Washington, D.C. — On Thursday, December 22, 2022, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) celebrated as her bill, H.R. 3222, the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act, passed the House and Senate. The legislation will designate the 14 counties of Alabama’s Black Belt as a National Heritage Area, preserving the rich history of the region while creating new funding and tourism opportunities.
In H.R. 3222, nineteen counties are listed in the heritage area, including:
Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Washington, and Wilcox counties in the State, as generally depicted on the map. Five of these counties were left out of the amended version. At press time we could not determine the final list of counties.
H.R. 3222 passed the House in July 2022 by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 365-57. An amended version was included in S. 1942, the National Heritage Act, which passed the Senate unanimously on December 20, 2022. Today, the House passed the amended version by a vote of 326 to 95, sending it to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
“Today is a truly historic day for Alabama’s Black Belt!” celebrated Rep. Sewell. “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. Passage of this bill is the culmination of years of tireless advocacy and negotiation on behalf of the residents of the Black Belt!”
“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,” continued Sewell.
“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!”
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.
“Designating Alabama’s Black Belt as a National Heritage Area is a tremendous achievement and marks the culmination of more than a decade of work and support by countless volunteers and organizations not only across the Black Belt but from throughout the State of Alabama and across the nation,” said Dr. Tina Naremore Jones, Assistant Provost and Vice President for Economic and Workforce Development at the University of West Alabama. “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.”
“This designation starts a new chapter for us and provides confirmation that this region with its famously rich soils and landscapes and its undeniably complex history has even more to contribute to the American story,” continued Jones. “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. 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.”
“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,” said Jones. “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.