Alabama’s Black Belt, With Its Rich Civil Rights Legacy, Named National Heritage Area

The region played a central role in the Civil Rights Movement, from the Montgomery bus boycotts to the training of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.

President Joe Biden signed bipartisan legislation Friday (Jan. 6) that designates Alabama’s Black Belt region, with its rich history in the Civil Rights Movement, as a National Heritage Area.

As of 2022, there were only 55 designated National Heritage Areas, populated areas where historic, cultural, and natural resources form a nationally important space.

“For the first time, many historic areas in the Black Belt will be designated as a National Heritage Area, freeing up additional federal resources for historic preservation, tourism, and economic development,” Alabama’s U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement on Dec. 22 after the House voted 326 to 95 to pass the measure that passed unanimously in the Senate.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Biden’s signature represented the successful culmination of an advocacy campaign by the Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area Task Force that began in 2004.

“As the birthplace of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights movements, the Black Belt is where some of the most consequential chapters of American history played out,” Sewell continued. “As a proud daughter of the Black Belt, I’m thrilled that this region will be getting the national recognition it deserves, and I remain endlessly grateful to my colleagues for their support in this worthwhile endeavor!”

Living the Dream: Rep. Terri Sewell

Alabama’s Black Belt area is a portion of the national Black Belt region that stretches from Texas to Virginia and named for its dark, fertile soil, according to the University of Alabama’s Center for Economic Development.

This region, located in the state’s mid-section, played a central role in the Civil Rights Movement, where civil rights workers courageously registered voters, the Montgomery bus boycotts took place and the Tuskegee Airmen trained for air combat in World War II.

Today, the area is in “a state of economic depression, underemployment, and poor social services,” according to UA’s economic development center.

The University of West Alabama and the National Park Service will develop a management plan for how to utilize the annual federal funds for the area.

“Our new heritage area will not only provide a platform in which to showcase the rich culture, history and natural resources of the region, but it will ensure a space in which we can all learn and appreciate our shared heritage,” Tina Naremore Jones, vice president for economic and workforce development at the University of West Alabama, said, according to the Montgomery Adviser.

“In addition, heritage areas generate positive economic impact by building local capacity through the leveraging of shared resources. At UWA, we look forward to building on the relationships that have formed as part of these shared efforts towards designation. This is an exciting day for our region.”

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.