and unfair treatment. Many leaders, such as Thomas Jefferson, made promises to African Americans about gaining freedom once a new country was created. During the war, blacks fought for both sides, whichever they thought would have the best chance of granting them their freedom. During the war, George Washington banned blacks from fighting for the Congressional Army (American). Soon after, Washington knew his forces were slacking, and he reinstated them. Even though they were essential to winning many battles, and arguably the war, blacks were not given their freedom—not even by Thomas Jefferson. The victory in the American Revolution began the emancipation movement which was the act of some northern states adopting emancipation as a part of a promise with the Declaration of Independence.[4]

Jim Crow era

Following for roughly 200 years, blacks especially in the South suffered from racial oppression in the form of slavery, segregation, and lynchings. Jim Crow laws are a huge part of African-American history, which legalized segregation in states that had maintained slavery through the 18th century after the emancipation proclamation. Fully in place in 1910, this reinstated white supremacy and cut many borders that blacks worked so hard to gain. These laws involved "separate but equal" clauses which legally split apart the lives of blacks from white in public places like schools, bathrooms, and transportation, often with them receiving the worse accommodation.[5]

Civil rights

The South witnessed two major events in the lives of 20th century African Americans: the Great Migration and the American Civil Rights Movement.

The Great Migration began during World War I, hitting its high point during World War II. During this migration, blacks left the South to find work in Northern factories and other sectors of the economy.[6]

The migration also empowered the growing Civil Rights Movement. While the movement existed in all parts of the United States, its focus was against disenfranchisement and the Jim Crow laws in the South. Most of the major events in the movement occurred in the South, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, the march on Selma, Alabama, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In addition, some of the most important writings to come out of the movement were written in the South, such as King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail". Most of the civil rights landmarks can be found around the South. The Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site in Atlanta includes a museum that chronicles the American Civil Rights Movement as well as Martin Luther King, Jr.'s boyhood home on Auburn Avenue. Additionally, Ebenezer Baptist Church is located in the Sweet Auburn district as is the King Center, location of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King's gravesites.

The Civil Rights Movement essentially ended Jim Crow laws across the South. A second migration appears to be underway, with African Americans from the North moving to the South in record numbers.[7] While race relations are still a contentious issue in the South, the region surpasses the rest of the country in many areas of integration and racial equality. According to 2003 report by researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Virginia Beach, Charlotte, Nashville-Davidson, and Jacksonville were the four most integrated of the nation's fifty largest cities, with Memphis at number six.[8] Southern states tend to have a low disparity in incarceration rates between blacks and whites relative to the rest of the country.[9]


In reference to the location of blacks within the South, and why they have remained there so long, Jimmie Lewis Franklin states how Pan-Africanist values and prolonged discrimination may have inspired continuous migration of blacks from the South. He states that while many African Americans decided to relocate in search of a better life, many choose to stay, not due to a submission to racism, but out of the basic human desire to remain in an established home.[10] Following slavery and the civil war, black southerners continued to suffer oppression through segregation which determined the hospitals people were born in, the schools in which children were educated, and even dictated which graveyard people were buried in. Blacks and whites were held to different legal standards with two criminal justice systems in existence to maintain the separation of law and expectation. In instances of law breaking, the Ku Klux Klan, in tandem with law officers, would instigate violence and brutality on black citizens. The 14th and 15th amendments, that all people born in the United States are American citizens and furthermore, that no state government is permitted to deny a citizen the right to vote based on race or previous enslavement, were both nullified in 1883.[11] The Montgomery Improvement Association was formed in 1955, with Martin Luther King Jr. as president, after Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in the white section of a public city bus. The Association organized carpooling for blacks as well as weekly prayer groups, and, in 1956, it was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

James Meredith was the first African American student to attend the University of Mississippi, on October 1, 1962, because the governor of the state of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, withheld the student's ability to register in September and was convicted of civil contempt. He complied and faced no major charges but had he refused to halt his interference, he would have been arrested and a $10,000 fine per day would have been ordered. However, a riot ensued when Meredith arrived on campus and President John F. Kennedy was inclined to send men from the National Guard to Oxford, Mississippi where two people were killed and 200 were injured. Within the same year, the governor of Alabama, George Wallace, stood symbolically at the door of the University of Alabama to protest the admittance of two black students, James Hood and Vivian Malone, in an attempt to keep them from enrolling in the university. Reporters were invited to witness this protest during his reelection campaign in which Nicholas Katzenbach, Deputy Attorney General, stated that Wallace was unauthorized to do so, and he eventually stepped down.[11] Reconstruction, or the process of the United States transforming into a country without slavery in which all prior slaves would become citizens, angered many southern whites that highly opposed black citizens having a right to vote. White southerners, who lost their slaves, feared black involvement in politics claiming concern for a "Negro supremacy," in that their numbers would give them the majority of votes when in reality, blacks never controlled the south politically.[12]


