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 and West, 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 44.99% 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.[citation needed] 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

Racial segregation was commonplace in the South until the 1960s.

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

The first Great Migration began from World War I to 1940, with the second wave hitting its high point during World War II and post-World War II economic boom until 1970. During both migrations, five million blacks left their homes in the South for Northern and Western states to find work in private and public sectors of the economy as well as wanting to leave racial segregation, lynching, bigotry, violence, and disenfranchisement in the South behind. Upon arriving in the North and West, black migrants surprisingly faced widespread racial discrimination there, due to being perceived as competitors for jobs and housing, as well as lowering property values of white residents. Despite this, the conditions in the North and West were still somewhat miles ahead from the South, such as having a right to vote, sending children to better schools, and getting paid more in skilled and unskilled jobs.[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 third migration appears to be underway, with African Americans from the North and West 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, Houston, Nashville-Davidson, and Jacksonville were the five 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]

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