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Cunningham named chair of ABBHA board

Eleanor Cunningham, the site director of Magnolia Grove and Gaineswood, has been appointed chairman of the education committee of the newly-created board of directors for the Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area.

Dr. Tina N. Jones, executive director of the University of West Alabama’s Center for the Study of the Black Belt, has been selected president.

The 19-member board is composed of representatives of various agencies and municipalities interested in the preservation of the region’s unique natural, historical and cultural resources through economic development.

The Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area is based at the Center for the Study of the Black Belt in Livingston.

Dorothy Walker, Alabama Historical Commission public outreach coordinator, will serve as vice president, and author Donald Stone of the Snow Hill Institute in Wilcox County will serve as secretary.

Valerie Burnes of the Center for the Study of the Black Belt will be treasurer and co-chair of the fund development committee.

Naming the board of directors and selecting officers are key steps in the Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area’s application for status as a tax-exempt, non-profit organization that can accept private and public funds. The board has also adopted bylaws.

The Black Belt region stretches across the state and is one of the most nationally significant areas in the United States. The region was once a thriving agricultural economy, known for its fertile, black soil that made cotton “king.” It later led the nation in the civil rights movement.

The Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area was initiated by a grassroots effort to bring economic development to the region. In 2003, several Black Belt counties began working together to document their cultural, historical and natural qualities to promote tourism in the region.

Other board of directors members and their committee chair appointments are Katanga Mants of Alabama Cooperative Extension, education; Dr. Linda Bartlett of Bibb County, fund development; Linda Derry, site director for Old Cahawba, interpretive; K.T. Owens of the Monroeville Garden Club, interpretive; John Matthews, Wilcox County commissioner, legislative; Judy Martin of Judson College, public relations; and B.J. Smothers, president of the Black Belt African American Genealogical and Historical Society Inc., public relations.

At-large members include Linda Vice of Alabama Tombigbee Resource Conservation and Development, Louretta Wimberly of the Selma to Montgomery Friends/Black Heritage Council, and Lauri Cothran of the Black Belt Nature and Heritage Trail Scenic Byway.

Ex-officio members are Wimberly Robbins Comer, Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area interim executive director; Dr. Tom Chesnutt of Alabama Cooperative Extension; Ike Lyon of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Cindy Ragland of the U.S. Forest Service.

The Alabama Tourism Department, the Alabama Department of Natural Resources and the National Park Service also will be invited to each appoint an ex-officio member.

Participating counties include Marengo, Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Washington and Wilcox counties.