Honoring the Last of the Old South
The Alabama Black Belt
For some, the Alabama Black Belt Region evokes a place: a crescent-shaped band of rich, dark topsoil. But, contrastingly enough, a band of the richest soil with the poorest people; a region known for persistent poverty, low levels of education, and high rates of unemployment. For others, it brings to mind not just a region but an era: the 19th and 20th centuries, through the Antebellum Period and the Civil War, to the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, leaving many to believe that it is one of the last places you can still visit the true South.
It is both—the Alabama Black Belt was originally named for its black, bearing soils across central Alabama,and only later for its racial embodiment. Today, this territory is drawing upon its historical and political antiquity to better the region as a whole, and rightfully so. This is a place where the heritage is as rich as the land. The Alabama Black Belt is a part of a much larger Black Belt Region. This crescent-shaped swath stretches from southern Virginia to eastern Texas, and up until the widespread of the boll weevil in the early 1900’s, it was the perfect soil for growing cotton.
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The list of counties that make up the Alabama Black Belt traditionally refers to these counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa, Wilcox. Today, a number of additional factors are gaining popularity as part of a more dynamic picture of the region: the Black Belt Region is fortuitously abundant with wildlife, boasting more than 300 wildlife species. The region offers outdoor entertainment, has a longstanding tradition of quilting, and stands as the bedrock of African-American history and culture.
With the help of other organizations and institutions, such as the Alabama Black Belt Adventures (ABBA) and The Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area, Alabamians are working to promote tourism and economic development by improving the public’s understanding of this region. Along with the public, they are educating citizens about the importance of the need to conserve Alabama's natural resources, through a grant from The Conservation Fund.
Because of these educational efforts, Alabamians are beginning to have a fresh understanding of the benefits of safeguarding and restoring the environment, as well as the significance of preserving wildlife natural habitats for protected, threatened and endangered species.
The Black Belt is becoming famous for its recreational activities like bird watching, hiking, camping, and canoeing on public lands. But, perhaps its most famous for its hunting and fishing scene, which is an estimated $1.7 billion industry in Alabama and most of these dollars are spent in Alabama’s Black Belt Region.
Along with the outdoor-based economic advancements, the Alabama Black Belt is preserving its history with new attractions and destinations. Throughout central Alabama, you can find Natural, Historical and Cultural museums honoring the longstanding legacy of the Alabama Black Belt.
Explore the infamous Black Belt Quilt Trail. Wilcox County's Gees Bend Quilters have debuted worldwide and even have quilts hanging in the Smithsonian Museum. The trail was created in the Black Belt Region to showcase the history and the quilting art form. This trail offers mutual benefits, including educational opportunities for tourists and revenue for the region, enticing overnight tourism, shopping local stores and eating locally. Rich in history, the region also contains many places connected to the Civil War and Civil Rights Movements.
Visitors can also explore many historical antebellum homes, musical, literary and art legacy of the region. Take a drive to Monroeville where the Black Belt native Harper Lee wrote one of the most powerful books in history,“To Kill a Mockingbird.” Or head to Montgomery to visit the Fitzgerald Museum and tour the last house the Fitzgeralds lived in as a family during their lives. With the abundance of new investments and more initiatives meant to increase economic opportunity in the Black Belt, the region is proving once more to be a great resource for the state.
Whether you are traveling to Selma or Montgomery, where some of the most important moments during history took place, or simply enjoying more outdoors fun, you will find that Alabama’s Black Belt Region is a destination for all. The Black Belt region has been longtime misunderstood. Here are found the richest soil and the poorest people; yet, it is the heart of the old South-characterized by rich soil and deep history.