The Black Belt is a region of the Southern United States. The term originally described the prairies and dark fertile soil of central Alabama and northeast Mississippi. Because this area in the 19th century was historically developed for cotton plantations based on enslaved African-American labor, the term became associated with these conditions. It was generally applied to a much larger agricultural region in the Southern US characterized by a history of cotton plantation agriculture in the 19th century and a high percentage of African Americans outside metropolitan areas. The slaves were freed after the American Civil War, and many continued to work in agriculture afterward.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, as many as one million enslaved African Americans were transported through sales in the domestic slave trade to the Deep South in a forced migration to work as laborers for the regions cotton plantations. After having lived enslaved for several generations in the area, many remained as rural workers, tenant farmers and sharecroppers after the Civil War and emancipation. Beginning in the early 20th century and up to 1970, a total of six million black people left the South in the Great Migration to find work in industrial cities, especially those in the North, Midwest and West Coast.
Because of relative isolation and lack of economic development, the rural communities in the Black Belt have historically faced acute poverty, rural exodus, inadequate education programs, low educational attainment, poor health care, urban decay, substandard housing, and high levels of crime and unemployment. Given the history of decades of racial segregation into the late 20th century, African-American residents have been disproportionately most affected, but these problems apply broadly to all ethnic groups in the rural Black Belt. The region and its boundaries have varying definitions, but it is generally considered a band through the center of the Deep South, although stretching from as far north as