Read CHAPTER II. GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION. of The Negro Farmer , free online book, by Carl Kelsey, on ReadCentral.com.

The great Appalachian system, running parallel to the Atlantic coast, and ending in northern Alabama, forms the geological axis of the southern states. Bordering the mountains proper is a broad belt of hills known as the Piedmont or Metamorphic region, marked by granite and other crystalline rocks, and having an elevation decreasing from 1,000 to 500 feet. The soil varies according to the underlying rocks, but is thin and washes badly, if carelessly tilled. The oaks, hickories and other hardwoods, form the forests. In Virginia this section meets the lower and flatter country known as Tide-Water Virginia. In the southern part of this state we come to the Pine Hills, which follow the Piedmont and stretch, interrupted only by the alluvial lands of the Mississippi, to central Texas. The Pine Hills seldom touch the Piedmont directly, but are separated by a narrow belt of Sand Hills, which run from North Carolina to Alabama, then swing northward around the coal measures and spread out in Tennessee and Kentucky. This region, in general of poor soils, marks the falls of the rivers and the head of navigation. How important this is may easily be seen by noticing the location of the cities in Georgia, for instance, and remembering that the country was settled before the day of railroads. In Alabama the Black Prairie is interposed between the Pine Hills and the Sand Hills, and this prairie swings northward into Mississippi. The Pine Hills give way to the more level Pine Flats, which slope with a gradient of a few feet a mile to the ocean or the gulf, which usually has a narrow alluvial border. Going west from Alabama we cross the oak and hickory lands of Central Mississippi, which are separated from the alluvial district by the cane hills and yellow loam table lands. Beyond the bottom lands of the Mississippi (and Red river) we come to the oak lands of Missouri, Arkansas and Texas which stretch to the black prairies of Texas, which, bordering the red lands of Arkansas, run southwest finally, merging in the coast prairies near Austin. In the northern part of Arkansas we come to the foothills of the Ozarks. These different regions are shown by the dotted lines on the population maps.

The soils of these various regions having never been subjected to a glacial epoch, are very diverse, and it would be a thankless task to attempt any detailed classification on the basis of fertility. The soils of the Atlantic side being largely from the crystalline rocks and containing therefore much silica, are reputed less fertile than the gulf soils. The alluvial lands of the Mississippi and other rivers are beyond question the richest of all. Shaler says: “The delta districts of the Mississippi and its tributaries and similar alluvial lands which occupy broad fields near the lower portion of other streams flowing into the gulf have proved the most enduringly fertile areas of the country.” Next to these probably stand the black prairies. In all states there is more or less alluvial land along the streams, and this soil is always the best. It is the first land brought into cultivation when the country is settled, and remains most constantly in use. Each district has its own advantages and its own difficulties. In the metamorphic regions, the trouble comes in the attempt to keep the soil on the hills, while in the flat lands the problem is to get proper drainage. In the present situation of the Negro farmer the adaptability of the soil to cotton is the chief consideration.

The first slaves were landed at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. The importation was continued in spite of many protests, and the practice soon came into favor. Almost without interruption, in spite of various prohibitions, the slave traffic lasted right up to the very outbreak of the war, most of the later cargoes being landed along the gulf coast. Slavery proved profitable at the South; not so at the North, where it was soon abandoned. It was by no means, however, equally profitable in all parts of the South, and as time went on this fact became more noticeable. Thus at the outbreak of the war, Kentucky and Virginia were largely employed in selling slaves to the large plantations further south. Few new slaves had been imported into Virginia in the last one hundred years. The center of slavery thus moved southwest because of changing economic conditions, not because of any inherent opposition to the system. This gradual weeding out of the slaves in Virginia may very possibly account for the general esteem in which Virginia negroes have been held. To indicate the character of those sold South, Bracket gives a quotation from a Baltimore paper of 1851 which advertised some good Negroes to be “exchanged for servants suitable for the South with bad characters.”

