Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, on Thursday introduced the Black Belt National Heritage Area Act, legislation that would designate areas within the 19 counties in Alabama’s Black Belt as a National Heritage Area. The act was also introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, and Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama.
The “Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act” would allow federal funding to be directed to the designated region over the span of 15 years. Through public-private partnerships, National Heritage Areas are able to leverage funding for long-term projects that have substantial economic and environmental benefits.
“As a proud product of Alabama’s historic Black Belt, I am honored to be introducing the Black Belt as a National Heritage Area Act to ensure that this region’s meaningful history is preserved for generations to come,” Sewell said. “Not only will it help protect our past, but it will also pave the way for a more prosperous future by providing greater tourism and economic opportunities for residents in the Black Belt.”
“Designating Alabama’s Black Belt region as a National Heritage Area will not only help generate tourism and economic activity in the area, but it will also give the public a greater understanding of the natural, historical, and cultural assets our state has to offer,” Shelby said. “This legislation has the potential to impact several future generations and is an important step toward promoting and preserving the diverse resources that exist throughout the Black Belt’s 19 counties.”
“Alabama’s Black Belt region played a central role in both the history of our great state and our country,” Tuberville said. “We cannot lose sight of the Black Belt’s significant impact in the civil rights movement and the fact that this area is home to some of our state’s most celebrated cultural figures. That’s why I’m honored to join Senator Shelby to authorize these 19 counties in the state as a National Heritage Area. This designation will ensure we can protect this region’s historical significance for generations to come.”
“Alabama’s historic Black Belt region is where some of the most consequential chapters of American history history played out,” Sewell said. “As the birthplace of the civil and voting rights movements, the Black Belt represents the tireless efforts of the Foot Soldier’s to end discrimination against African Americans and the continued struggle for full racial equality in our Nation.”
National Heritage Areas are established by Congress for the purpose of assisting efforts to protect and promote communities that are regarded as distinctive because of their culture, history, resources and environment. These historic areas are authorized to receive up to $1 million in federal funding annually to preserve, protect and promote important sites. Under the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act, the University of West Alabama would collaborate with the National Park Service and Black Belt communities to determine a strategic management plan.
Tina Naremore Jones is the vice president of the Division of Economics Workforce Development at the University of West Alabama.
“The story of Alabama’s Black Belt could not be more relevant with ongoing conversations exploring the multifaceted aspects of our country’s past, present and future,” Jones said. “For Alabama’s Black Belt with its famously rich soils and landscapes have had a profound impact on the culture, history and politics of this country. Through designation as a National Heritage Area, we can shine a spotlight on these stories and bring them to prominence and ensure that future generations cannot only learn but appreciate our shared heritage. Designation is also important in that it helps us continue to build local capacity through shared resources. Our grassroots organizations have been steadfast supporters of this effort, and we are thankful for Congresswoman Sewell and Senator Shelby’s leadership in moving this legislation forward.”
“By calling for an Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area, Congresswoman Terri Sewell and Senator Richard Shelby have taken a stand for centuries of rich Alabama history and breathtaking Southern lands and waters, including the last remaining prairie east of the Mississippi River,” said Emily Jones, Southeast regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “The Alabama Black Belt was named for its soil, but this region has also served as fertile ground for Black history and the Civil Rights Movement. Civil rights leaders like John Lewis put blood, sweat, and tears into their work to organize and register Black voters here in the 1960s. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that we honor their contributions to the ongoing fight for the American right to vote.”
“This new National Heritage Area would help local organizations work to protect Alabama history and natural resources, and generate economic growth in the Black Belt region,” Emily Jones said. “A new designation would help raise the profile of the beautiful Talladega and Tuskegee National Forests, the Cahaba, Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, and the Choctaw and Cahaba National Wildlife Refuges, as well as tell important stories of civil rights activism, and the forced removal of Native tribes from this land.”
The intended heritage area includes Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Washington and Wilcox counties. The legislation names the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at the University of West Alabama as the local management entity. The designation of a local entity, like UWA, ensures its ability to address the interests and needs of those in the surrounding communities.
NHAs are partnerships between the National Park Service, states, and local entities to protect and support conservation and public access. Through these public-private partnerships, NHAs create a diverse, community-driven approach to increase heritage conservation, economic development, recreation and tourism. Currently, the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area is the only NHA in the state.
Shelby introduced similar legislation during the 113th Congress and the 116th Congress.