A big part of the civil rights movements of the south was Nonviolent protest. Organizations were formed around the idea of nonviolence. More often than not, the reasoning behind the nonviolence was religion, and the belief that everyone should be treated with love. It was also thought that violent protest would never gain the needed moment, despite the fact that their protests were often disbanded with intense police violence. These nonviolent protests were also drawn from the work of Gandhi. Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. were rooted in the nonviolent protest backed by religious morals and the ideals of Gandhi. These ideals paired with the minds of civil rights leaders drove the movement.

The Montgomery Bus Boycotts were a major event in the nonviolent protest civil rights movement, King the leader of this protest. He stressed the importance of nonviolence in gaining the respect of the oppressor. The Montgomery Bus Boycotts helped birth organizations that were embedded in nonviolence. They were the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.[13]

Segregation was finally put to a stop 1954 with the Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs The Board of Education. In this ruling, the Supreme Court overruled the "separate but equal" ruling of Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896.[14] The 1954 Supreme Court ruling came about after 13 parents took to the courts to end racial segregation when their students were not admitted into the white school in their neighborhood. Segregation was a huge part of southern life. It was everywhere; restaurants, restrooms, and water fountains were segregated- to name a few. Segregation was supposed to be "separate but equal", but it was not. Knowing this, the Supreme Court ruled to overrule Plessy vs Ferguson.[15]




Blues, a genre of music, originated from songs that slaves would sing called 'sorrow songs'. Blues mostly existed deep in the south and mostly in small towns like Memphis and New Orleans. Blues often consisted of a sole singer with an instrument, usually guitar expressing their emotions. Blues music generally comes from the inspiration of love, sex, betrayal, poverty, bad luck, and lifestyles that are less than ideal.[17]

Jazz music originated in New Orleans in the 1910s. Blacks and Whites made music that would flow together to mix cultures and aspects of European music as well as American music. Jazz was created as a different type of Blues music. Blues was considered to be of more lower class status while Jazz was more stylized. Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles were big in the world of Jazz music.[17]

In the 1960s, a new type of music called Funk emerged into the music scene. Funk is a type of music that brings soul and energy. It is significantly well known for the use of the electric bass guitar and are songs that are long and enable people to dance. James Brown was notable for Funk. Michael Jackson was notorious for blending the music of Funk and Soul together to create a successful and popular genre of music that stemmed from old Jazz and Motown.[17]

Rap music was created by using the pent up anger from the civil rights movement. The biggest inspiration for rap music is soul music. Rap music and Hip-hop music are often interchangeable. Hip-hop, however, covers wider variety of topics and stems from different energy. In the 1990s a new form of rap emerged called Gangsta Rap. Then came rap rivalries of the East coast and West coast.[17]

In the 20th century, Gospel music originated through black and white cultures to create soulful and deep energy through music that also includes dance. The combination of music from black and white groups to create a blend of Protestant hymns and African styles to become two popular sectors of music that could harmoniously coexist. Black gospel music started creating their own trends by creating duo's and choirs and competing worldwide in traveling singing groups. Eventually this led to the combination of whites and blacks creating groups, however they remained distinctly separate.[18]


After the Civil War, there was a great divide in religion in the south. Blacks found themselves between the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the National Baptist Convention. They would barely be found in historically white churches. By 1906, the National Baptist Convention had over 61% of the black church community. From 1890 till 1906, the population of black churchgoers increased by one million.

Evangelical individualism was no longer wanting to be segregated by the blacks and whites, therefore the black Catholics moved away from Louisiana. Although the Catholic church made it seem as if the blacks were welcome, they were hesitant to join because they knew of all segregation laws in Catholic Churches.

Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the African American preachers that helped evolve religion in the south.

There has been exceeding growth of religions in the south. There has been introductions of Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist religions in the urban southern communities. In 1999, more than 1 out of 5 people considered themselves to be in a religion outside of Protestantism. African Americans made up 39% of the people who are affiliated with a religion other than Protestantism.

Judaism has also emerged in the south to promote and encourage blacks because they have also been ridiculed for having their synagogues in the south.

