black belt / 100 lenses / summer camp

The Alabama Black Belt extends from Mississippi’s border through the heart of the state. It is of special interest to engaged scholars because of its fascinating cultural, economic, educational, political and social history.

The region is centered in the western part of the state between the Appalachian foothills and the coastal plain. The list of counties comprising the Black Belt is dependent on the context but traditionally includes Barbour, Bullock, Choctaw, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter and Wilcox.

Sometimes the region is extended into the southern coastal plain to include Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Monroe and Washington counties. Though Montgomery County meets both the soil and demographic traits of the Black Belt, it is often excluded because of its significant urban development. Lamar does not meet the soil traits but is often included due to its socio-economic similarity with traditional Black Belt counties.

In recent electoral maps, the Black Belt has appeared as a “Blue Belt” because of its strong support for the Democratic Party. With the exception of parts of the city of Birmingham, the outline of Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District roughly matches the Black Belt region. Terri Sewell currently represents that district in the U.S. House of Representatives. A native of Huntsville, Sewell, who holds degrees from Harvard, Princeton and Oxford, lives in Birmingham.

The word “Black Belt” is often accompanied by a series of negatives: high unemployment, low educational attainment, low access to health care and substandard housing. Yet, there are also many positives that somehow get overlooked:

• Rich soil and moderate climate suitable for a large variety of crops, forests and pastures

• Home to many notable Alabamians in the fields of art, literature, music and culture—singers Nat King Cole and Hank Williams; civil rights leaders Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks and Correta Scott King; writers Zelda Fitzgerald and Katherine Tucker Williams; bluesman Willie King; artists Jimmy Lee Sudduth and Charlie Lucas; and many more.

• And historically, it is the area that has come to symbolize one of the most important social movements in world history, the American Civil Rights movement.

Several organizations are charged with preservation of Black Belt culture, including the Black Belt Community Foundation, the Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area, Alabama Rural Heritage Foundation, Alabama’s Front Porches website, Alabama Humanities Foundation, Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation, Black Belt Community Foundation, Black Belt Treasures, Center for the Study of the Black Belt, and the Rural Studio. These and many other organizations organize annual festivals celebrating Black Belt culture, crafts and cuisine.

Related Links:

Alabama International Trade Center

Black Belt 100 Lenses UA is co-director of BB100 Lenses with Black Belt Community Foundation.

Black Belt Community Foundation UA is a BBCF partner.

Black Belt Traditional Counties

Black Belt Treasures UA is a Black Belt Treasures partner.