Visions of the Black Belt: A Cultural Survey of the Heart of Alabama [Photos]

  • Bird Dog

    Long before Duck Dynasty there was Union Springs, AL, the “Bird Dog Field Trial Capital of the World.” Champion bird dogs test their skills in taxing annual trials between October and March. The most prestigious event being the National Amateur Free-for-All at Sedgefield Plantation, built in the 1920s by L. B. Maytag, scion of the washing-machine empire. Union Springs’ “Bird Dog Monument” is a symbol of the towns affection for hunting dogs.

    Photo courtesy of Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burnes, The University of Alabama Press

  • Thornhill plantation

    Hopeful that the Black Belt would prove as auspicious a home as the ancient “Fertile Crescent,” early Alabama settlers named the land between the Tombigbee and Black Warrior rivers “Mesopotamia,” today’s Greene County. This rich cotton-producing region produced family fortunes that gave rise to many of the South’s most elegant and emblematic antebellum mansions, such as Thornhill, built by the Thornton family north of the French settlement of Demopolis.

    Photo courtesy of Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burnes, The University of Alabama Press

  • Virginia Glover House

    In antebellum Alabama, cotton fortunes were sometimes lost as quickly as they were made. Williamson A. Glover, neighbor of the Thorntons, built up nearby Rosemount plantation only to lose everything in financial speculation. In the 1860s, the Glovers constructed this humble but artful cabin in the Carpenter Gothic style. Legend has it that Glover made ends meet by operating a saloon in the basement.

    Photo courtesy of Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burnes, The University of Alabama Press

  • Singing the Blues

    Both gospel and blues play central roles in the Black Belt’s musical traditions. Eutaw’s annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is a two-day celebration of blues (Saturday) and gospel (Sunday) music featuring regional musicians and hometown favorites like B. J. Miller.

    Photo courtesy of Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burnes, The University of Alabama Press

  • The "Brick-A-Day Church"

    Montgomery, Alabama was the well-spring of the civil rights movement, and the city’s black churches provided much of the leadership and inspiration for the movement. The earliest free black congregation in the city was the First Baptist Church. When the congregation’s first church burned down, members pledged to bring “a brick a day” until the church had enough materials to build again. The result was the handsome Romanesque Revival structure designed by Tuskegee architect W. T. Bailey and completed in 1915. The church is still affectionately known as the Brick-A-Day Church.

    Photo courtesy of Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burnes, The University of Alabama Press

  • Mishkan Israel Congregation

    From the 1830s, Selma, Alabama, attracted several waves of Jewish settlers, first from Alabama’s port city of Mobile, followed by settlers from Europe and elsewhere in the United States. The Mishkan Israel congregation was founded in 1867, and this historic temple was built in 1899. Selma’s Jewish community produced three city mayors.

    Photo courtesy of Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burnes, The University of Alabama Press

  • Singing the Sacred Harp

    Powerful as a righteous Southern thunderstorm and ethereal as smoke, shape note music begin in the early 1800s as an aid to teaching singing and many Alabama churches carry on the tradition today, and twice-yearly festivals in Montgomery attract hundreds of enthusiasts.

    Photo courtesy of Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burnes, The University of Alabama Press

  • Monroeville/Maycomb

    Maycomb, Alabama, the setting for Harper Lee’s iconic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, was a modeled on her hometown of Monroeville, the “Literary Capital of Alabama.” Visiting the courtroom in the Monroe County courthouse, it’s possible to imagine the climactic courtroom scene in the novel just as Lee saw it in her own mind’s eye. The famous courtroom is also featured in Lee’s sequel Go Set a Watchman.

    Photo courtesy of Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burnes, The University of Alabama Press

  • Carpenter Gothic Style

    In a region dotted with churches, perhaps the most photographed is St. Andrew’s Episcopal in Prairieville. Completed in 1858, St. Andrews is a superlative example of the Carpenter Gothic style. Rustic yet sublime, hand-carved decorations ornament its light-dappled interior. The unique color of the wood comes from the workmen’s remarkable stain: tobacco juice.

    Photo courtesy of Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burnes, The University of Alabama Press

  • Haunted Alabama

    Long before the world discovered Southern Gothic, Black Belt Alabamian reveled in ghost stories. One of the state’s most famous, immortalized in NPR commentator Kathryn Tucker Windham’s 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey is the “The Face in the Courthouse Window,” which still haunts the town square of Carrollton, forty-five minutes west of Tuscaloosa, the western pole of Alabama’s ancient football axis. For visitors not immediately in touch with the supernatural, the city mounted a helpful arrow (center top window) to show you where to find the ghost. 

    Photo courtesy of Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burnes, The University of Alabama Press


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