U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) on Thursday introduced legislation to establish the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area, authorizing nineteen counties in the Black Belt as a National Heritage Area (NHA).
The bill – titled the “Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act” – would allow federal funding to be directed to the designated region over the span of 15 years.
The intended heritage area includes the following counties: Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Washington and Wilcox. The legislation names the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at the University of West Alabama (UWA) as the local management entity. The designation of a local entity, like UWA, ensures its ability to address the interests and needs of those in the surrounding communities.
“Designating Alabama’s Black Belt region as a National Heritage Area will not only help generate tourism and economic activity in the area, but it will also give the public a greater understanding of the natural, historical, and cultural assets our state has to offer,” stated Shelby, the vice chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. “This legislation has the potential to impact several future generations and is an important step toward promoting and preserving the diverse resources that exist throughout the Black Belt’s 19 counties.”
NHAs are partnerships between the National Park Service, states and local entities to protect and support conservation and public access. Through these public-private partnerships, NHAs create a diverse, community-driven approach to increase heritage conservation, economic development, recreation and tourism. Currently, the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area is the only NHA in the state.
“Alabama’s Black Belt region played a central role in both the history of our great state and our country,” said Tuberville. “We cannot lose sight of the Black Belt’s significant impact in the civil rights movement and the fact that this area is home to some of our state’s most celebrated cultural figures. That’s why I’m honored to join Senator Shelby to authorize these 19 counties in the state as a National Heritage Area. This designation will ensure we can protect this region’s historical significance for generations to come.”
U.S. Representatives Terri Sewell (AL-07), Mike Rogers (AL-03), Mo Brooks (AL-05), Jerry Carl (AL-01) and Barry Moore (AL-02) are expected to introduce a companion bill this week in the House. Shelby previously introduced similar legislation during the 113th Congress and the 116th Congress.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn