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Coping with Poverty and Prejudice: How Rural Blacks Adapt Environmentally to the Constraints of Society, 1978

Author(s): Brian Douglas Sullivan
  • Type: Thesis
  • Researcher: Other Researchers
  • Timeline: 1970s
  • Affiliation: Student


This thesis is concerned with examining the effects of poverty and prejudice on the environmental structure of rural blacks, their homes, their communities, the people and their social networks. The intention of the study is to present an accurate portrayal of the generators of the rural blacks' environment, a portrayal which would help to eliminate many of the misunderstandings presently held about blacks.

Rural low-income blacks generally lack control over or access to the distribution or use of resources. Because of this lack of control, they are not involved in the making of the majority of decisions that affect their environment. However, in Kent County, Maryland, which is the focus of this study, the rural blacks live in segregated communities that were established in the late 19th century. Because of the nature and age of the communities, the blacks have control over many decisions affecting their local environment --  though they are still severely restricted by  the constraints of society in such areas as job  opportunities. Control and lack of control are important generators in the environment. This thesis discusses the effects of both the "external" controls --  that is, those of society--and "internal" controls on the rural black's environmental structure.

The study offers an analysis of the development of the rural black environment and the physical, social, political and economic  factors that influenced their development. To do this, the major portion of the study is concerned with documenting the existing environments that surround the family and working life of selected rural blhcks. Presented are: the description of three types of rural black communities; the relationships between the form of the communities, the family, the church, and the social networks; the homes and their use; as well as the constraints of society and how blacks cope with them to generate their own "sub-culture" and their own set of controls.

The data of the study is drawn mostly from interviews conducted with 20 individuals in 15 households. The research concentrated on four communities of differing character to examine the effects of different factors --  e.g., land ownership -- on the structure of the communities.

The study concludes with a chapter that isolates the major problems that exist in the rural blacks' environment and then makes some preliminary suggestions for approaches for solving those problems. It is hoped that this study can aid local officials and planners in rural areas in their work with the poor. It is also hoped that the methodology used will be helpful to professionals throughout the country in their attempts to deal with any group of people, not only the poor or rural blacks.

Sullivan, Brian Douglas. "Coping with Poverty and Prejudice: How Rural Blacks Adapt Environmentally to the Constraints of Society." MArch Thesis. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1978.