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Across Alabama’s Black Belt on US Highway 80

Tour mansions where the slave owners who built them are glorified and follow with reverence the route of the Selma to Montgomery march which led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act in this 1999 documentary. The strip of black prairie land that crosses central Alabama is known as the Black Belt and Highway 80 crosses Alabama’s midsection through it. The Black Belt was the birthplace of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. The sights and sounds of the cities and towns contained within it offer a study of contrasts and a look into Alabama’s painful past.

This public television documentary invites viewers to travel through Alabama history as seen along US Highway 80 with stops in Demopolis, Selma, Montgomery, and Tuskegee as well as other towns along the route.

Demopolis was one of the area’s earliest settlements and large cotton plantations blossomed there. Demopolis plantation homes, open to tourists, give modern visitors a glimpse into the aristocratic life of planters who owned hundreds of acres and hundreds of slaves.

Selma manufactured ships, cannons, and ammunition for the Confederacy and Montgomery was the original Confederate capital where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as president. The area of Highway 80 connecting these two cities has been designated the Jefferson Davis Highway because of its Civil War history. But this stretch of road is also dotted with signs that commemorate another, more recent struggle.

The civil rights movement began in Montgomery with the 1954 bus boycott, but the eyes of the nation turned to Selma in 1965 when marchers protesting practices that excluded blacks from voting were met with violence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  One week later marchers began a trek along Highway 80 from Selma to Montgomery which culminated in a rally at the state capital.  Public attention resulting from these events led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Highway 80 from Selma to Montgomery was designated the National Voting Rights March Byway.

Booker T. Washington’s educational programs as well as research by George Washington Carver brought international acclaim to Tuskegee University, and in World War II the Tuskegee Airmen marked an important step toward integration of the armed forces.

Historic locations shown in this program include the Rooster Bridge, Bluff Hall, and Gaineswood in Demopolis; the Old Depot Museum, St. James Hotel, and the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma; the White House of the Confederacy, State Capital, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and City of St. Jude in Montgomery; and the Oaks (Booker T. Washington’s home), Carver Museum, Butler Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church, and Moton Field (training ground for the Tuskegee Airmen) in Tuskegee.

Other towns featured in the program include Faunsdale, Uniontown, Marion Junction, Benton, Lowndesboro, White Hall, Mt. Meigs, and Shorter.  Highlights of the program include the Faunsdale Crayfish Festival, Battle of Selma Reenactment, Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma, and restoration of the dome from Alabama’s original capital building in Lowndesboro.

DVDs may be purchased for $21.00 each using Visa, MasterCard, or Discover by calling 1-800-463-8825 (Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Central).

Mail orders send check or money order to:
University of Alabama Center for Public Television & Radio
P. O. Box 870150
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0150