“Rollin’ on the River”: what economic and political factors caused restoration of service for the Gee’s Bend public ferry?

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This article presents a case study on the efforts to reestablish ferry service for an isolated island-type community in Wilcox County, Alabama, known as Gee’s Bend or by the formal name of Boykin. Gee’s Bend, a community of inhabitants who can trace their ancestry to slaves on the antebellum plantation there, depended on the ferry to provide access to the county seat of Camden, the center for social and economic activity. There was no ferry between 1962 and 2006. For forty-four years the ferry did not operate, having had its’ cable deliberately cut so that Gee’s Bend residents could not get to Camden to register to vote. It was an attempt to lessen the political power of the African-Americans in the area. This article explains the key economic and political factors that resulted in restoration of service for the Gee’s Bend ferry.

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    • Figure 1. Counties in Alabama’s Black Belt (grey)
    • Table 1. Traditional Black Belt counties and percentage of African-Americans
    • Table 2. Estimated Federal grants for the Gee’s Bend Ferry