A good portion of the Yonder staff (me, Julie and faithful dog Rico) have been traveling through the Deep South on a holiday trip, so this map caught my eye. It shows the relationship between cotton picking in 1860 and the presidential election in 2008.

The map comes from Allen Gathman, who noticed a familiar pattern in the county-by-county map of the 2008 election. Gathman collected a map showing the location of cotton production on the eve of the Civil War. Each dot represents the production of 2,000 bales of cotton. There are interesting clusters of cotton production — in the Delta, of course, but also in a band across Alabama and in a spot in south-central Tennessee.

This map was laid over the red and blue county map from the presidential election that took place in November, 148 years later. The darker the red or blue, the stronger the vote for either Sen. John McCain or Sen. Barack Obama.

There’s clearly a correlation, which is, of course, the presence of African-Americans. African-Americans were unwilling participants in the cotton economy of the 19th century. And even though millions of former slaves (and the descendants of slaves) left cotton country for the cities in the Great Migration of last century, the residential patterns enforced originally by slavery have persisted.

So, in 2008, African-Americans were the willing participants in the election of the nation’s first Black president. Economist Richard Florida calls this a clear case of path dependency — or, as Gathman put it, (quoting Willliam Faulkner), “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

Below are the two maps separated.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.