Six places to see in Alabama’s Black Belt

I have wanted to visit and highlight some of the towns in the Black Belt of Alabama for a long time and finally had the opportunity. I was surprised to find these thriving communities and these six places that shared their abundant history.

Demopolis, Alabama

Gaineswood Mansion

Gaineswood Manison in Demopolis AL

Maintained by the Alabama Historical Commission, the home was built by Nathan Bryan Whitfield on property purchased from the Gaines family. The North Carolinian Whitfield family moved to Marengo County, Alabama, in 1834. The original two-room cabin eventually became the Greek Revival centerpiece of a 1280-acre cotton plantation.

Whitfield’s son, Bryan, assisted in the design of the home. Skilled African Americans (enslaved and free) and other tradesmen worked to construct the residence. The domed ceilings in the downstairs rooms weigh over 2 tons.

Remarkably, the house remained in family hands until 1923. Over ninety percent of the furnishings are original to the residence. After acquiring the house in 1967, the state opened the home to tours in 1975.

Bluff Hall

Bluff Hall Demopolis AL

Situated on a bluff above the Tombigbee River, Bluff Hall was built in 1832 by slaves. Allen Glover, one of the earliest settlers of Demopolis, had the residence built as a home for his daughter and son-in-law. It is a stunning residence in the town of Demopolis.

Greensboro, Alabama

Magnolia Grove

Magnola Grove Greensboro AL

Colonel Issac Croom built the home in 1840 as a townhouse or a house for the family to use while they were in town and away from their plantation in present-day Hale County.

Croom died in 1863, and the house was passed on to a niece, Sallie Pearson Hobson, in 1879. She married James Hobson in 1867. Their second child, Richmond Pearson Hobson, was a hero of the Spanish-American War. He sank the USS Merrimac in Cuba, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1933. Hobson served as a U.S. Representative from 1906-1914. He staunchly supported Prohibition until he died in 1937. He also authored several books on naval history.

It is a stunning piece of Greek Revival architecture. Greensboro has a wealth of impressive residential architecture.

Safe House Black History Museum

Safe House Museum  Greensboro AL

The Safe House’s history began on March 21, 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. took refuge in the small shotgun house from the KKK. This museum serves as an integral part of Civil Rights History.

Aliceville, Alabama

Located in the western half of Alabama, about an hour from Tuscaloosa, Aliceville isn’t the easiest place to get to.

Aliceville Museum

Aliceville Museum

Aliceville was the site of a German POW camp that was built in just four months in 1942, consisting of 400 buildings. The first prisoners arrived in 1943 and were comprised of both regular soldiers and NCOs from General Rommel’s troops who served in North Africa.

Their arrival in Aliceville in 1943 was met with curiosity by the town’s residents. The prisoners marched from the train to the camp with much of the town as onlookers. Prisoners were surprised to find a bed with toiletry items awaiting them in the barracks. They knew then that their jailors would treat them humanely.

The story of the POW camp is a fascinating look at a side of World War II that is rarely discussed. The museum has one of the largest collections of POW memorabilia in the US. One surprising fact was the number of former POWs and their families who have returned to Aliceville. For some, it is a pilgrimage to see where fathers and grandfathers spent part of their lives for others, seeing for themselves what a relative experienced during the war. The museum has hosted reunions for former prisoners and guards.

An impressive artifact—a selection of flatware that belonged to Hilter — sits in the middle of the museum. It is quite something to see.

The museum has two additional rooms of exhibits that focus on the history of Aliceville and the veterans in the area. I was impressed with the wealth of knowledge and attention to detail given to the Aliceville story.

Homecoming art made by german POWs
Homecoming

You will not find a more knowledgeable crew about the area’s history. I highly recommend visiting the museum; here, you will learn about a piece of Alabama’s history that is not always taught. You can see my YouTube video here.

Final thoughts

Alabama’s black belt is sometimes overlooked, but it has a wealth of history to share. A Northwest Alabama road trip can be an enlightening journey. Riding the back roads always leads to an adventure.

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