To trace the development of the slave-holding districts is not germain to the present study, interesting as it is in itself. It may be worth while to trace the progress in one state. In Georgia, in 1800, the blacks outnumbered the whites in the seacoast counties, excepting Camden, and were also in the majority in Richmond. In 1830 they also outnumbered the whites along the Savannah river and were reaching westward as far as Jones county. In 1850, besides the coast and the river, they were in a majority in a narrow belt crossing the state from Lincoln to Harris counties. By 1860 they had swung southward in the western part of the state and were in possession of most of the counties south of Troup, while the map of 1900 shows that they have added to this territory. In other parts of the state they have never been greatly in evidence. The influence of the rivers is again evident when we notice that they moved up to the head of navigation, then swung westward.

As slavery developed, it was accompanied by a great extension of cotton growing, or, perhaps, it were truer to say that the gradual rise of cotton planting made possible the increased use of slaves. The center of the cotton industry had reached the middle of Alabama by 1850, was near Jackson, Mississippi, in 1860, and has since moved slowly westward. The most prosperous district of the South in 1860 was probably the alluvial lands of the Mississippi. This gives us the key to the westward trend of slavery. Let it be remembered, too, that the system of slavery demands an abundance of new lands to take the place of those worn out by the short-sighted cultivation adopted. Thus in the South little attention was paid to rotation of crops or to fertilizers. As long as the new land was abundant, it was not considered, and probably was not profitable to keep up the old. The result was that “the wild and reckless system of extensive cultivation practiced prior to the war had impoverished the land of every cotton-producing state east of the Mississippi river.” As cotton became less and less profitable in the east the opening up of the newer and richer lands in the west put the eastern planter in a more and more precarious situation. Had cotton fallen to anything like its present price in the years immediately preceding the war, his lot would have been far worse.

Another influence should be noted. Slavery tended to drive out of a community those who opposed the system, and also the poor whites, non-slave holders. The planters sought to buy out or expel this latter class, because of the temptation they were under to incite the slaves to steal corn and cotton and sell it to them at a low price. There was also trouble in many other ways. There was thus a tendency to separate the mass of the blacks from the majority of the whites. That this segregation actually arose a map of the proportionate populations for Alabama in 1860 shows. It may be claimed that there were other reasons for this separation, such as climatic conditions, etc. This may be partially true, but it evidently cannot be the principal reason, for we find the whites in the majority in many of the lowest and theoretically most unhealthful regions, as in the pine flats. This is the situation to-day also.

The influence of the rivers in determining the settlement of the country has been mentioned. Nowhere was this more the case than in the alluvial lands of the Mississippi, the so-called “Delta.” This country was low and flat, subject to overflows of the river. The early settlements were directly on the banks of the navigable streams, because this only was accessible, and because the land immediately bordering the streams is higher than the back land. Levees were at once started to control the rivers, but not until the railroads penetrated the country in 1884 was there any development of the back land. Even to-day most of this is still wild.

The war brought numerous changes, but it is only in place here to consider those affecting the location of the people. The mobility of labor is one of the great changes. Instead of a fixed labor force we now have to deal with a body relatively free to go and come. The immediate result is that a stream of emigration sets in from the border states to the cities of the North, where there was great opportunity for servants and all sorts of casual labor.

Other cities show the same gains. As a rule, the negro has been the common laborer in the cities and in the trades does not seem to hold the same relative position he had in 1860. In recent years there has been quite a development of small tradesmen among them.

A comparison of the two tables shows that Washington and Baltimore have more Negroes than New Orleans; that St. Louis has more than Atlanta and Richmond, while New York and Philadelphia contain double the number of Savannah and Charleston. This emigration to the North has had great effect upon many districts of the South. It seems also to be certain that the Negroes have not maintained themselves in the northern cities, and that the population has been kept up by constant immigration. What this has meant we may see when we find that in 1860 the Negroes were in the majority in five counties in Maryland, in two in 1900; in 43 in Virginia in 1860, in 35 in 1900; in North Carolina in 19 in 1860, in 15 in 1900.

The map on page 13 shows the movement of the Negro population in Virginia between 1890 and 1900. The shaded counties, 60 in number, have lost in actual population (Negro). The total actual decrease in these counties was over 27,000. Even in the towns there has been a loss, for in 1890 the twelve towns of over 2,500 population contained 32,692 Negroes. In 1900 only 29,575. The only section in which there has been a heavy increase is the seacoast from Norfolk and Newport News to the north and including Richmond. A city like Roanoke also makes its presence felt. When we remember that the Negroes in Virginia number over 600,000, and that the total increase in the decade was only 25,000, a heavy emigration becomes clear.

