• Black Belt Hall of Fame to induct three March 16

    Posted: March 05, 2012

    Author: Gena Robbins | grobbins@uwa.edu

    (1) Mary Ward Brown
    (2) George Washington Carver
    (3) Willie Earl King


    The Black Belt Hall of Fame will host its induction ceremony and dinner honoring three prominent figures in the region’s history on Friday, March 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the University of West Alabama’s Bell Conference Center.

    Mary Thomas Ward Brown and the late George Washington Carver and Willie Earl King will be honored at the ceremony. All three inductees have each 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.

    Center for the Study of the Black Belt Director Valerie Burnes says this year’s inductees exemplify the achievements that the Black Belt Hall of Fame was established to honor.

    “We are pleased to induct Mary Thomas Ward Brown, George Washington Carver and Willie Earl King 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,” Burnes said.

    Author Mary Ward Brown was born in Hamburg, Ala., in Perry County. “Mary T” lived almost her entire life on her family farm in the rural Black Belt. A 1938 graduate of Judson College, Brown began to write at age 53 after the death of her husband. By the 1970s she was published in literary periodicals, and her first book, “Tongues of Flame,” was published in 1986. She earned a Brown PEN/Hemingway Award from PEN New England and an Alabama Author Award from the Alabama Library Association (ALA), both in 1987.

    In 1991, she received a Lillian Smith Book Award from the Southern Regional Council, which recognizes writing that promotes a progressive understanding of racial and social inequality. In 2002, the University of Alabama Press published, “It Wasn’t All Dancing.” For this work, Brown received the Harper Lee Award from the Alabama Writers Forum and an Alabama Author Award from the ALA, both in 2002. In 2003, the Fellowship of Southern Writers presented her with the prestigious Hillsdale Fiction Prize. Brown’s autobiography, “Fanning the Spark” was published in 2009, and tells the story of her life in the Black Belt, while touching on universal themes of marriage, motherhood, love, loss, sorrow, and the act of living.

    Born a slave in Missouri, George Washington Carver would achieve renown as an agricultural educator and researcher at Tuskegee Institute by focusing his research on using available and renewable resources, such as farming techniques that required little fertilization of crops, and local minerals to make paint pigments. He developed products from easily grown crops, and was especially interested in peanuts because they replenished the soil and provided a source of protein for landless farmers. To spread his ideas and techniques, Carver created an extension service that included fairs and short courses in agriculture, as well as a “movable school,” which was a truck filled with materials that he took directly to the farmers in the field.

    In 1916, Carver joined the advisory board of the National Agricultural Society and became a fellow of Britain’s Royal Society for the Arts. Sponsored by the YMCA, Carver lectured at white colleges, challenging accepted notions about segregation and the inferiority of African Americans. His work encouraged black students to pursue careers in science, andimproved the lives of thousands of poor famers, both black and white. He was instrumental in developing ecologically sound farming techniques. Carver lived his life so that he could follow God’s will to be “of the greatest good for the greatest number of my people…”

    Born in Prairie Point, Miss., Willie Earl King lived most of his life in Old Memphis, Pickens County, Ala. King was “an outstanding musician, educator, community activist, keeper and disseminator of the rich, rural Black Belt heritage which he so loved.” He began life as a sharecropper and made his first diddly bo guitar. King performed for house parties and homecomings, as well as appearing on the stages of some of the most prestigious festivals in Europe. A participant in the civil rights movement, King developed a blues style he referred to as the “struggling blues” to convey what life was like for poor African American sharecroppers in the South.

    In 1989, King founded the Rural Members Association (RMA) to improve and strengthen his local community by teaching “survival skills” such as woodworking, quilting, music, and farming to the next generation. The RMA also inaugurated the Freedom Creek Festival, which draws an international audience to Pickens County, Alabama. In 2000, King received the Living Blues Magazine’s awards for “Best Blues Album” and “Best Contemporary Blues Album.” He was voted their “Best Blues Artist” in 2001. In 2003, his album “Rooster Blues” was awarded the W.C. Handy “Traditional Blues Album of the Year” award, as well as the “Blues Song of the Year.”

    In 2004 he was awarded an artist fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and in 2009, he was selected to receive their biennial Alabama Folk Heritage Award. He was inducted into the Howlin’ Wolf Hall of Fame in 2005. King played in numerous international festivals as well. A House of Representatives’ proclamation noted that although he had performed all over the world, King “finds fulfillment in helping his community.”

    The cost for the induction ceremony dinner is $15 per plate. Please RSVP Valerie Burnes by email or at 205-652-3829. by Monday, March 12. You may also mail correspondence to the Center for the Study of the Black Belt, UWA Station 45, Livingston, AL, 35470.



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