I vividly remember a conversation I had when abroad once - South Africa as it happens. I was out there on a volunteer experience for a couple of months and at the time I was sitting around drinking with a group of people from the hostel I was staying in. I was asked where I was from and I replied "The Black Country."
What followed next was a group of ten or twelve people staring at me with horrified expressions on their faces and me staring back equally as horrified!
They thought I had just been incredibly racist and I couldn't believe that nobody had heard of what has been the beloved home of my family for generations upon generations.
The Black Country you see has nothing to do with race and everything to do with smoke!
Once an agricultural region way back when in the Middle Ages (towns such as Cradley, Dudley, Smethwick and Halesowen were all in fact mentioned in the Domesday book), the Black Country gained its name thanks to hundreds of coal mines and iron works that dominated it's skyline during the rise of the Industrial Revolution, producing high levels of air pollution. In 1862 the American Consul to Birmingham Elihu Burritt, described the area as "black by day and red by night," and Queen Victoria was rumoured to have demanded her carriage curtains by shut as she passed through, lest she look upon the depressing scene.
Today the forges of old have all gone, leaving behind a wealth of history (did you know for example, that the chains and anchor of the ill fated Titanic were manufactured in Netherton in the Black Country) and some of the most beautiful areas of English countryside.
There is much lively debate about which of the surrounding towns should be encompassed under the Black Country flag. Traditionalists would argue that it should only cover West Bromwich, Oldbury, Blackheath, Cradley Heath, Bilston, Dudley, Wednesfield and parts of Halesowen -where coal seams once lay- but the general consensus is that the four metropolitan council areas of Wolverhampton, Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall are the key areas under The Black Country banner.