MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabama’s Black Belt region would become a National Heritage Area eligible for funding and other benefits under a bipartisan move supported by members of the state’s congressional delegation.
Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell said in a news release Friday she is working with Republican Reps. Robert Aderholt, Martha Roby and Mike Rogers on the House bill, while Sens. Richard Shelby and Doug Jones will lead similar legislation in the Senate.
The bill would designate 19 counties in the state’s Black Belt as a National Heritage Area. Approval would open up the possibility of grants, staff and programs to help protect and improve the area’s historic resources.
Once the heart of the state’s plantation economy during slavery, the region of western and southern Alabama is historically poor and underdeveloped. Called the “Black Belt” because of the color of its soil, the area also has a largely African American population.
Places designated as heritage areas can receive as much as $1 million annually to safeguard important sites. The University of West Alabama, located in Livingston, would work with the National Park Service and communities to develop a management plan, according to the statement.
Alan Spears, senior director of cultural resources for the National Parks Conservation Association, said technical assistance and federal funding would enable the region to preserve ecological and cultural resources.
“We expect this support will generate economic growth for a region rising above hardship,” he said.
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