November 18, 2022

USDA Funding To Help Protect Important Civil Rights Sites, Grow Economic Opportunities Across Central Alabama

SELMA, Ala. — The Conservation Fund announced today it has received a $202,396 award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC) to help protect important Civil Rights sites in central Alabama while pursuing a variety of related, community-focused goals. The work will be done across the next two years as part of a new project titled “Activating History Across Alabama: Protecting Important Civil Rights Sites, Preserving and Sharing History and Growing Economic Opportunities for Rural Communities Across the Black Belt.”

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit dedicated to finding solutions that make both environmental and economic sense, will convene a coalition of diverse partners and stakeholders to craft a plan to enhance and better utilize rural Alabama’s historic and natural resources to directly benefit the counties of Perry, Dallas and Lowndes, along with the cities of Selma, Marion and White Hall.

“Alabama’s rural communities are where history happened, but they’re too often left out of our storytelling and preservation efforts,” said Phillip Howard, Forgotten Civil Rights People and Places program manager at The Conservation Fund. “This funding from USDA, paired with the dedication of Alabama’s community leaders and members, will be instrumental as we work to better protect and interpret these places and their critical role in the Civil Rights movement and American history.”

The plan intends to invigorate rural downtown business corridors, greenspaces, trails, wellness centers, libraries, schools, and other types of public infrastructure across multiple jurisdictions to create a network of vibrant public places. These assets showcase the region’s unique character and rich history to residents and visitors while harnessing that network for the economic benefit of all people who live, work or play in this area.

The goals of the coalition include:

  • identifying at-risk cultural, historic and ecological sites, and outlining a plan to protect and revitalize those sites for the economic benefit of these rural Black Belt communities;
  • building economic, social and cultural vitality for these rural communities by improving blighted structures, supporting community heritage, arts and culture, along with fostering greenspaces and trails; and
  • strengthening connections between the organizational partners working together to advance this shared vision.

“The City of Marion is excited about the grant approval,” said Marion Mayor Dexter Hinton. “The goal is to highlight areas of improvement while strengthening the historical foundation of the city and Civil Rights Trail. The city wants to be accommodating to tourists; pocket parks, charging stations, broadband, eateries, welcome center, etc. while at the same time allowing the improved accommodation accessible to the citizens. Completing this assessment and locating funding, we are ready to roll up our sleeves.”

“Marion and Perry County are excited about the successful efforts of Phillip Howard and The Conservation Fund in acquiring much needed funding to bring resources to our community,” said Mary Moore, local community advocate. “This is an opportunity for Marion’s historic significance to be recognized. The events that took place here in 1965 became a landmark in the Civil Rights movement that directly led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We are grateful to be a part of the social and economic changes that are about to take place.”

USDA RPIC funding is appropriated annually by the U.S. Congress. Alabama’s U.S. congressional delegation representing Perry, Dallas and Lowndes counties — U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville and U.S. Representative Terri Sewell — supported the use of federal RPIC funds for this effort. This is the third year of RPIC awards and the second award to be received by The Conservation Fund.

“A big part of honoring our history is the opportunity to visit historical sites and understand their significance. Much of Alabama’s history is driven by our vibrant rural communities and their role in the Civil Rights movement, making the preservation of these communities and sites important for future generations. It was an honor to play a role in securing this grant, and I look forward to seeing The Conservation Fund’s work to strengthen central Alabama’s rural communities and protect important Civil Rights sites,” said Senator Tuberville.

“As a daughter of Selma and as the Representative of Alabama’s historic Civil Rights District, I believe we must work together to preserve the sites and stories of the Civil Rights movement,” said Congresswoman Sewell. “As we enter a new chapter in the struggle for Civil Rights in America, it is more important than ever to reflect on the legacy of the foot soldiers and the role that our Alabama communities played in advancing Voting Rights and Civil Rights for all Americans. I am thrilled that The Conservation Fund, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge, is investing in Civil Rights sites in my district while also promoting economic opportunities for these underserved communities.”

The Fund is investing an additional $35,716 in the project above and beyond the federal award for a total budget of $238,112.

“The investments that are being announced today will help support the quality of life in two Alabama communities,” said USDA Rural Development Alabama State Director Nivory Gordon. “From helping our rural communities to take advantage of the vast natural resources and cultural history of Alabama through harnessing the recreation economy, to creating opportunities for technological entrepreneurship in our rural areas, USDA stands ready to help create solutions that make rural Alabama a place that people can be proud to call home.”

You can see the full list of USDA RPIC award recipients here.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 8.5 million acres of land, including more than 36,000 acres in Alabama.

Contact: Val Keefer | (703) 908-5802 | vkeefer@conservationfund.org