Lawmakers introduce bill to designate Alabama’s Black Belt as a National Heritage Area

Black Belt
[Photo Credit: Alabama Public Television]

Members of the Alabama delegation in both the U.S. House and Senate on Friday introduced the Alabama Black Belt Heritage Act, legislation that would designate the 19 counties in Alabama’s Black Belt as a National Heritage Area. Through public-private partnerships, National Heritage Areas are able to leverage funding for long-term projects that have substantial economic, environmental and community benefits.

In the House, the efforts to introduce H.R. 5989 was led by 7th District U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell along with her Alabama colleagues 2nd District U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, 3rd District U.S. Rep Mike Rogers, and 4th District U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt.

“As the birthplace of America’s civil and voting rights movements, Alabama’s Black Belt has played an incredibly important role in shaping our nation’s history,” Sewell said. “The Alabama Black Belt Heritage Act will help make available more resources to ensure the sites and stories of the civil rights and voting rights movements are preserved for future generations. That preservation will, in turn, provide greater tourism and economic opportunities for residents in the Black Belt. As a proud product of Alabama’s Black Belt, I am honored to be the lead sponsor on this legislation and thrilled to be joined by my Alabama colleagues in this effort.”

“Preserving the rich culture and history of Alabama’s Black Belt is of great importance to the entire state,” added Aderholt. “I commend Representative Sewell for her hard work on this legislation and look forward to the Black Belt joining Muscle Shoals in being designated as a National Heritage Area.”

In the U.S. Senate, both Alabama Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones introduced the House companion bill, S.3363.

“Designating Alabama’s Black Belt region as a National Heritage Area will not only promote tourism, but it will also increase public awareness of the natural, historical, and cultural assets our state has to offer,” Shelby said in a statement. “Investing in this region to preserve these unique and diverse resources is important for future generations.  If passed, this legislation could have significant impact for years to come.”

“Alabama’s Black Belt counties were originally named due to the area’s rich, black topsoil,” explained Jones.  “While that is still an accurate depiction of the area, another is of the Black Belt’s rich history and culture.  The 19 counties that make up Alabama’s Black Belt has been home to some of our greatest artists, writers, and leaders.  This legislation will help preserve and celebrate this historic region through much needed investment.”

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 Heritage Act, the University of West Alabama would collaborate with the National Park Service and Black Belt communities to determine a strategic management plan. 

“The National Parks Conservation Association commends Congresswoman Terri Sewell for her leadership in calling for Congress to designate the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area,” said Alan Spears, Senior Director of Cultural Resources for National Parks Conservation Association. “With additional technical assistance from the National Park Service and federal funding, the Alabama Black Belt will be better-equipped to safeguard important ecological and cultural resources for generations to come. We expect this support will generate economic growth for a region rising above hardship.

The Alabama Black Belt Heritage Act is available here.