In 2000 the city of Atlanta had 10,000 Buddhists, 12,000 Hindus, and 30,000 Muslims.[18]


The south is known for many foods, many of which contain African American influences.

George Washington Carver, a botanist from Missouri had made many discoveries regarding the peanut. The United Peanut Associations of America reached out to Carver to discuss Carvers many advances using the peanut. Carver gave a discussion regarding the peanut and all the things that are able to be done with a peanut.[19]

Popular southern dishes:



Professionalism and jobs

The African American job market has significantly changed in the last fifty years. Previously almost all African American were impoverished. This rate has significantly improved. Today more than 40% of African Americans consider themselves to be in the middle class. They previously had ill-paid, manual jobs such as sharecroppers, laborers, or any other jobs that white men wouldn't take. A majority of African American women worked as servants who were paid even worse than males.Fifty years ago, 6 out of 10 African American women worked as servants. Today, the African American job industry is one of the fastest entrepreneurial groups in the United States. Over half of the black population in America works a white-collar job. The income gap between blacks and whites has been cut about a third. Although the gap isn't equal yet, two parent black families earn 13% less than two parent white families.[21]

Black suburbs

After the Great Migration's end, many black people moved back to the South. The economy in the South became booming.[22] The expanding economy and improved racial climate brought more black people back to the South. African Americans began moving to the suburbs seeking out safer and more comfortable housing.[23] There is a common misconception that much of the African American population lives in the ghetto in high rise, government provided housing, when really over 33% live in the suburbs.[21] While both white and black families live in suburbia, the neighborhoods seemingly are very separated. Many of the middle class African American families live in all black suburbias.[22] The African American middle class continues to grow, with more than 40% of the black middle class population owning a home.[21]

See also


  1. Boles, John B. Black Southerners, 1619-1869 (New Perspectives on the South).
  2. Data Access and Dissemination Systems (DADS). "American FactFinder – Results". Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  3. Hashaw, Tim (21 Jan 2017). "U.S. News and World Report". US News.
  4. Hooker, Richard (6 June 2011). "African Americans in the American Revolution". Wayback Machine.
  5. David, Ronald L. F. (June 14, 2002). "Creating Jim Crow: In-Depth Essay". The History of Jim Crow. Archived from the original on June 24, 2012. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  6. Katzman, 1996
  7. "Tracking New Trends in Race Migration". News & Notes. National Public Radio. March 14, 2006. Retrieved April 4, 2008.
  8. "Study shows Memphis among most integrated cities". Memphis Business Journal. January 13, 2003.
  9. Mauer, Marc; Ryan S. King (July 2007). "Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration By Race and Ethnicity" (PDF). Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project. p. 16. Retrieved April 20, 2010. (Report.)
  10. Franklin, Jimmy Lewis (1994). ""Black Southerners, Shared Experience, and Place: A Reflection."". The Journal of Southern History.
  11. 1 2 Leland, Ware (2013). "Civil Rights and the 1960s: A Decade of Unparalleled Progress".
  12. Boles, John B (1984). Black Southerners. University Press of KY.
  13. Kunfalvi, Lili (2014). "Separate but Equal - Racial Segregation in the United States" (PDF). Institute for Cultural Relations Policy.
  14. "Brown v Board at Fifty: 'With an Even Hand'". Library of Congress.
  15. Walton, Becca (14 July 2016). "On Violence in the South: Nonviolent Protest" (PDF). Center for the Study of Southern Culture.
  16. Young, Damon. "The Differences Between Northern Blacks And Southern Blacks - VSB". VSB.
  17. 1 2 3 4 Goffman, Ethan. "From the Blues to Hip Hop: How African American Music Changed U.S. Culture and Moved the World." ProQuest.
  18. 1 2 Harvey, Paul (March 2015). "Race, Culture, and Religion in the American South".
  19. Mackintosh, Barry. "George Washington Carver and the Peanut". American Heritage.
  20. "The Top 10 Southern Foods Our Picks".
  21. 1 2 3 Thernstrom, Abigale (March 1, 1998). "Black Progress: How far we've come, and how far we have to go".
  22. 1 2 Cashin, Sheryll D. "Middle-Class Black Suburbs and the State of Integration: A Post-Integrationist Vision for Metropolitan America". Cornell Law Review.
  23. Tolnay, Stewart E. "The African American "Great Migration" and Beyond" (PDF). Annual Review of Sociology.
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