By Shauna Stuart

The bill, H.R. 3222, introduced by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell in May 2021 aimed to designate areas within the 19 counties inAlabama’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 and environmental benefits. On Dec. 22, H.R. 3222,the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act, passed both the House and Senate.

Alabama’s Black Belt region could soon become a National Heritage Area.

On Dec. 22, H.R. 3222, the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act, passed the House and Senate. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, who represents Alabama’s 7th
District— which includes the Black Belt—sponsored the bill.

According to a press release from Sewell’s office, 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.

The legislation 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. On Dec. 22, 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.

“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,” Sewell said in the same release. “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.

“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,” said Dr. Tina Naremore Jones, Assistant Provost and Vice President for Economic and Workforce Development at the University of West Alabama. “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.”