Has the Afro-American Nation 'Disappeared?'

Revolutionary Political Organization/Marxist-Leninist

Among the so-called Marxists who deny the national rights of the Afro-American people, there is one camp that claims that the Afro-American Nation has never existed and another camp that admits it did exist at one time, but has since ceased to exist. The second group does not want to openly dispute the position of Lenin, Stalin and the Comintern, which clearly recognized the Afro-American people as a nation. But they point to the great migration of Afro-American people out of the South and claim that since the time of the Comintern the Afro-American Nation has "dispersed." Is it possible that the migration of Afro-American people out of the South to the industrial centers of the North and West has led to the disappearance of the Afro-American Nation? Certainly there have been great changes, but an examination of the 1980 population statistics shows that in the Black Belt territory of the South a region of Afro-American majority still exists and that this region is still the home of the greatest concentration of Afro-American people in the country. This is the territory of the Afro-American Nation, the homeland of the Afro-American people.

In his book, The Negro Question in the United States, James Allen presented the basic thesis of the Communist Party USA during the years that it recognized the right of the Afro-American Nation to self-determination. In this book Allen defined, in the most scientific terms yet seen, the approximate territory of the Afro-American Nation, the region traditionally known as the "Black Belt South." Allen grouped together 321 counties in 12 states as the Black Belt territory, basing this on both the concentration of Afro-American population and on the existence of the plantation economy. This was a continuous territory of Afro-American majority from Maryland to Texas. Beyond this region, he delineated a "Border Territory" which had a large Afro-American population and some characteristics of the plantation economy and was closely tied to the Black Belt region politically and economically. The extent of these territories is outlined on the map [at the bottom].

At that time, the Afro-American population of the Black Belt numbered approximately 4,790,000 and represented about 40% of the Afro-American population in the United States. An additional 20% of the Afro-American population lived in the Border Territory. The extent of the migration out of the South since this time is presented in Chart No. 1, which compares Allen's figures (based on the 1930 census) with figures gathered from the 1980 census.

Chart 1 Distribution of Afro-American Population 1930-1980*

1930

1980

Region

Number

% of Afro-American Population in the U.S.

Number

% of Afro-American Population in the U.S.

Black Belt

4,790,049

40.3%

5,033,567

19.0%

Border Territory

2,358,302

19.8%

4,551,016

17.2%

South (other than above**)

1,627,493

13.8%

3,383,392

12.8%

Non-South

3,115,299

26.1%

13,520,243

51.0%

Total

11,894,143

100.0%

26,488,218

100.00%

* This data is based on James Allen, The Negro Question in the United States, International Publishers, New York (1936) and on the 1980 Census of Population and Housing, Advance Reports, published by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Allen's figures are based on the 1930 Census reports. The U.S. Census, by its own admission, greatly undercounts the population of Afro-Americans and other national minorities. It has been proven by successful challenges in the bourgeois courts that the 1980 Census, in particular, undercounted Afro-Americans. Therefore, the Afro-American population should be assumed to be larger, even much larger, than Census Bureau statistics indicate. Because undercounting has occurred particularly in the rural areas of the Black Belt South (where the census is largely taken by mail), the Afro-American population of this region should be considered larger, in absolute terms, and be a greater proportion of the overall population of the Black Belt, than the Census Bureau statistics indicate. In addition, the overall Afro-American population of the United States should be considered greater than indicated. Also, because a number of counties have been reorganized since 1930, it was impossible to get a completely accurate population count to compare with the 1930 figures without additional research. Therefore, the figures should be seen as approximate.

**In this chart we refer to "the South" as those 12 states, portions of which lie in the Black Belt: Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. The Census Bureau also includes Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma in its designation of "the South."

The figures on this chart show the results of the large-scale migration of Afro-Americans to the industrial centers of the North and West. While in 1930, only 26% of the Afro-American population lived outside the South, today just over half (51.04%) do. The Afro-American population in the Black Belt territory has declined from 40% of the total Afro-American population to 19% today. However, many of those who have left the rural areas of the Black Belt have not left the region altogether, but have moved to the large Southern cities in the Border Territory which have historically been closely tied to the Black Belt. Indeed, many of these cities, including Birmingham, Richmond, Atlanta and Baltimore have become majority Black in recent years. Today, over 9,584,000 Afro-Americans live in the Black Belt and Border Territory, making up over 36% of the total Afro-American population. Over 5,000,000 Afro-Americans live in the Black Belt homeland itself. By comparison, 1,784,124 Afro-Americans live in New York City, the largest concentration outside the Black Belt; 1,197,000 live in Chicago; and 758,939 live in Detroit. Approximately one out of every five Afro-Americans lives in the Black Belt and two out of every five in the Black Belt and border regions.

There have never been more Afro-Americans living in the Black Belt than there are today. Chart No. 2 illustrates the stability of Afro-Americans in the Black Belt since the days of slavery.

Chart 2

Afro-American Population of the Black Belt 1860-1980

Census Year

Afro-American Population

1980

5,033,567

1930

4,790,049

1920

4,806,565

1910

4,842,766

1900

4,488,911

1890

3,866,792

1880

3,466,924

1870

2,560,263

1860

2,461,099

Data from Allen and the 1980 Census

It is not surprising that the Afro-American population In the Black Belt has not grown considerably since the turn of the century. Despite the fact that the capitalist transformation of agriculture in the Black Belt region has been extremely slow, and feudal remnants (some sharecropping and labor service for rural semi-proletarians) exist to this day, this transformation has been and is taking place. Hundreds of thousands of sharecroppers and small landowners have been driven off the land. At the same time, because of the policy of U.S. imperialism, the Black Belt region lags way behind the rest of the U.S. in modern industry. It remains the poorest region of the country with the exception of the homelands of the Chicano and Native American peoples. Without industry, the region cannot possibly support a larger population. Hence the tremendous migration. This is not unusual in the least: imperialism draws immigrant workers from underdeveloped subject nations throughout the world. In the case of Puerto Rico, over one third of the population has been drawn to New York City, Chicago and the other major cities in the U.S., but this does not change the fact that Puerto Rico remains the homeland of the Puerto Rican people! The same holds true for the Afro-American Nation. Even though the majority of the Afro-American people live outside the territory of their homeland, they still have strong family and social ties to the Black Belt region. And there remains in the Black Belt homeland a stable Afro-American population which is in fact growing, if only slightly. In the conditions of capital accumulation, economic crisis and stagnation that exist today, the outward migration from the South appears to have been reversed. The Census Bureau estimates that between 1975 and 1980, 195,000 more Afro-Americans returned to the South than left it.*** This reverse migration can be traced in part to the movement of capital from the North to the South in recent years, resulting in the return of the Afro-American workers to their homeland because of the lack of jobs in the industrial centers of the North.

*** American Demographics, October. 1982. p. 19

The question remains: is the Black Belt territory, as defined by Allen, still an area of Afro-American majority? There is no question but that the percentage of Afro-Americans in this territory in relation to Anglo-Americans has declined. But this decline can be easily exaggerated and misrepresented. Taking the 321 Black Belt counties identified by Allen, the Afro-American percentage of the population has declined from 60% in 1900 to just over 38% today. But this figure is misleading.

We know that the Census Bureau consistently undercounts Afro-Americans, but there are other considerations as well. The actual territory of the Black Belt is not defined by county lines. Many counties include a portion of the Black Belt and a portion outside the Black Belt. Pickens County in Alabama, for instance, is by Census Bureau statistics only 41.8% Afro-American. But this overall figure obscures the fact that the southern part of the county, which lies within the Black Belt, is overwhelmingly Afro-American (maybe 80%), while the northern part of the county, which is outside the Black Belt, is the home of the majority of the white population. The boundaries of the Black Belt territory, while they do not follow county lines, are nevertheless stable and the regions of Afro-American concentration are virtually identical to what they were during Reconstruction over a century ago.

This territory remains a region of Black majority. Even if we restrict ourselves to overall county statistics, as we were forced to do for this study because of time constraints, the heart of the Black Belt region, consisting of approximately 150 counties in ten states, remains a region of Black majority. The Afro-American population of these counties in the heart of the Black Belt alone numbers well over 2,000,000. But the true region of Black majority extends beyond these counties and includes large sections of all the surrounding counties. Therefore, we believe the figure of 5,000,000 (roughly the Afro-American population of the 321 counties identified by Allen as Black Belt counties) is a reasonable estimate of the Afro-American population of the region of Black majority.

The five million Afro-Americans that live in the Black Belt territory can by no means be considered a "small" population. Many sovereign nations have smaller populations, including Albania, Costa Rica, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Ireland, Finland, Jamaica, Jordan, Lebanon, Laos, Libya, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Somalia and Uruguay. The territory of the Black Belt is considerable, with ports on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and, likewise, is larger than the territory of many sovereign nations.

We do not propose in this article to try to lay out definite borders of the Afro-American nation. These will be determined in the future. Under socialism, the borders of an Afro-American Republic, guaranteeing an Afro-American majority, will be drawn up scientifically, based on national composition as well as economic and political factors and the desires of the local population.

The experience of the Soviet Union during the period of socialist construction is instructive on the question of establishing truly democratic national frontiers under socialism. The primary factor in drawing these boundaries was to respect the national rights of the formerly oppressed peoples, and there was no stipulation that nations had to have a tremendous population or make up an overwhelming majority of the population in a particular national territory in order to be guaranteed all national rights, including the right to secede. Take the following example: the Kirgizia people of Central Asia numbered only 661,000 when the Kirgizia Republic was formed in 1926 and they made up only 66% of the population of the Republic.

The approach taken by those who would deny the Afro-American people their national rights on the pretext the Afro-American nation has been "dispersed" is fundamentally erroneous, chauvinist and reactionary. Facts show that the Afro-American nation, which has suffered the most unbearable plunder and restriction of its political rights, continues to exist. It has all the main objective requisites necessary for the establishment of a separate national state if it so chooses.

Black Belt and Border Territory
Reproduced from James Allen, The Negro Question in the United States

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