The Southern Crescent

Communities in the rural American South are withering and disintegrating.  Children who grow up in these areas move away for jobs and opportunities.  In turn, that takes away the best and brightest who could help lead rural areas to new successes.  Rural Southern schools tend to have fewer resources to keep children abreast of better educational tools.  Hospitals and health resources are increasingly stretched.  New jobs are scarce.  Poverty persists, as it has for generations.

The Southern Crescent project of the Center for a Better South is a catalyst for fresh ideas and research that seeks to engage people from Tidewater Virginia through Alabama to build more opportunities in areas that have been left behind for decades. The project seeks to draw attention to underserved areas of the American South to help coordinate better delivery of services to the area’s people.

As part of the Southern Crescent project, the Center has been a leader in winning approval and working to implement the federally-designated S.C. Lowcountry Promise Zone, a collaborative effort among more than 40 partners and supporters to win federal and other grant funding to reduce poverty, grow jobs, boost safety, improve education and more in six southern counties of South Carolina.

Goals of the Southern Crescent project

In the near term, the project seeks engagement and funding to move forward with three specific tasks:

  • Document the quality of life in the Southern Crescent via documentary photography and promote it in media and to other audiences through this site.   Op-eds have run in the Atlanta Constitution and other Southern newspapers.  Also in place: Detailed demographic maps and a short video (above) that outlines the challenges of the Crescent region to show who the region needs more attention from state and federal policymakers.
  • Engage thinkers, nonprofits, and regional and national foundations to fund and coordinate research and implement good ideas to promote more opportunities in Crescent areas.  This work includes projects like the Promise Zone that seeks new ways to coordinate better delivery of needed services in the region to infuse dynamism.  We’d like to expand this effort across other parts of the Crescent.
  • Collaborate with state and national leaders to get a special study commission appointed by the White House to recommend federal-state policies and ideas to raise standards of living in the Crescent.

Where is the Southern Crescent?

2008_povertyThe Southern Crescent is a geographic area that stretches from the Tidewater part of eastern Virgina southward through the Carolinas along Interstate 95.  It then turns west through Georgia and lower Alabama before curling northwesterly to the Mississippi Delta.

Home to millions, this soft underbelly of the American South has been underserved for generations.  It has a higher than normal incidence of poverty, unemployment and health problems that stretch through nine states.

You can see the Southern Crescent in these two maps. The first highlights poverty in 2008 in the Crescent area with the darker red indicating a higher percentage of people living in poverty.

1860_slavery_smYou can see the same hook-shaped figure in maps of the South various data sets, including unemployment, number of single parent families, rate of people not graduating from high school and various health indices including heart disease, chlamydia, obesity and diabetes.

The second map highlights something even more compelling.  It shows where slaves lived in the 1860 Census with a higher number dwelling in the Crescent region.