House passes legislation to create Black Belt National Heritage Area

Published: Jul. 21, 2022 at 6:58 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama’s Black Belt is one step closer to becoming a National Heritage Area. These areas are established by congress and receive up to $1 million in federal funding annually to preserve important sites. Congresswoman Terri Sewell sponsored the legislation to make the Black Belt eligible for such funding.

For the last decade, groups have surveyed the region for evidence to prove why the Black Belt should become the state’s next National Heritage Area. Tina Jones is over economic & workforce development at the University of West Alabama.

“We were looking at the cultural, historical, and natural resources of the region, and how they are assets to the community,” said Jones.

Jones helped lead the research and says it also gave people a chance to tell stories beyond the civil rights movement.

“A timeline of when the first human footprints stepped on this and the interaction between man and the land,” said Jones.

Locations in the 19 counties were determined by natural resources, education and cultural sites, civil rights movement sites, and artistic expression sites.

“As a daughter of Alabama’s historic Black Belt, I am proud to be the lead sponsor of this legislation to ensure that this region’s meaningful history is preserved for generations to come,” said Congresswoman Terri Sewell.

Sewell introduced this legislation over a year ago and partnered with UWA to bring this legislation to the table. If the bill makes it to the President’s desk for signage, the region could receive up to one million in federal funding annually.

“A visitor and even an individual who lives here has a much richer experience because they can begin to make those connections easier,” said Jones.

“But it will also increase tourism, investment, and economic opportunities to many of the rural communities that I so proudly represent,” said Sewell.

There are nearly 500 places listed in the study, from a bakery in Sumter County to the Tuskegee National Forest, that help make the case for just how influential the Black Belt is to the nation.

The timeline for when the Senate will vote on the bill is unclear. Sewell’s office tells us they’ve spoken with outgoing Senator Richard Shelby about getting the legislation brought up sooner rather than later.

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