Historic Markers Across Alabama

Black Belt Transformations

Marker ID:  
Location: in the Cahawba Archaeological Park (nominal fee required), 9518 Cahaba Rd, Orrville, AL
County: Dallas
Coordinates: N 32° 19.182    W 087° 6.264
  32.3197    -87.1044
Style: Interpretative Sign **
Waymark: None


Black Belt Transformations

Alabama's Black Belt region derives its name from a narrow sash of dark, fertile soil across the state's midsection. Covering 1000 square miles, the Black Belt occupies just 2% of the state's landmass, but its history and transformations have shaped both the state and the nation.

For 10,000 years, rolling grasslands blanketed the Black Belt, rooted in its rich limestone soils. Native people farmed and fished along the rivers and hunted on the prairie. In 1540, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto marched into the region and sparked changes—disease, warfare, and settlement—that dismantled these indigenous cultures.

Settlers quickly found that the Black Belt's soil grew cotton like no other. "Alabama Fever" brought thousands of settlers here in the early 1800s. Prairie expanses became cotton plantations. Slave labor drove the cotton industry, and made this one of the country's richest regions.

Where Nature and Culture Entwine
Just as people have shaped this landscape, so the landscape has shaped the people who live here. For more than ten thousand years, humans have inhabited the Black Belt and left their mark on the landscape. Run a handful of Black Belt soil through your fingers. Walk through the dappled light of a bottomland hardwood forest. Explore remnant prairie grasslands. These natural riches not only nurture a tremendous diversity of wildlife—they sustain dynamic human communities as well.

Evolving Communities
As long as humans have inhabited this landscape, Black Belt communities have continuously changed and evolved. Community members have begun working together to conserve and honor this rich social history. Archaeological sites reveal pre- settlement history. Historic trails and cultural centers convey the region's key role in the Civil Rights movement. Regional museums showcase local art and architecture, and festivals celebrate traditional music, dance, and handcrafts.

Changing Landscape
For millennia, natural forces have slowly altered the Black Belt landscape. In recent centuries, humans brought rapid changes to the land. Native Black Belt prairie gave way to croplands and pastures. The region's primeval longleaf pine forests, once shaped by fire, were sculpted by ax and saw to yield pulp and lumber. Mighty rivers bisect the region, continually reshaped by floodwaters and modified by humans to facilitate travel and produce hydropower.

2015 by the Alabama Historical Commission.

Photographs of the marker can be found on HMDB.org

End of Black Belt Transformations