• Banks, Tartt and Young join UWA's Black Belt Hall of Fame

    Posted: February 06, 2014

    Author: Gena Robbins

     The University of West Alabama’s Division of Educational Outreach will honor three prominent figures in the region’s history at the Black Belt Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Friday, March 14, from 5:30-7 p.m. at the UWA’s Bell Conference Center.

    Betty Craft Banks, the late Ruby Pickens Tartt and Dr. Billie Jean Young will be honored at the ceremony. All three inductees have devoted their life’s work to the Black Belt region, both for its advancement and preservation.
    The Black Belt Hall of Fame seeks to recognize and honor those associated with the Black Belt who have had a positive impact on the region, the state, the nation, and the world through contributions in art, business, education, industry, medicine, politics, and science.

    “We are pleased to induct Betty Craft Banks, the late Ruby Pickens Tartt and Dr. Billie Jean Young into the Black Belt Hall of Fame. They have done amazing work to make life better for the citizens of the Black Belt, and we bestow this honor upon them to celebrate their achievements and all that is possible because of them,” Center for the Study of the Black Belt Director Valerie Burns said.

    Betty Craft Banks was born in Pickens County and was one of the first female nurse anesthetists in Alabama, graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1964. Often working triple shifts, Banks would travel to rural Black Belt counties on her rare days off to provide anesthesia services. She was appointed State Nurse Anesthetist by Gov. George Wallace and held the post for 20 years. After moving to Greene County in 1978, Banks continued her nursing work, but realized the need for an independent local newspaper and although she had no journalistic experience, she started the Greene County Independent in 1986. The paper has won several awards for its coverage of the civic and political life of Greene County. Banks still runs the paper today, often taking no salary for herself and paying many expenses out of her own pocket. In the 1980s, Banks saved one of the oldest homes in Pickens County by moving it to her family’s farm in Benevola and restoring it.

    Ruby Pickens Tartt was a native of Sumter County. She grew up listening to the stories and music of the African American members of the community and developed an appreciation for the culture. In the 1930s, she collected stories through her work in the Works Progress Administration Slave Narratives project. Shortly thereafter, she assisted ethnomusicologist John Lomax in collecting folk songs for the Archive of American Folk Songs at the Library of Congress. Tartt is credited with discovering Vera Hall, a cook and washerwoman, who is now considered one of the finest singers of folk, blues and spirituals in the twentieth century. Tartt was also an accomplished artist and author, and she served as the librarian at the public library, which is now named in her honor, for 24 years. Ruby Pickens Tartt died in 1974. She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1980.

    Dr. Billie Jean Young is an author, poet, playwright, actor, activist and educator. Born in Choctaw County in 1947, Young went on to become one of the first African Americans to graduate from Judson College in Marion, where she is currently the Artist-in-Residence. Her book, “Fear Not the Fall” includes her one-woman play, “Fannie Lou Hamer: This Little Light” which gives voice to the social and economic injustices affecting the Black Belt region through the dialogue of noted Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Two other plays, “Jimmy Lee” and “Oh, Mary, Don’t You Weep: the Margaret Ann Knott Legacy” memorialize the martyrdom of two Black Belt citizens killed during the Civil Rights Movement. For her work to raise awareness of the Civil Rights history of the region, King was awarded the Congressional Black Caucus’ “Fannie Lou Hamer on the Road to Freedom Award” in 2004. Young was named a MacArthur fellow in 1984, received the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Artistic Achievement in 1995, and was inducted into the Southern Rural Black Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009, among other awards. She currently serves as president of the Southwest Alabama Association of Rural and Minority Women, and she was a founding member of the Southern Rural Women’s Network and the Rural Development Leadership Network. Young has preserved the history of the region and explained why, stating “We cannot entrust our stories to anyone else’s telling. We must tell them ourselves. We must be the preservers of our own truths.”

    For more information, contact Valerie Burnes at (205) 652-3829 or vburnes@uwa.edu.
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