As a common laborer also the negro has borne his part in the development of the economical resources of the South. He has built the railroads and levees; has hewn lumber in the forests; has dug phosphate rock on the coast and coal in the interior. Wherever there has been a development of labor industry calling for unskilled labor he has found a place. All these have combined to turn him from the farm, his original American home. The changing agricultural conditions which have had a similar influence will be discussed later.

Having thus briefly reviewed the influences which have had part in determining his general habitat we are ready to examine more closely his present location. The maps of the Negro population will show this for the different states. A word regarding these maps. They are drawn on the same scale, and the shading represents the same things for the different states. The density map should always be compared with the proportionate map to get a correct view of the actual situation. If this is not done, confused ideas will result. On the density maps if a county has a much heavier shading than surrounding ones, a city is probably the explanation. The reverse may be true on the proportionate maps where the lighter shading may indicate the presence of numbers of whites in some city, as in Montgomery County, Alabama, or Charleston County, South Carolina.

Beginning with Virginia, we find almost no Negroes in the western mountain districts, but their numbers increase as we approach the coast and their center is in the southeast. The heavy district in North Carolina adjoins that in Virginia, diminishing in the southern part of the state. Entering South Carolina we discover a much heavier population, both actually and relatively. Geographical foundations unfortunately (for our purpose) do not follow county lines. It is very likely, however, that could we get at the actual location of the people, we should find that they had their influence. Evidently the Sand ’Hills have some significance, for the density map shows a lighter negro population. So does the Pine Flats district, although in this state the Negroes are in the majority in the region, having been long settled in the race districts. In no other state do the blacks outnumber the whites in the Pine Flats. In Georgia the northern part is in possession of the whites, as are the Pine Flats. The Negroes hold the center and the coast. In Florida the Negroes are in the Pine Hills. In Alabama they center in the Pine Hills and Black Prairie. In Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana they are in the alluvial regions, and in Texas they find their heaviest seat near Houston. Outside of the city counties we do not find a population of over 30 negroes to the square mile until South Carolina is reached, and the heaviest settlement is in the black prairie of Alabama and the alluvial region of Mississippi, and part of Louisiana. In Tennessee they are found along the river and in the red lands of the center, while in Kentucky they are chiefly located in the Limestone district. Summarizing their location, we may say that they start in the east-central portion of Virginia and follow the line of the Pine Hills to Alabama, only slightly encroaching upon the Metamorphic district, and except in South Carolina, on the pine flats. They occupy the black prairie of Alabama and Mississippi, and the lands of the river states with a smaller population in the Oak Hills of Texas, the red lands of Tennessee and some of the limestone district of Kentucky. It is worth while to examine one state more in detail and Alabama has been selected as being typical. The Negro proportion in the state in 1860 was 45.4 per cent, and in 1900 was 45.2 per cent.

