Alabama's Black Belt area is part of a larger, national Black Belt region that stretches from Texas to Virginia. This region has historically been home to "the richest soil and the poorest people" in the United States, as noted by Arthur Raper in his 1936 study Preface to Peasantry.
From DeSoto's meeting with Tuscaloosa to the birth of the Confederacy and the civil rights struggles of the mid-twentieth century, some of the nation's most significant historical events occurred in the region. Orginally, the term "Black Belt" referred to the exceptionally fertile black soil that encouraged early pioneers in the 1820s and 1830s to settle Alabama and construct a network of cotton plantations that held half of Alabama's enslaved population. During this time, the Black Belt was one of the wealthiest and most politically powerful regions in the United States. Its commerce elevated Montgomery, Selma, and Demopolis into some of the most affluent towns in the nation.
When the Civil War began in 1861, Montgomery was chosen as the first capital of the Confederacy. In recent decades, the region has been known for the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1950s and 1960s, long-oppressed African Americans in Alabama's Black Belt enacted some of the most crucial events of the modern American freedom struggle.