History

Cotton and Cretaceous Geography Favor Obama for President

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cotton and Obama

The black dots represent cotton production in the 1860s—each dot is 2,000 bushels bales. The blue counties went for Obama in 2008.

One of the commenters on the excellent Strange Maps site, whence this map came, notes that the history of this slice of land goes back even further:

These areas are still used predominantly for agriculture, and they actually have a name: the "black belt," which refers both to the region's rich, loamy soils and to its demographics.

So, in addition to seeing this swoosh-shaped pattern in political maps and in maps of 1860 cotton production, you'll also note it in soil maps and in geological maps of shorelines in the Cretaceous Period.


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  1. Thanks Katherine, those maps were fascinating. Amazing how geology and geography have such far-reaching effects.

  2. Hilarious, but not very enlightening considering most of those states went Republican. Just another method of pointing out that blacks voted for Obama. Unsurprisingly.

  3. Err, there are a lot of dot clusters in red counties. Where they happen to coincide are in more densely populated areas, which tend to vote D for unrelated reasons.

    In other words, if you hadn’t told me what this map was supposed to show, I would have no idea what it was supposed to show.

  4. No shit, sherlock.

  5. I’m just going to hazard a guess that high-cotton production areas also had large black populations. Not a certainty, just a guess.
    Oh, yeah, and they say it in the article.

  6. Dammit, Hazel beat me to the obvious insight!

  7. One slight nit-pick: each dot is 2000 bales, not bushels. 2000 bushels is only a few acres’ production.

  8. Fascinating stuff KM-W.

    I find it remarkable that–Great Migration aside– so much of the Africa-American population hasn’t moved more than a few miles from where their enslaved ancestors lived.I’m well aware of it,having lived and traveled throughout much of the South throughout my life,
    I still find it a remarkable cultural phenomenon.

  9. The conspiracy goes back further than we thought!

  10. Black people voted for Obama?!?!?!

    I am appalled at the accusation!

  11. SIV,
    Not really that surprising. A lot of southern whites have lived in the same general areas for generations too.

  12. Indeed, for most of history following the development of agriculture, most people have been fairly stationary.

  13. The most obvious outlier is the large extent of cotton production around the all red counties of the Pulaski area in Tennessee, which IIRC is a pretty white area. Anybody know the deal there? Seems they must have had a large cotton economy without much of a slave population.

  14. cunnivore – the coincidence of high cotton production and Obama voting (read: majority black citizenry) is not at all limited to high density areas. The delta and the swath of black belt through central Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are, for the most part, sparsely populated and very rural.

  15. I must be something in the water soil.

  16. This map is racist.

  17. Cotton makes people believe in Jebus. Jebus lovers liked Obama more than McCain because Obama is more Jebusy (as proven by 20 years in an arm-shaking Jebus-feelin church)

  18. The ‘Cretaceous Period’?
    Is that before the Flood (shown on your map)?

  19. Hogan, fair enough. But there are red counties in even the most densely dotted areas, and among the medium-density areas there are about the same number of reds and blues. Like I said, I wouldn’t have known what the map purported to show unless someone explained it to me.

  20. The most obvious outlier is the large extent of cotton production around the all red counties of the Pulaski area in Tennessee, which IIRC is a pretty white area. Anybody know the deal there? Seems they must have had a large cotton economy without much of a slave population.

    North Alabama and south Tennessee were not, relatively speaking, strong slaveholding areas and tended to have relatively larger populations of poor white sharecroppers.

  21. If the counties are labeled by their black population percentages rather than their voting preferences, I think the same point gets made more clearly.

  22. I find it remarkable that–Great Migration aside– so much of the Africa-American population hasn’t moved more than a few miles from where their enslaved ancestors lived.I’m well aware of it,having lived and traveled throughout much of the South throughout my life,
    I still find it a remarkable cultural phenomenon.

    While living on Maryland’s eastern shore (not by choice) I listened to a guy proudly exclaim “My family has been here for six generations!”

    My immediate thought was stupidity is hereditary.

  23. Question of the Night: Is stupidity hereditary?

  24. “The most obvious outlier is the large extent of cotton production around the all red counties of the Pulaski area in Tennessee, which IIRC is a pretty white area.”

    Pulaski was the birthplace of the KKK, I’d imagine freed slaves got the hell out of there.

    Personal anecdote. My grandfather’s cotton farms are in a blue area,I can attest the black population is what swings an otherwise conservative area. There’s a historical plantation just outside an all black neighborhood. It’s weird.

  25. SIV,

    I find it remarkable that–Great Migration aside– so much of the Africa-American population hasn’t moved more than a few miles from where their enslaved ancestors lived.I’m well aware of it,having lived and traveled throughout much of the South throughout my life,
    I still find it a remarkable cultural phenomenon.

    It is striking, but it makes intuitive sense. I can think of a lot of reasons why a black person in the rural South might move to the North. I can think of a lot of reasons why such a person might move to the big city in their own state or a nearby state. But why would a black person in the rural south who wants to live in a rural area in the south not just stay in their home county, where they know the people and the business and everything? And if they ARE going to move to another rural area in the south, it’s pretty likely they’re going to go somewhere where they have friends and relatives.

  26. It really shouldn’t be a shock that black people still live where black people used to live. Even if half of the blacks in the rural south move somewhere else, the ones who remain will reproduce, thereby producing – more black people.

    The only way those demographics would change is if there’s a large-scale movement of whites into areas that are historically black and poor. I for one am hardly shocked that this hasn’t happened.

  27. I find it somewhat counter-intuitive joe. a lot of blacks continued to work the same area as tenant farmers or sharecroppers into the mid 20th Century then there was a substantial disruption with changes in land use and mechanized agriculture.Portions of the South abound in community place names with no standing structures and abandoned cemeteries are common.I think there must be a connection with Black land ownership and a light scattered industrial economy that carried over from the shift away from agricultural labor as well as other cultural factors.

    A counter example is the depopulated wastelands of the Plains States that once had a large immigrant agricultural population.

  28. Also interesting that there are black communities in, for example, Leon County FL (Tallahassee) that just consist of very few folks living clustered around nodes within the boundaries of former plantation in what are otherwise heavily white, suburban parts of the county. (eg. Lake Iamonia and China Doll/Louis John Lane). In these situations, AFAIK, the community is carried on directly from what was left of the slave area of the plantation after the war. Presumably some former slaves got title to land around the sharecropping era, and their descendants have stuck around.

  29. SIV,

    But even if former black communities were disappearing, and the overall population of the area declining, they would remain black areas unless white people moved in, even if they became black areas with half the population. And it’s not likely that people would be moving into areas that are being depopulated by economic forces.

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  31. Let me see if I understand.

    Areas that produced a lot of Cotton in 1860 harbor a preponderance of Obama supporters. Thanks for that insight. So, Obama panders to cotton-pickers; wow, ain’t science grand?

  32. wayne,
    I doubt most of them are cotton-pickers anymore.

  33. I guess one of the things that is sort of interesting is that the distribution of black people is largely determined by soil characteristics. Which is determined by shorelines in the cretaceous period.

    Sort of like Shorelines —> Rich soil —> Cotton Plantations + Slaves —> Majority black population

    If you were a space alien you might think that the soil content made people black.

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