An examination of a proportionate map for 1860 would show that the slave owners found two parts of the state favorable to them. The first is along the Tennessee river in the North, and the second, the black prairie of the center. Of these the latter was by far the seat of the heavier population. It has already been suggested that this was probably the best land in the slave states, save the alluvial bottoms. Both districts were accessible by water. The Tombigbee and Alabama rivers reached all parts of the prairie, the Tennessee forming the natural outlet of the North. By referring now to the map of 1900, it is evident that some changes have taken place. The prairie country, the “Black Belt,” is still in the possession of the Negroes, and their percentage is larger, having increased from 71 to 80. The population per square mile is also heavier. Dallas, Sumter and Lowndes counties had a Negro population of 23.6 per square mile in 1860, and 39.2 in 1900. In the northern district an opposite condition exists. In 1860 the region embracing the counties of Lauderdale, Limestone, Franklin, Colbert, Lawrence and Morgan had a colored population forming 44.5 per cent of the total. In 1900 the Negroes were but 33 per cent of the total. The district contains some 4,609 square miles, and had in 1860 a Negro population of 11 to the square mile; in 1900, 13.5. Of this increase of 2.5 per mile, about one-half is found to be in the four towns of the district whose population is over 2,500 each. The smaller villages would probably account for most of the balance, so it seems safe to say that the farming population has scarcely increased in the last forty years. Meantime the whites in the district have increased from 12 per square mile to 25.4. The census shows that between 1890 and 1900 six counties of North Alabama lost in the actual Negro population, and two others were stationary, while in the black belt the whites decreased in four counties and were stationary in two. It will be seen that the Negroes have gained in Jefferson (Birmingham) and Talladega counties. The opportunities for unskilled labor account largely for this, and Talladega is also a good cotton county. In Winston and Cullman counties there are practically no Negroes, the census showing but 28 in the two. In 1860 they formed 3 per cent of the total in Winston and 6 percent in Blount, which at that time included Cullman. The explanation of their disappearance is found in the fact that since the war these counties have been settled by Germans from about Cincinnati, and the Negroes have found it convenient to move. Roughly speaking, the poor land of the Sand Hills separates the white farmers from the colored. From 1890 to 1900 the Negroes lost relatively in the Metamorphic and Sand Hills, were about stationary in the Prairie, from which they have overflowed and gained in the Oak Hills, and more heavily in the Pine Hills. This statement is based on an examination of five or six counties, lying almost wholly within each of the districts, and which, so far as known, were not affected by the development of any special industry. The period is too short to do more than indicate that the separation of the two races seems to be still going on. A similar separation exists in Mississippi, where the Negroes hold the Black Prairie and the Delta, the whites the hill country of the center.

It is evident that there is a segregation of the whites and blacks, and that there are forces which tend to perpetuate and increase this. It is interesting to note that whereas in slavery the cabins were grouped in the “quarters,” in close proximity to the “big house” of the master, they are now scattered about the plantation so that even here there is less contact. In the cities this separation is evident the blacks occupy definite districts, while the social separation is complete. It seems that in all matters outside of business relations the whites have less and less to do with the blacks. If this division is to continue, we may well ask what is its significance for the future.

This geographical segregation evidently had causes which were largely economic. Probably the most potent factor to-day in perpetuating it is social, i. e., race antagonism. The whites do not like to settle in a region where they are to compete with the Negro on the farms as ordinary field hands. Moreover, the Negroes retain their old-time scorn of such whites and despise them. The result is friction. Mr. A. H. Stone cites a case in point. He is speaking of a Negro serving a sentence for attempted rape: “I was anxious to know how, if at all, he accounted for his crime, but he was reluctant to discuss it. Finally he said to me: ’You don’t understand things over here are so different. I hired to an old man over there by the year. He had only about forty acres of land, and he and his old folks did all their own work cooking, washing and everything. I was the only outside hand he had. His daughter worked right alongside of me in the field every day for three or four months. Finally, one day, when no one else was round, hell got into me, and I tried to rape her. But you folks over there can’t understand things are so different. Over here a nigger is a nigger, and a white man is a white man, and it’s the same with the women.’ ... Her only crime was a poverty which compelled her to do work which, in the estimation of the Negro, was reserved as the natural portion of his own race, and the doing of which destroyed the relation which otherwise constituted a barrier to his brutality."

Mr. Stone has touched upon one of the most delicate questions in the relationship of the races. It would be out of place to discuss it here, but attention must be called to the fact that there is the least of such trouble in the districts where the Negro forms the largest percentage of the population. I would not be so foolish as to say that assaults upon white women may not take place anywhere, but as a matter of fact they seem to occur chiefly in those regions where white and black meet as competitors for ordinary labor. Beaufort County, South Carolina, has a black population forming about 90 per cent of the total, yet I was told last summer that but one case of rape had been known in the county, and that took place on the back edge of the county where there are fewest Negroes, and was committed by a non-resident black upon a non-resident white. Certain it is that in this county, which includes many islands, almost wholly inhabited by blacks, the white women have no fear of such assaults. This is also the case in the Mississippi Delta. Mr. Stone says: “Yet here we hear nothing about an ignorant mass of Negroes dragging the white man down; we hear of no black incubus; we have few midnight assassinations and fewer lynchings. The violation by a Negro of the person of a white woman is with us an unknown crime; nowhere is the line marking the social separation of the races more rigidly drawn, nowhere are the relations between the races more kindly. With us race riots are unknown, and we have but one Negro problem though that constantly confronts us how to secure more Negroes.” Evidently when we hear reports of states of siege and rumors of race war, we are not to understand that this is the normal, typical condition of the entire South. If this is the real situation, it seems clear that the geographical segregation plays no mean part in determining the relation of the two races. It is safe to say that there is a different feeling between the races in the districts where the white is known only as the leader and those in which he comes into competition with the black. What is the significance of this for the future?

