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Heritage Trail spawned for tourism

Although many have tried before to solidify the journey of the Civil Rights Movement through Alabama, few have included the scope and expectations of the newly announced Civil Rights Heritage Trail for Alabama’s Black Belt.

With the help of assistance and grant funds from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn University, the Alabama Department of Tourism and others, the project will consist of a series of historically significant sites that will be compiled into a publication for those looking to tour the region to learn more about the movement.

Project coordinator Emily Blejwas, who has looked at sites all over the state, has done the bulk of the research. From these, Blejwas said she decided to focus on Central Alabama.

The sites include a broad spectrum of places including churches where activist meetings were held, homes where activists stayed and even places where people were killed for their involvement in the movement.

Blejwas said she ahs always been interested in this area of the state and completed her master’s work in rural sociology and economic development. But taking on this project, which will eventually include a guide to these sites and their meanings, has an additional motive, she said.

Blejwas said the way this project will differ from other collections of historically significant sites is that the product will also include a listing of accommodations and businesses in these areas so that tourists can become patrons of the areas as well.

Kathryn Friday, Marengo County extension service coordinator, and her staff helped Beljwas in her process of researching different places throughout the area. Friday said the project has already had a tremendous response and she hopes it will expand.

The project has also received support from local mayors, including York Mayor Carolyn Gosa and Demopolis Mayor Cecil Williamson.

Beljwas said they are still in the process of researching sites in order to put together a comprehensive notion of the Black Belt and its role in the Civil Rights Movement, but already the project seems to have inspired many to learn more about the area’s historical significance.