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Black Belt exhibit showcases historical region of Alabama

Pictures, books, and descriptions tell the history of the Black Belt. (photo by Emma Newell)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. --- The University of Alabama’s W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library is hosting an exhibit showcasing the Black Belt region of Alabama from Jan. 2 through Feb. 15 in celebration of the state’s bicentennial.

Created by Kate Matheny, an instructional librarian for Special Collections, the exhibit consists of pictures, books, and descriptions of each county in the area and its history. The exhibit is a display showcasing materials already in the library about the Black Belt, Margaret Lawson, the library’s receptionist, said.

The area is largely known for its agriculture, heavy population of African Americans and legacies of slavery and racism. The counties of the Black Belt are typically brought up in history to point out the negatives, Matheny said.

“They are not very populous, and they continue to be some of the poorest in the state, so it’s easy to ignore them in discussions of state history,” Matheny said.

Matheny wants to tell the negative stories, but she also wants to highlight the less explored aspects of Alabama history, such as the art culture of the region.

“If those kinds of topics are found in this region, imagine the wealth of subjects contained in the state as a whole,” Matheny said.

Matheny said the section on Montgomery County captures the purpose of the exhibit well. The city of Montgomery was the location of many prominent stories in the Civil Rights Era, but she said people overlook other aspects of the city and state culture because of it.

“We have a world-class theatre company in the city,” Matheny said. “I like the juxtaposition of the Montgomery Bus Boycott with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.”

A few people have come to the library specifically for the exhibit, but the library has mostly received calls about it, Lawson said. No specific numbers of how many people have visited the exhibit can be provided due to it being in an open and public space, Matheny said.

Matheny has nonetheless received many questions about the exhibit, so she said she thinks it’s a topic people are interested in. Sophomore Lindsay Katzman agrees.

“Being from out-of-state, I don’t know much about Alabama other than Tuscaloosa, so it’s interesting to learn about,” Katzman said.

Special Collections also currently has an exhibit on broader Alabama history in Gorgas Library.


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