The same condition exists in the cities, and of this Professor Dubois has taken note: “Savannah is an old city where the class of masters among the whites and of trained and confidential slaves among the Negroes formed an exceptionally large part of the population. The result has been unusual good feeling between the races, and the entrance of Negroes into all walks of industrial life, with little or no opposition.” “Atlanta, on the other hand, is quite opposite in character. Here the poor whites from North Georgia who neither owned slaves nor had any acquaintance with Negro character, have come into contact and severe competition with the blacks. The result has been intense race feeling." In one of the large towns of the Delta last summer, a prosperous Negro merchant said to me, in discussing the comparative opportunities of different sections: “I would not be allowed to have a store on the main street in such a good location in many places.” Yet, his store is patronized by whites; and this would be true in many towns in the black belt. Other evidences of the difference in feeling towards the Negroes is afforded by the epithets of “hill-billies” and “red-necks” applied to the whites of the hill country by the lowland planters, and the retaliatory compliments “yellow-bellies” and “nigger-lovers.” Does this geographical segregation help to explain the strikingly diverse reports coming from various parts of the South regarding the Negro? Why does Dr. Paul Barringer, of Virginia, find that race antagonism is rapidly growing, while Mr. Stone of Mississippi, says that their problem is to get more Negroes?

The influence that this segregation has upon school facilities for both races should not be overlooked. The separation of the two races in the schools is to be viewed as the settled policy of the South. Here, then, is a farming community in which there are only a few Negroes. What sort of a separate school will be maintained for their children? Probably they are unable to support a good school, even should they so desire. The opportunities of their children must necessarily be limited. Will they make greater progress than children in the districts where the blacks are in large numbers and command good schools? If the situation be reversed and there are a few whites in a black community, the whites will be able to command excellent private schools for their children, if necessary. At present among the males over 21, the greatest illiteracy is found in the black counties. This may be accounted for by the presence of the older generation, which had little chance in the schools, and by the fact that perhaps those moving away have been the more progressive. It is a matter of regret that the census does not permit us to ascertain the illiteracy among the children from 10 to 21 years of age, to see if any difference was manifest. It would seem, however, that this segregation, coupled with race antagonism, is bound to affect the educational opportunities for the blacks. A problem which becomes more serious as the states waken to the needs of the case and attempt to educate their children.

Yet again, this fact of habitat should lead us to be very chary of making local facts extend over the entire South and of making deductions for the entire country based on observations in a few places. Neglect of this precaution often leads to very erroneous and misleading conceptions of actual conditions. For instance, on page 419, Vol. VI, Census of 1900, in discussing the fact that Negro receives nearly as much per acre for his cotton as does the white, it is stated: “Considering the fact that he emerged from slavery only one-third of a century ago, and considering also his comparative lack of means for procuring the best land or for getting the best results from what he has, this near approach to the standard attained by the white man’s experience for more than a century denotes remarkable progress.” This may or may not be true, but the reason and proof are open to question. It assumes that the land cultivated by the Negroes is of the same quality as that farmed by the whites. This certainly is not true of Arkansas, of which it is stated that “Arkansas shows a greater production per acre by colored farmers for all three tenures.” The three tenures are owners, cash-tenants, share-tenants. Mississippi agrees with Arkansas in showing higher production for both classes of tenants. Are we to infer that the Negroes in Arkansas and Mississippi are better farmers than the whites, and that, therefore, their progress has infinitely surpassed his? By no means. The explanation is that in the two states mentioned the Negroes cultivate the rich bottom land while the white farmers are found in the hills. The alluvial land easily raises twice the cotton, and that of a better quality, commanding about a cent a pound more in the market. There may possibly be similar conditions in other states; certainly in Alabama the black prairie tilled by the Negroes is esteemed better than the other land. Since this was first written I have chanced upon the report of the Geological Survey of Alabama for 1881 and 1882, in which Mr. E. A. Smith sums up this same problem as follows:

“(1) That where the blacks are in excess of the whites, there are the originally most fertile lands of the state. The natural advantages of the soils are, however, more than counterbalanced by the bad system prevailing in such sections, viz.; large farms rented out in patches to laborers who are too poor and too much in debt to merchants to have any interest in keeping up the fertility of the soil, or rather the ability to keep it up, with the natural consequence of its rapid exhaustion, and a product per acre on these, the best lands of the state, lower than that which is realized from the very poorest.

“(2) Where the two races are in nearly equal proportions, or where the whites are in only a slight excess over the blacks, as is the case in all sections where the soils are of average fertility, there is found the system of small farms, worked generally by the owners, a consequently better cultivation, a more general use of commercial fertilizers, a correspondingly high product per acre and a partial maintenance of the fertility of the soils.

“(3) Where the whites are greatly in excess of the blacks (three to one and above) the soils are almost certain to be far below the average in fertility, and the product per acre is low from this cause, notwithstanding the redeeming influences of a comparatively rational system of cultivation.

“(4) The exceptions to these general rules are nearly always due to
local causes which are not far to seek and which afford generally a
satisfactory explanation of the discrepancies.”

If we are to base our reasoning on the table cited we might argue that land ownership is a bad thing for Negroes, for tenants of both classes among them produced more than did the owners. The white cash tenants also produced more than white owners. In explaining this it is said: “The fact that cash tenants pay a fixed money rental per acre causes them to rent only such area as they can cultivate thoroughly, while many owners who are unable to rent their excess acreage to tenants attempt to cultivate it themselves, thus decreasing the efficiency of cultivation for the entire farm.” This may be true of the whites, but it is a lame explanation for the blacks. Negro farmers who own more land than they can cultivate appear to be better known at Washington than they are locally. The trouble with the entire argument is that it assumes that the Negro is an independent cultivator of cotton. This is not quite the case. In all parts of the South the Negro, tenant or owner, usually receives advances from white factors, and these spend a good part of their time riding about to see that the land is cultivated in order to insure repayment of their loans. If their advice and suggestions are not followed, or if the crop is not cultivated, the supplies are shut off. On many plantations even the portion of the land to be put in cotton is stipulated. The great bulk of the cotton crop is thus raised under the immediate oversight of the white man. There is little call for any great skill on the part of the laborer. No wonder the crop of the Negro approximates that of the white man. It is to be further remembered that cotton raising has been the chief occupation of the Negro in America. The Census gives another illustration of the unhappy effects of attempting to cover very diverse conditions in one statement in the map Vol. VI, plate 3. From this one would be justified in believing that the average farm under one management in the alluvial lands of Mississippi and Louisiana was small. As a matter of fact they are among the largest in the country. The map gives a very misleading conception and it results wholly from attempting to combine divergent conditions.

The quotation from Mr. Smith touched upon another result of this segregation. Where the whites are the farmers the farms are smaller and better cared for, more fertilizers are used, and better results are obtained. The big plantation system has caused the deterioration of naturally fertile soils. Of course, there must come a day of reckoning wherever careless husbandry prevails.

City conditions are more or less uniform in all sections. The geographical location of the farmer, however, is a matter of considerable importance not only as determining in large measure the crop he must raise, but as limiting the advance he may be able to make under given conditions. It is estimated that about 85 per cent of the men (Negroes) and 44 per cent of the women in productive pursuits are farmers. Their general location has been shown. For convenience we may divide the territory into five districts: (1) Virginia and Kentucky, above the limit of profitable cotton culture. (2) The Atlantic Sea Coast. (3) The Central belt running from Virginia to Central Mississippi. This includes several different soils, but general conditions are fairly uniform. (4) The Alluvial Lands, which may be subdivided into the cotton and cane districts. (5) Texas. These different districts will be treated separately, except Texas, which is not included.

In summing up this chapter it may be said that the location of the mass of the Negro farmers has been indicated, and also the fact that there is a separation between the whites and the blacks which promises to have important bearing on future progress, while the various agricultural districts offer opportunities by no means uniform.